Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
(Mira, Paperback, 2005)
Yelena is in prison about to be executed for the crime of murder when she is offered the position of food taster for the commander of Ixia. Despite the risks of the job, Yelena is willing to take the chance if it means that she will live another day. Being food taster puts her in the path of Valek, the commander's chief of security. Valek is a hard man who will do anything to ensure that the commander stays in power. Yelena must prove that she is a survivor as she battles her growing affection for Valek and her growing ability to do magic which is forbidden in the country of Ixia.
About two years ago, I discovered Maria V. Snyder. I was reading a ton of fantasy books at the time and Poison Study just blew me away. This book is by far the most unique, exciting, well-written story that I've read in a long time. Yelena is an underdog--a scrawny, malnourished girl whose reputation is stained by her murder of a truly evil man. The circumstances surrounding the murder are slowly revealed throughout the novel but, right from the beginning, you understand that Yelena is a tough, likable heroine. And Valek, wow, he's probably one of my favorite literary crushes. He's tough, strong, has high morals, and can sneak into any room unnoticed. The most wonderful part of Poison Study is the well developed minor characters. Ari and Janco, two guardsmen that teach Yelena how to fight, are priceless. Their banter certainly lightens up Valek's seriousness. I was also thoroughly intrigued by Yelena's duty as food taster and her training in poisons. There's no doubt about it, Maria V. Snyder knows how to tell a good tale, one that will keep you furiously flipping through the pages and yet hoping that it never ends. Poison Study is the first book in Yelena's story. Magic Study and Fire Study follow it. For those of you who don't like major cliffhangers, it is important to note that each of these books have a plot line that is resolved in the book and can be read as stand-alones; however, the story is enhanced if you read them in order.
Visit Maria's website for more information about her books.