Hello everyone, and welcome back! Today, I’ll be reviewing a lesser-known book from the long backlist of books I hadn’t gotten around to reading.
Speaking of that: so before I started my 95 books project last year and before I started blogging, I did read YA from time to time, but only really huge releases (The Hunger Games) or the rare thing I was assigned for class (I did manage to take a class once about young adult lit, which had some great readings). And then obviously, when I started getting into book blogging and specifically reading/blogging about a lot of YA, I ended up getting immersed in all of what was new and hyped because, well, that’s what a lot of bloggers and YouTubers talk about!
That’s not at all a criticism, by the way, so please don’t misunderstand! A lot of bloggers and BookTubers have read a lot already, and they’re hoping to get their work seen, so obviously they have reason to be focused on what’s new. Which is also how I’ve ended up getting into reading/reviewing what’s new.
But for me personally, I really don’t know much of what’s gone on in YA before the past couple of years because I wasn’t really reading it, and I would love to have a better sense of the best YA not only of the years since I started reviewing it, but just in general.
So with all that said, let’s get to it!
Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
(This book seems to have about a trillion covers, but anyway this is the one I got when I received my paperback from the Book Depository.)
I don’t know that I have lots to say about this book because it was really a middle-of-the-road first YA fantasy book in a series with a lot of potential, the kind I see a lot. The test of this will be how the series progresses, so I’ll probably pick up the second book soon to let you know, but since this was an older pick, I didn’t have easy access to the next one or you’d be seeing a two, three, or four book series review.
Here goes, though: where this book shines is in its premise and plot, so if you’re looking for something more original on that score, then this might be the pick for you. It’s about a young woman sentenced to be executed for murder who is pardoned on the condition that she become the commander’s taste tester (and thus at risk of being poisoned to death at any time).
As you would expect, she gets caught up in a bunch of court intrigue. She has had a difficult life and has a mysterious past and some strange powers, which is pretty part for the course for a YA fantasy heroine, but this isn’t handled badly. (Or extremely well yet, but still.) The plot of this book is fun and fast-paced, so the pages went by quickly and it never left me much time to get bored.
The writing style is…questionably bad through the first half, to be honest, with a lot of repetitive short sentence structures. I’m not even the type to really notice the scaffolding of writing in YA unless it’s obviously very good or obviously quite bad, so yes. Weirdly, this seemed to improve as the book went on, which makes me wonder if the author was literally just improving as she wrote and the editor just…didn’t even things out across the draft? So strange.
Anyway, that improvement as I went made me feel as if the second book may be better in that sense. But there were other issues; while romance was hinted at throughout, the onset of a pairing late in the book felt a bit overly melodramatic, and there were parts where tension felt like it was sucked right out of the book because it took no time to breathe after some events. (Pacing isn’t just awkward when it drags; sometimes it’s awkward when it speeds, too.)
Also, the magic system in this book is really thin on the ground in terms of explanation, which makes some sense (the main character has no reason to know) but can also be frustrating, because magic intervenes in events in big ways.
Character-wise, the protagonist Yelena, her poison tutor, and the commander were all generally enjoyable to read about and intriguing, and even the secondary characters had some interesting backstory tidbits. (There’s actually something very interesting and potentially progressive in the commander’s backstory that really makes me want to continue with this series.)
I don’t feel as if the characters got very distinct voices in their dialogue, and I do feel as if that put a damper on getting a handle on their personalities, but the characters felt thought through enough on the page that I did want to know more about them.
Honestly, for the first book of a series, the difference between 2.5 or 3 stars for me can be a matter of splitting hairs. I try to support my star ratings with the pros and cons I found in a book, but when it comes down to it, that half-star difference in a first book is based on the answer to this question: Do I feel like I want to know what happens next, or could I put this series down and never feel compelled to come back to it?
So far I feel like I do want to come back to the Chronicles of Ixia/Study books, so this rating won’t come as a surprise. (I’m not sure if I will soon, though, because a lot of reviewers talk about the Study books as if none measure up to the first, which…does not sound promising.)
But part of me also feels like evaluating each individual book in a series can be kind of moot, since it’s usually difficult to pull any one book of sequence and appreciate it on its own. So even if a book lands on the three-star end of the spectrum, the next book could make me nope right out. Or it could make me think more fondly of the first one by building on it really well. (Let’s be real, the first Harry Potter book isn’t objectively the most amazing, but each following book builds on its foundation so well that of course we love that introduction to the world.)
I can’t really just read an entire series every time I sit down, though, so I have to do stuff like this to decide which ones might be worth the chance of continuing. Book blog life, my friends.
So don’t judge me too much on this review if this whole series is the best ever or actually agh no, pls?
Do you buy a series one book at a time or all at once? What makes you want to continue reading? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!