I have been gently pushed into reading Poison Study by my friend Bee since she first announced that it was one of her favourite books ever! Not only is it fantasy (check) but it has a strong female protagonist (check) and a really unique premise (triple check!), so if I wasn’t hooked already it didn’t take me long. When Maddie started reading the series too I knew I had to get a move on so I finally picked it up. Now while the book is good, it didn’t grab me. I can’t pinpoint one aspect in particular that I can hold responsible, but it fell just short of my expectations.
Yelena is definitely a strong character. On top of training in the art of poisons she learns self-defence and doesn’t need a man to save her 24/7. She’s kind of shaky with standing up for herself at first, but as the plot progresses and she gains more confidence she starts to take an active role in proceedings. She even stands up to the hot guy she has feelings for rather than turning to mush around him and acting all silly. The romantic subplot itself doesn’t even become an overt element of the story until almost the end of the novel. It’s understated and believable, not insta-lovey in any way.
Plus she’s not afraid to kill. There’s nothing worse in fantasy novels when murder and cruelty is an everyday occurrence and yet the main character is against doling out any form of punishment, even to defend herself from the psychos. Yelena doesn’t flinch if some killing needs to be done.
An additional point is that the magic in this world is pretty well explained. I like that it comes with a warning label and is not something that can be used trivially. Also, the supporting characters are really well written, particularly the members of Yelena’s little training group. Ari and Janco provided some much needed light relief at points throughout the story and their friendship with Yelena felt genuine. Their loyalty was endearing and I almost wanted her to get together with one of them rather than Valek!
Okay, so ‘bad’ might be quite a harsh word to use here. I prefer ‘average’. There was nothing awful about this book, I just wasn’t captivated by it. The setting for a start is just a little vague for my liking. I’m not saying I want to be drowning in details – not all novels are going to have Game of Thrones level world building – but it felt like Snyder figured out enough of her world to be able to set the scene for us and then didn’t go that bit further and flesh it out. I wasn’t submersed in it but with Yelena off on her travels maybe this will change in book two.
Speaking of Yelena I felt bad that I didn’t engage with her as much as I desperately wanted to. Although we got her first person perspective I couldn’t connect with her despite supposedly being in her head. Somehow I didn’t feel her pain or her triumphs as acutely as I’d expected. She was still really likeable though, so I was gutted that I didn’t care very strongly. I find it hard to picture her standing out from the whole host of amazing female protagonists that I’ve already read about.
Another thing I didn’t care much about was her love life. I was more on board by the end but even so… The age gap never bothered me but the fact that she fancied a man who was literally poisoning her confused me. They didn’t trust each other enough to talk openly until the book was nearly over. And let us not forget that her boyfriend may yet be sent to kill her. Not the basis for an open, loving relationship if you ask me. Still, no stupid love triangles so thank heavens for small mercies!
As for the Commander, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand he’s a great guy who brought down a tyrannical king and his corrupt system. On the other hand he kills all magicians, executes people without trials and discourages reading and pursuing knowledge. Not cool, dude.
I don’t think Poison Study is my favourite fantasy novel ever, but I do think it has a lot of potential and I certainly want to continue on with the series. Bearing that in mind I’m going to settle on a three star rating with the hopes that future instalments will set this series apart from the rest.