Having awaited execution in a prison cell for nine months for killing a general’s son, Yelena is given a reprieve when she is offered the position of the Commander of Ixia, Ambrose’s new food taster (the last one having died in the line of duty). Ixia used to be ruled by a corrupt king, most people agree that the strictly ordered society imposed by the Commander is better. Of course, having gained power through a military coup, the Commander has his enemies. That’s where the food taster comes in.
Valek, the Commander’s chief of security (and spy master) trains Yelena, and ensures that she can’t run away by feeding her Butterfly Dust, a poison that will kill her painfully within 24 hours, if she’s not given the antidote daily. She’s given nice rooms in the palace, she slowly starts regaining strength and confidence, and even slowly begins to make friends. She can never relax, though, as the general wants revenge for his only son (she had a very good reason for killing him), and if she’s lucky enough to escape his murder attempts, she might die if someone tries to poison the Commander.
While being trained by Valek, first to detect any number of poisons, and later to defend herself so she’s not helpless against the occasional thug sent by General Brazell, she finds herself reluctantly growing closer to the man responsible for her continued captivity. As rebel factions plot to overthrow the Commander’s rule, and General Brazell steps up his revenge plans, how can Yelena survive without allies?
This is actually the second time I’m reading Poison Study and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the book stands up well to re-reading. Snyder has created a very interesting society and a slew of great characters in this book, and Yelena is a very engaging and likable heroine. While you find out at the start of the book that she’s in prison for killing a man, it’s slowly revealed why she was forced to take such action, and it’s fascinating to see her use her determination to prove Valek and all the various palace officials wrong in their initial opinions of her.
There’s also a minor romantic subplot, as Yelena is more and more drawn to Valek, even though he holds the power of life and death over her, and is, in some respects, her captor. Yet it’s clear that he’s risen to his position of trust and power with the Commander through skill and careful observation, and he can quickly tell that there is more to the story of Yelena’s murderous tendencies than the irate General Brazell wants him to think. He keeps encouraging Yelena to challenge herself and makes sure she’s trained in self defence and given added responsibilities around the palace, even though she’s a self-confessed murderer.
The book is just as good as I remembered it being, and can be recommended. The two sequels are unfortunately not quite as gripping, with a tendency by Snyder to introduce to many supporting characters rather than focusing on the ones introduced in this book. Still, it’s not a bad fantasy series, and the strong characterisation of Yelena and Valek make up for a lot.