I came across this book one afternoon while browsing Barnes and Noble for something new to read. I walked by the hardcover a few times, each time pausing momentarily to stare at the cover. The image on the right is what I saw. I didn’t pick it up right away. I’m not sure why. I played that game about three times, before I finally caved. The thing about the cover that I really enjoyed was that it told me several things. One – it would be high fantasy judging from the girl’s clothing and the painting style. Two- it involved poisons of some kind which made me curious (why, how?). And three- it was one of the new releases from Harlequin’s LUNA line which I’d been watching since it launched. I had really high hopes for that line, since I’m a big fantasy fan, and every trip to the bookstore included a walk down the fantasy aisle looking for the little moon symbol.
I kid you not. I’m rather disappointed that the line has since pretty much fizzled to one release every few months or so. But that’s another post entirely.
When I finally picked up Poison Study and read the byline, I got excited.
Choose: A quick death… or slow poison.
I read the first few lines of the blurb. Yelena, the story’s heroine, is about to be executed for murder but instead is given the opportunity to become a food taster. Wow, she’s getting off pretty easy, you might think. But really, it’s a lesser of two evils. Sure, she gets to live another day and eat fancy meals prepared for kings – putting her at risk of assassination by anyone who might try to poison the Commander of Ixia. Ahh… slow poison. Not only that, Valek, the poison trainer and her ‘boss’ for all intents and purposes, has given her Butterfly’s Dust, a poison which will provide an agonizing death if she doesn’t return for the antidote daily. So she escapes one prison and death, only to enter another. That is an awesome premise.
The worldbuilding in this book is captivating and impressive. I loved the political climate of Ixia and how we got little glimpses of it through Yelena’s eyes. The details in regard to the food tasting are superb. I believed every moment that Yelena trained, I was awed by the various poisons, their names, and their effects. They made the world in the book come alive for me and were hands down, my favorite scenes.
Valek was one of those characters that snuck up on me. I started the book expecting not to like him. He does poison our heroine and force her to take this terrible job or die. But throughout the story this man full of mystery and moral ambiguity fascinated me. He’s stealth and dangerous and all kinds of lethal and I loved every page he was on.
Overall, the story had a few weak points, mostly in setting up Yelena’s history and the strange magical power she starts to develop seemingly out of the blue- but I suppose that was necessary to carry on the series. After Poison Study there were two more books, Magic Study and Fire Study. I have yet to get my hands on those, but I do plan to eventually!
Although these books were not originally released as YA fiction, Harlequin has reissued them with new covers and I think the series and its protagonist are a great fit for the YA market.
Overall score: A-