Poison study begins with an interesting dilemma: how much are you willing to risk to delay death?
For Yelena, a soon-to-be-executed murderess, the answer is everything. To prolong her life for an indeterminable time, she is willing to participate in a gamble: she will become the Commander's food taster. The prize? The possibility of living just one more day after each successful tasting. The stake? Her life.
One can't deny this is a superior setup. It draws the reader in right away, as we hold our breaths and quietly cheer for the disillusioned but sturdy Yelena. The novel's beginning, more or less, seemed to promise a more original work than the cliche-ridden fantasy genre often permits.
But, unfortunately, Poison Study ultimately disappoints. Half-way through the book, the originality and excellence of execution found in the beginning fades and disappears all together.
1. The plot: Oh, Poison Study, you could have been so much more poisonous and intriguing. Survival by poison detection is a dangerous experience indeed, and I was hoping Yelena's experience was one of heart-stopping suspense and subtle but potent political intrigue. The first half had a bit of this. Yelena was admirable as she survived by hard work and intelligence.
Sadly though, the plot soon dissolved into the all too familiar, formulaic, heroine centered plot: OH NO, the ENTIRE country is in danger. Why? because a very, very evil villain is using magic to threaten All-That-is-Good-and-Just. Enters the heroine, who is really the Destined One. Her life will be compromised several times, but because she has the Rare Gift of Extraordinary Magic, she saves the day. In the sequel (oh yes, of course), she goes on to discover she has Powers Beyond Her Wildest Imagination.
In other words, by the last half I lost interest because I felt I was reading something I've already read a billion times.
2. Poor Valek: you could have been something, but instead you became just a foil.
I really liked Valek at first. He was interesting. The commander's master strategist. One of the main players who helped the current regime dispose--and kill--the previous king. Obviously smart. Obviously talented. Obviously ruthless and dangerous. How else do you succeed in an intensely uncertain political environment?
I was looking forward to reading about someone who may not, due to his environment and experiences, possess a conventional set of morals, but is immensely driven to utilize his intelligence and talents in service of a safer, more stable country for the people of Ixia. He will commit many sins, but at the same time, many acts of good.
Wrong. This is Valek by the end: a compassionate do-gooder, who's oh-so-traumatized by his childhood, but can spurt ridiculous things like "you've poisoned me, Yelena".
3. Yelena: in the beginning, she was cool. I liked her battered but stubborn survival instinct. But of course, she had to learn masterly fighting skills, discover powerful aptitude for magic, and turn into a Mary Sue. Dear fantasy novelists, please, please stop using your heroines as a medium for wish fulfillment. Character development and growth doesn't necessarily translate into superpowers and a lover. Thank you.
Poison Study, you could have been great. What a waste of promise and premise.