by Maria V Snyder
Luna Books, 2005
young adult fantasy
Who wouldn't take the job of food taster over murder? Not Yelena, even though being food taster has a potentially fatal end. But being poisoned to death isn't her only worry. The kingdom of Ixia's present Commander has long forbidden magic, and she may be developing magic of her own; demons from her past surround her on all sides; and she's one the few close enough to the Commander to spy and unravel a conspiracy, but she may not be enough to stop it.The cover:
The lush reds and oranges are perfect; they evoke the richness of the palace life, while the tagline ("Choose: a quick death... or slow poison...") contrasts the scene's softness with danger's sharp reminder. I like how the girl is positioned, so that she's not the centre of focus, and ohmygoggles. That font.
Fantasy has always had that exquisite potential to build a castle out of thin air, and Maria V Snyder does just that. A few issues -- the writing is faulty, and bears the mark of a debut novelist still finding her style (e.g., telling vs. showing). As well, Snyder has a tendency to end her chapters in the midst of action, in an attempt to keep the reader on edge, but when the next chapter proceeds exactly where the previous left off, you end up shaking your head and wondering why the chapter break was necessary.
That's about the end of my complaints, though. Yelena, especially at the beginning, offers a frame of mind easy to slip into. Her lack of teenage angst gives her a determined and focused air, but her uncertainties concerning allies, friends and enemies give her enough emotion to feel real. The relationship between Yelena and Valek is pure enjoyment to read, and again, there isn't any superficial "I'll-die-if-he-doesn't-love-me" whining going on.
It was a little hard to believe so many characters could be evil (Nix, Rand, and the ambiguous Margg), but somehow Ari and Janco balanced it all out with their simple goodness. Janco's rhyming/sparring ability, Ari's quiet intensity and protectiveness, and their complementing battle styles... Ari and Janco rock my world.
The pace dips to the ploddy side for the first two-thirds, not because action is lacking but because there's no actual perceived threat, only a lot of ominous shadows hanging over Yelena's shoulder. However, the reader will most likely stick with our protagonist anyway, if only to watch the rich romance between Yelena and Valek grow:
"But you've slipped uner my skin, invaded my blood and seized my heart."And then comes a very steamy kiss.... ;)
"That sounds more like a poison than a person," was all I could say. His confession both shocked and thrilled me.
"Exactly," Valek replied. "You have poisoned me."
Rating: 4.2 out of 5