Monthly Archives: June 2013

Fire Study – Maria V. Snyder

photoBook Description (Amazon):

When word that Yelena is a Soulfinder—able to capture and release souls—spreads like wildfire, people grow uneasy. Already Yelena’s unusual abilities and past have set her apart. As the Council debates Yelena’s fate, she receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by a murderous sorcerer she has defeated before.…

Honor sets Yelena on a path that will test the limits of her skills, and the hope of reuniting with her beloved spurs her onward. Her journey is fraught with allies, enemies, lovers and would-be assassins, each of questionable loyalty. Yelena will have but one chance to prove herself—and save the land she holds dear.

My Review:

Executive Summary: chaotic

I actually liked this book least of the three. It wasn’t by any means terrible, but it was just like wandering around with a lot of unconnected activities, quick wrap up and all the questions answered. I found that to be different than the previous books. (I was pleased that my fear of it turning into a political novel was unfounded though.)

We left the previous book with Yelena agreeing to be the liaison between Ixia and Sitia, and the mass murderer Ferde had been released by Cahil, the previously thought nephew of the King of Ixia (turned out he was a soldier’s son).

This book starts with Yelena trying to create a fire using her magic (the book is named Fire Study after all). She can’t figure out how. As she’s staring at a fire, a vision of her is created out of the fire. In this vision, Yelena is sucking the souls out of bodies and creating a soulless army. As Yelena wonders why she cannot control fire, an answer is told to her “because we need a way to kill you” and is covered by fire which she pulls away from just in time. She automatically thinks that it might be Roze (First Magician who hates her).

Yelena receives a message from Moon Man that he has located Cahil and Ferde. She and Leif go to meet him, much to the dismay of Roze (foreshadowing much?) who thinks they are wasting their time because Cahil and Ferde likely went a different direction. They find Marrok in the stable and agree to take him with them. They travel and meet Moon Man and another Sandseed named Tauno then head to find Cahil and Ferde. With the help of the Sandseed army, they attack the camp, but it is abandoned with the exception of one warper who poisons himself when they attack.

They track the Daviians to a hole (yes, seriously) which leads into a cave. They travel arduously through the cave, and when they exit into the jungle, they are attacked. (Why couldn’t they find the jungle without going through the cave? I don’t know.) They fake capture and find that Yelena is to be taken to Jal (who is presumably their leader). They attack, capture one prisoner and kill the rest. Moon Man explains that the Davaiians are performing Kirakawa which is using the life source of others to increase their own magical power and therefore becoming a Warper. (This is slightly different than the Efe ritual that Ferde was performing and although the difference was explained, it seemed the same to me…) From the prisoner, they know that Cahil and Ferde are moving towards the Zaltana clan with 12 Daviians.

Yelena goes up in the trees to track and is attacked by a necklace snake. She is saved by her cousin Chestnut who is a snake charmer. She goes back to the Zaltana homestead and finds that her father is missing. The others rejoin her and go to speak to the Zaltana elders. Yelena uses bats to “see” where the Daviians have taken her father and the two others. The Zaltanas set up an attack plan which involves using the necklace snakes as a distraction. During the attack, Yelena is again visited by the fire warper and uses the snake scent to attract a snake to help her escape. (an odd, risky maneuver if you ask me. Honestly the snakes in general were kind of an odd insert into the book…) She’s saved by Chestnut and the missing Zaltanas are rescued.

She and Leif head to the market to meet the horses and the Sandseeds (who tracked the fleeing Daviians). They only find the horses. As they are camping, Moon Man appears as he can travel via moonlight apparently. They set off to meet Marrok and Tauno. On the way, Moon Man tries to teach Yelena some things about ghosts and she brushes him off and becomes annoyed with his manner of description. (I found this a really dislikeable character trait for her because I really enjoyed Moon Man. I also found the tidbit about the unmarried couple staying in a hotel room together really awkward and unnecessary.) Outside the inn, Yelena sees these glass figurines that look like they are radiating fire and they remind her of Tula and Opal. And then, Opal appears. She invites them to dinner with her family. Opal shows Yelena her glass animals and apparently only certain people (Yelena suspects magicians) can see the fire inside them. Opal sells her one to test out the theory.

When they return to the inn, Marrok is gone (he left willingly with Cahil) and Tauno is hurt. Yelena takes her watch that night and has another fire issue. This time she sees trapped souls in the fire but is rescued by Moon Man before it’s too late. As they are discussing tactics the following morning, Marrok appears. He tries to get the group to leave but Cahil and the rest immediately appear (obviously Marrok didn’t lose them as well as he thought that he did…) Yelena controls Ferde’s mind to force him to shoot Curare laced darts at the other Daviians. Citadel guards come to pick up the prisoners. Yelena, Leif, Moon Man, Tauno and Marrok head that direction, stopping off at the Sandseed’s main camp.  They are caught in a trap when the Daviians are hiding in the tents of the Sandseeds. They run, and Moon Man teaches Yelena how to make a magic protective net for them. In the morning, Moon Man goes to the shadow world and comes back with the dark reality that the Story Weavers and Sandseeds were killed in the attack. (He saw their souls in the shadow world apparently.) Moon Man is frustrated with Yelena for not being interested in her Soulfinder powers (and honestly I agree. She has totally missed the bigger picture.) and tells her that she will become “a slave to another”.

When they finally get to the Citadel, they find that Cahil is not in prison. He apparently was on an undercover mission the whole time and blames Marrok for releasing Ferde. Moon Man finds that one other Story Weaver, Gede, survived. Gede is the one with knowledge about the fire warper. Gede and Moon Man meet with Bain, Irys, Yelena and Dax to discuss the fire warper. Gede is an awful person, full of himself and suspicious ideas. So it comes as a surprise when Yelena rejects Moon Man for him when he tells her that he can be a Soulfinder (um, wasn’t that what Moon Man has been trying to do the whole time?).

Valek appears for no apparent reason. Turns out he’s there to assassinate the Sitian Council. So Sitia is fighting Ixia and the Daviians (because they believe that Ixia is helping them). And Ixia is just bored and wants to actually give Sitia a reason to be suspicious?

Gede tries to “teach” Yelena and has Moon Man lead her into the fire. Leif (under Valek’s orders) saves her (but can’t save Moon Man) and they flee the Citadel. (Again, Gede sucks.) Yelena taps into Irys’s mind and finds that there is a warrant out for her and Leif’s arrest. Valek meets them and suggests that they go to Ixia. Near the border, they encounter Sitian soldiers and reconnect with Moon Man, Marrok  and Tauno. They escape into Ixia where they are also stopped by soldiers. Marrok is unconscious and Yelena (again, idiot) suspects Moon Man. Why does she hate Moon Man so much?! When she looks into Marrok’s mind, she finds Roze.

Yelena’s old fighting partner, Maren, is part of the soldiers as she has become an Adviser after she, Janco and Ari beat Valek in a fight. She tells Yelena that they need to meet with the General but it is actually a guise for them to escape. Yelena meets with the Commander and explains the situation of Sitia. As she is getting something from her bag, her glass bat that Opal made her comes out. The Commander can see the fire glow (and therefore might be a magician)…

They plan their attack. The Commander does not want any magic to be used as he believes that it corrupts people and controls their will. Yelena tries to contact Irys and instead (again) encounters Roze who tells her that Irys and Bain are being held in the cells at the Keep. And Yelena unwillingly tells Roze of the Commander’s plan and that Valek is in Sitia. Yelena makes plans to meet with Porter (the dog person) as she determined that he has magic and there are others in Ixia like him.

Valek returns to Ixia but they make plans to return as a group to Sitia to regain control of the Council. Yelena meets with Porter who has two young girls who have just discovered their magical powers. He has been sending children who show magical powers through a sort of “underground railroad” to Sitia for many years. However the most recent 3 that he has sent never made it. Yelena agrees to disguise as a student and find what is happening in the break of the chain. As she leaves, she is poisoned by a dart by Star…

Yelena awakes in a crate in the back of a cart and finds she is being taken to Jal. She finds that one of the guards is Cahil. He tells her that Jal will perform the Kirakawa ritual on her, taking her powers, while the Fire Warper claims her soul. Yelena tells him that he is being played but he insists that Jal will rule Sitia and allow him to rule Ixia. Cahil stabs her with Curare which she uses her magic to prevent from entering her skin (should have learned that skill earlier) and fakes passing out. She learns that the two girls from Porter’s are there as well. She unties herself and then poisons the vermin who comes to sedate her with his own dart.

Valek appears and saves her from the Fire Warper who has appeared. She finds that Valek had (sort of) allowed her to be captured because he wanted to find out how the young magicians had been going missing (he didn’t think she would have walked into Star’s trap).  Yelena and Kiki return to the camp to try to rescue the girls, however it was too late. Yelena inhales, and when save, releases their souls, preventing the Daviians from increasing their power. She returns and finds that Valek separately went to rescue the girls. He found that Cahil had left the camp and also brings her back her backpack.

While she goes through her items in her pack, she again stumbles upon her bat that Opal made. And as she is gazing at it, she mentally was able to connect with Opal despite the vast difference. She wonders if others have Opal’s creatures if it will be something like a magical telephone, allowing them to communicate over longer distances.

When she and Valek arrive at the Citadel, the Daviians are everywhere. Yelena finds Fisk and asks him to contact her clansman Bavol who agrees to meet her that night. She finds out that the Daviians have kidnapped the Councilors’ children to force the votes their way. He tells her of an emergency tunnel to get into the Keep. She sleeps on his roof (for reasons I don’t quite understand) and convinces a man in the market to organize the masses for a battle. She meets Fisk later that evening as Fisk’s uncle swaps places with Bavol to evade the guards. Yelena uses Bavol to find the missing children, releasing when she smells the stable on fire.

The Fire Warper drags her into the fire world where she sees no souls (because apparently she has chosen not to see them). The Fire Warper tells her that he wants to rule the sky and she is going to help him. He tells her a bunch of contradictory things (although in fairness, I couldn’t really follow along with what was “real” and what wasn’t because it was all pretty crazy) so she knows that she can’t trust him. She returns to “regular world” (why is there no name for it?) and to Valek. They talk (again) about Yelena’s bat. Valek cannot see the fire but he can sense that it has magic. He asks her whether the Commander can see it and when she hesitates, he reveals that he already knows that the commander is a magician. Yelena thinks that the Commander’s body contains two souls. Valek reveals that the Commander’s mother died during childbirth and that there was confusion about whether the baby was a boy or a girl…

They disguise themselves and find Ari and Janco who have brought Leif, Moon Man, Tauno and Marrok back from Ixia. When Yelena meets them to discuss the next step, Janco points out that she has a bat on her arm. (Uh, duh? did you not see that before??) Leif and Moon Man are to find out about the secret passage. Ari and Janco are to help activate the resistance movement while the others go to rescue the children. Tauno scouts for them and leads them into a trap (Turns out he’s the spy/traitor, not Moon Man…big shocker there). Giant fight ensues but most of the children are rescued however Valek has not come out of the barn fire that was set by the warper. The children are taken to a farm somewhere and left until it’s safe.

Marrok and Yelena conveniently detour to Opal’s and collect more of her figurines to use as the test for the magical telephone. They go to the meeting spot, finding Ari and Janco, and wait for Moon Man and Leif. While there, Yelena realizes that her creepy bat friend can help her find ghosts. She finds the ghost of a little boy and helps him return home. (She finally realized the purpose of being a Soulfinder.) Leif arrives with the news that Moon Man has been captured!

Yelena’s busy being completely depressed that Valek is gone and is intending to go into the Fire World permanently…and of course Valek appears. (Did anyone really think he was gone?) They make plans to sneak into the Citadel under the guise of traders but are met by Cahil. He assures them he is on their side and exactly what Yelena had said would happen has happened. And then he drops the big news that Roze is Jal. (not really that big of news, imo). There are six powerful warpers inside the castle including Roze and Gede who will be given the magicians who have been captured in the Kirakawa ritual. Yelena is supposed to be the big final prize. Cahil offers to take Yelena inside as his (fake) prisoner. She agrees.

Roze takes Yelena as planned while Ari and Janco break into the Keep to release the prisoners (and hand out the glass figurine communicators). Yelena points out to Roze that Roze is no different than the commander by killing Sitian prisoners to take over (however this point doesn’t really go anywhere). Roze threatens her and then kills Moon Man 😦 Yelena sucks in his soul and tells Roze that not everything is under Roze’s control. Yelena then jumps into the fire.

She tells the Fire Warper that she will not agree to his plan and finally starts to have some understanding of what a Soul Finder should do. She releases the souls from Roze, Gede and the other Warpers, reducing them to only their own original powers. Valek was there to ensure they were imprisoned. Yelena continues releasing all the souls trapped in the Fire World which reduces the Fire Warper’s power bit by bit. Then she moves to the Shadow World and releases the Sandseeds. Finally she remembers that she can communicate with home and contacts Leif. He tells her that she has been gone for weeks and that the Daviians are about to be killed and burned to death.

Yelena releases Moon Man to the sky 😦 and then has Leif contact Opal. As the Daviians are killed, Yelena captures their souls and releases them into the fire she portaled through. Opal turns each one into a glass figure which Valek then hides so they cannot be released and then Yelena returns to the “real world”.

She finds that she has become a Master magician (as she traveled to the spirit world and returned with a guide–the bat) but also is a full ambassador between the two countries. She returns the sword Cahil had to the Commander and tells him that she figured out that his mother’s soul has been hiding in his body since she died which led to his gender confusion (um, weird). After talking with the Commander, she goes back to Valek. She asks him how old he was when his family was killed. Since he was 13, Yelena realizes that is the age that magic first appears and that because of the trauma, Valek pulled enough power around himself that he created his own null shield causing his weird lack of magic. Two mysteries solved in two of the last three pages of the book! And then the book ends with Yelena and Valek in a happily ever after.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

The series was good as a whole but I did find this book to be the weakest one of the three. There were too many random pieces (using snakes as weapons, glass sculptures as telecommunicators) and seemed to just pull together too quickly. It might have been better to have had 4 books in the series instead of 3. On the plus side though, I did enjoy how well thought out it was. Everything seemed to fit together in one believable reality. I did appreciate that. I would definitely recommend this series to anyone who liked Twilight or Hunger Games (although I find it to be slightly more mature than true YA fiction).

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under 3.5 stars, Book Review, Books

Magic Study – Maria V. Snyder

Book Description (Amazon): Image

So far, I’ve managed to survive. You would think after being kidnapped as a child, imprisoned in my teens and released to become a poison taster, I would have endured enough. But no. The discovery of my magical abilities—powers forbidden in Ixia—has resulted in an execution order. My only chance is to flee to Sitia, my long-lost birthplace.

But Sitia is unfamiliar. I’m treated like an enemy—even by my own brother. Plus I can’t control my powers. I want to learn about my magic, but there isn’t time. A rogue magician has emerged and I’m targeted as his next victim.

Will my magical abilities save me…or be my downfall?

My Review:

Executive Summary: magical (is that too cheesy?)

I honestly have no idea how this series has escaped me for this long (these books came out in 2008). They’re so up my alley!

We left book 1 with Yelena leaving the north and heading into Sitia with Irys (I’ll try to make this review shorter than the last one now that a lot of the main backstory has been covered.) Based on what Mogkan told her, they head to the Zaltana clan, which happens to be in the trees (I envisioned Swiss Family Robinson). Yelena finds her mother (Perl), her father (Esau), and her brother who hates her (Leif). Irys heads back to the Citadel and Leif is to accompany Yelena back to join the magician school the following week when he meets with the First Magician. Yelena tries to remember her childhood but she has no recollections even after smelling the perfumes that her mother makes.

Leif receives message to leave earlier than initially planned. En route, he and Yelena are attacked by a group of soldiers. Notable in the group: Cahil, the nephew of the former king of Ixia; Commander Marrok, a strong but fair leader who seems to be the true leader of the group; and Goel, a twisted sadist. Cahil believes that Yelena is a spy from the north and intends to take her to the First Magician to prove it and build up some credibility. Yelena projects her magic and puts her guards to sleep, picks the locks of her restraints and escapes. Goel tracks and finds her and she is able to attack and restrain him eventually going back to the camp to prove that she is not a spy. Cahil and Yelena practice fighting and Yelena easily beats him in front of all his men…Goel warns her that once they get to the Citadel, his promise not to hurt her is over.

When they finally arrive at the Citadel, Yelena sees her first beggar children. She gives them all her Sitian money. She also realizes that she can communicate with horses and that she is to get a horse of her own. She arrives to speak to the First Magician (Roze) who penetrates her mind to determine whether she is a spy. Yelena calls on Valek for strength and partially blocks the assault. She awakes to find herself in her room in the Apprentrice wing of the school. Irys (Fourth Magician) meets with Yelena and begins to start training her immediately (especially after finding out that Yelena used her magic to put a dozen men to sleep so she could escape).

Irys and Yelena work on magic every day. Yelena’s skills are unusual in that she has the power to influence people to do something for her rather than using magic to accomplish the task directly. During the afternoons, she has riding lessons with Cahil and her horse Kiki who she has a mental bond with.

A girl, Tula, is found–the eleventh victim of brutal rape and torture, and the only one left alive. She is buried deep in her unconscious, and Yelena is brought to try to bring the girl back (like she did with the Commander). Yelena learns to heal her broken bones, but cannot reach her conscious without knowing more about the girl. Irys, Roze, the other two master magicians (Bain and Zitora) are trying to figure out a pattern of the girl’s killer.Yelena makes the missing connection–they are all around the border of the Avibian Plains. When Tula’s sister arrives, Yelena nearly kills herself to try to use Opal’s memories to rescue Tula (which she succeeds in doing with help from Leif’s strength).

In the meantime, Yelena makes a “business partnership” with one of the beggar children, Fisk, who she pays in exchange for help with small tasks. Awkwardly, Cahil is jealous that Yelena never smiles at him and invites her to the New Beginnings Feast. Yelena agrees and friendzones Cahil (who imo deserves it). School returns in session and Yelena makes the acquaintance of another apprentice, Dax, and a novice, Gelsi. Dax helps defend Yelena with the other students seeming overwhelmingly entertained by her drama.

Once finding more details from Tula about her attacker, they recognize a scent in the memories that is from a plant only found in the Illias Jungle. Yelena and Leif’s parents made a concentrate of the plant recently which helps numb muscles (but in large quantities can be used to incapacitate people). A healer from the Sandseed clan helped them with the formula and once completed, they gifted him with some. The group decides to travel to the Sandseed Clan for questioning. Yelena is worn out from bringing Tula back is supposed to stay in the Citadel, but she is able to draw strength from Valek and then rides to meet the rest of the group. Yelena and Leif stop to collect a sample and get caught in a magic trick by a Sandseed Story Weaver. He shows Yelena her childhood memories in exchange for helping Leif heal (he feels guilty that he *sort of* let Mogkan kidnap Yelena). The Story Weaver tells Yelena that she is a Soul Finder, a term she’s heard others mention.

They catch up with the group and Yelena speaks to the main Sandseed group. She passes their enigmatic test and learns that the package intended for the healer was raided by the Daviians, a group rebelling against the existing traditions and practicing “old evil”, binding souls to one’s own, stealing their magic. Yelena meets with the others and returns to the Citadel where she finds that Tula has been killed in her absence. The evil man, “Ferde” disguised himself as a gardener in the Keep, has taken Opal in exchange for Yelena.

The Ixian delegation arrives with Ambassador Signe (the Commander’s female personality in disguise), Adviser Ilom (Valek in disguise), and Ari and Janco. Yelena solicits some help from Fisk looking for anyone who looks like Ferde in the city. She and Irys go to investigate Fisk’s lead. While there, a woman sneaks Yelena a message setting up a new date and time for Opal’s exchange. Yelena decides that she and Valek will make their own plan (rather than working with the Sitians).

Cahil is getting more annoying by the minute. He challenges Janco to a fight and loses, insisting some sort of magical bias. Yelena is captured by Goel who she evades by magic (controlling his mind to make him release her and shackle himself instead). During this, Valek/Ilom tries to help, revealing his disguise to Cahil. Yelena’s parents arrive, her dad gives her a sort of antidote for the Curare poison (which at high doses can paralyze people’s magic). Goel turns up dead and Cahil is accusing Valek of the murder. He tries to remove Ilom’s disguise which has been thwarted (by suggestion that Valek is disguised as someone else while the true Ilom stands in). Cahil’s crazy increases.

Ambassador Signe (aka the Commander) offers Yelena a way out. Prove her loyalties to Ixia and her execution order would be invalidated.

Yelena and Valek go off to the exchange. Yelena sees Opal, who pricks her with the Curare poison as they hug. Opal runs off leaving Yelena paralyzed. When she comes to, she sees a woman with her! The woman turns out to be Mogkan’s sister, Alea. She tells Yelena that “Ferde”, her cousin, is on a mission to acquire enough souls to be stronger than all four Master Magicians.  Yelena stabs Alea, who in turn stabs her. Kiki rescues Yelena from Alea and the Void where Yelena can use her magic to heal her wound. She finds Ari and Janco and learns that Valek was kidnapped by Cahil and his men. They return to the Citadel and find that Gelsi has disappeared after working with one of the gardeners.

Yelena uses Fisk to get her and Leif through Ferde’s shield. Ferde uses magic to convince Leif to attack Yelena to distract her while he takes Gelsi’s soul. Yelena bursts in while the soul is in between, and she swallows it. Ferde begins to torture her with visions of the souls that she has already taken (mainly Reyad) and tries to convince her that the Council will never let another Soul Finder exist. Yelena nearly weakens but in a last ditch effort, she remembers the Curare that her mother gave her, using it to paralyze Ferde. She releases Gelsi’s soul back to her body.

Yelena learns that Cahil is not the nephew of the King, merely an infant who was taken and used by the soldiers to have a potential way back to Ixia. She also learns that Cahil was the one who killed Goel.

Yelena rendezvouses with Valek but is followed by Leif and by Moon Man, the Story Weaver. He helps her complete her promise to save Leif by sharing their memories with each other. Moon Man helps them attack the Daviian camp by moving the Void so it is above them and they cannot use their dark magic. They were outnumbered and fell back but not before Valek is able to kill Alea.

They return to the Citadel. Valek prepares to return to Ixia. Yelena tells Ambassador Signe that she would like to be a liaison between the two countries rather than being a spy. She agrees. Yelena goes to meet Valek one last time before he left and is stopped by crazy Cahil. He tells her that no one will trust her to be a liaison and he will hunt and kill Valek. Meh whatever. Valek meets Yelena. They do what people who love each other do. He goes to Ixia. She returns to the Citadel to find that Marrok was found beaten and that Cahil has released Ferde…  to…be…continued!!!

My Verdict: 4 stars

I usually hate sequels, and in trilogies, I almost always hate the 2nd book as it’s usually just details. This was a lot of details but it also had a lot of interesting plot points. Yelena meets her family, and because the story is set in Sitia, it is almost like a completely different story than book 1 (in a good way). I’m a bit nervous about book 3 though. A strong juxtaposition was created between the (communistic?) society of Ixia and the (democratic?) society of Sitia. (There weren’t enough details on either government but Snyder did highlight how different Sitia was with its beggars). I’m hoping this doesn’t become some sort of heavy handed political book, but I am still going to read book 3 to find out. I hope Snyder doesn’t do this!

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 stars, Book Review, Books

Poison Study–Maria V. Snyder

photoBook Description (Amazon):

Locked in a coffin-like darkness, there is nothing to distract me from my memories of killing Reyad. He deserved to die—but according to the law, so do I. Here in Ixia, the punishment for murder is death. And now I wait for the hangman’s noose.

But the same law that condemns me may also save me. Ixia’s food taster—chosen to ensure that the Commander’s food is not poisoned—has died. And by law, the next prisoner who is scheduled to be executed—me—must be offered the position.

My Review:

Executive Summary: enrapturing

So this is next month’s book club book that I read immediately after last month’s one which I finished late. Well at least I’m on time this month! It was available as an instant e-book from the Houston Public Library, and this one actually fit the reader (unlike Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close–maybe that’s why I liked this one better!)

The book is set in a fantasy land of Ixia. There isn’t really any explanation of what era it is but I get the idea that it’s somewhere between the late middle ages and modern times (no guns). It is ruled by the Commander who is a fair ruler, but who (with his right hand man Valek) took over by killing the previous king and his followers.

We meet 19 year old Yelena in the first pages of the novel. We know that something bad had happened to her, and she is now in prison about to be executed. She is led to meet one of the Commander’s officers (Valek) who pardons her execution in agreement for her being the Commander’s official taste tester. Valek brings back two cups and convinces Yelena it is a toast. It turns out that he has poisoned one with Butterfly’s Dust to ensure that she remains in the castle (she has to come to him every day to get a dose of antidote). We also find out that the reason that she was in prison was because she murdered a General’s son, and we meet Margg, a brash woman who seems to be Valek’s attendant.

As Yelena begins her training to become the food taster, she is haunted by dreams of the abuse she suffered at the hands of General Brazell and his son Reyad under the guise of Brazell’s orphanage (as well as visions of the ghost of Reyad himself). She is a quick learner of poisons and finally is to begin tasting poisons, starting with the deadliest one (with the thought being that if she doesn’t survive that one, there’s no need to go on). She survives after a few days of being unconscious and heads to the baths. When she returns, she sees two of Brazell’s men waiting outside her door and saying lewd things. She sneaks to the kitchen where she meets Rand, the cook. She learns that a food taster is a risky job and the rumor is that the previous food taster was poisoned by Valek intentionally.

After a visit to see Valek test the Commander’s food, Yelena is attacked by two of Brazell’s guards. She manages to evade them and then when cornered, mysteriously renders them unconscious with a buzzing noise that she produces. Valek finds her, takes her to the medic and moves her quarters into his suite until Brazell and his guards are gone. (Brazell being there to lobby for a new factory.)

While recovering in the infirmary, Yelena considers the buzzing noise which allowed her to escape the guards. She believes its start happened when she was being tortured by Brazell and Reyad, and starts to consider the possibility that it might be magic. Magic has been forbidden in Ixia since Commander Ambrose came to power, and any magicians who have been discovered have been killed.

Yelena has her final test before she can fully become the Commander’s taster. Rand visits her in the infirmary and tells her about the staff’s betting on her surviving (or not) the My Love poison and passing (or not) the final test. Valek returns and sees Rand. Valek tells Yelena not to trust him (common theme of this peculiar love triangle). Valek’s test is that all but one is not poisoned and Yelena has to find it. She tells him all are poisoned, and he tells her she fails. She challenges him to drink the “clean” one, and he begrudgingly agrees that one’s been poisoned too. She goes to taste for the Commander’s lunch.

She begins to suspect Margg of messing with her after finding her journal open and a message written in the dust of her dresser. Valek ensures her that Margg can be trusted but she starts taking matters into her own hands to protect herself. She researches poisons to hopefully find the antidote for the Butterfly Dust so she can escape.

Yelena wants to attend the fire festival but she has no money since the taster doesn’t get paid with actual money. Coincidentally, Valek and the Commander are looking for a “fugitive” for a training exercise and Valek suggests Yelena for the job with the incentive that the longer she evades them, the more money she will receive. She agrees, and then tries a dessert called Criollo for the Commander that Brazell had sent.

Yelena overhears Margg and the staff taking bets on how long she will last as fugitive. Valek threatens Yelena for leaking the exercise, when Yelena knows that it was Margg who read the information from Valek’s desk. Yelena agrees to bait the snitch during the fire festival. We learn that Yelena had trained to be an acrobat, and we also learn that the informant is not who they need to be concerned about. Rather, they need to be concerned about a southern magician (Irys) who tries to kill Yelena at the fire festival. After being saved by Valek, he tells her that perhaps she was originally from Sitia.

Yelena then sets off on her training exercise, managing to evade the two teams for quite a while. She is eventually enticed out of hiding by the same magician she saw at the fire festival. Irys convinces Yelena that she too is a magician and must come study in Sitia to avoid overturning the balance of magic. Yelena agrees to come within the year, when she can find the antidote for the Butterfly’s Dust. As Irys disappears, Yelena waits for Valek. Valek arrives and shortly thereafter, a succession of wagons appears heading towards Brazell’s land. Valek steals a few of the fruits that they are carrying to investigate what they are. When Valek leaves, Yelena is “captured” by two men she had seen earlier–Janco and Ari. They escort her back to the Commander. Yelena recommends Janco and Ari who are then promoted and in turn, offer her a favor. She asks them to teach her how to defend herself.

Yelena gets into a rhythm of tasting the Commander’s food, training with Avi and Janco (and a new addition, Maren), and researching the fruits as well as potential antidotes for her poison. Valek begins to suspect that there is something malicious going on with the Criollo (as the Commander eats some daily and Brazell sends more and more) and tells Yelena to stop eating it to see if there are any side effects. Throughout this, she is led to an informant (Star) via Margg (who is actually trying to sell her out to Valek) and finds out that Rand is the main castle informant because he owes money on his gambling debts. Rand and Valek continue to be at odds.

We find out more horrific stuff about the abuse that Yelena suffered at the hands of Brazell and Reyad, and the torture and rape that led to her finally snapping and killing Reyad. The generals come to the castle to discuss the change in the next in command and the fact that a Sitian delegation will be meeting with the Commander. It turns out that Brazell is the next in line…and his advisor Mogkan is a magician.

When the Sitian delegation arrives, Irys is their leader. When she presents the Commander with cognac, it is poisoned with “My Love”. Yelena blacks out and Valek hides that there is anything awry. After awaking she goes to the kitchen where Rand informs her that he has hit a dead end on the fruits as well. They throw some of the beans from inside the fruit into the fire and realize that it’s the missing ingredient of the Criollo. Yelena finds out that she is traveling with the Commander to Brazell’s factory–without Valek.

While traveling, Rand lures Yelena into a trap to be captured by Star but has a last minute change of heart and is killed in the scuffle. :-/ (I had grown to like him despite his working with the “enemy”). Yelena manages to kill the two thugs and then Valek appears. As Star is being taken away, she leaks that Mogkan (also named Kangom) is her informant.

When they arrive at Brazell’s, Yelena is separated from the group and is required to report to Mogkan for her antidote. The Commander is in a dazed stupor. Mogkan obviously wants to find Valek but Yelena doesn’t know where he went after the fight. After touring the factory, Yelena realizes that there is a link between the advisors eating the Criollo and Mogkan’s power over them. Irys forms a mental connection with Yelena and tells her that Criollo is used in Sitia to open the mind for magic and that Mogkan must have a circle of power to help him and that when Yelena finds it to chant Irys’s name.

Yelena and Valek (who always turns up at the right time) find the circle of power–the rest of the orphans that Yelena knew when she lived there, but Mogkan catches them and throws them in the dungeon. In the dungeon, she tells Valek all her tales of Brazell and Reyad. She finds out that the Butterfly’s dust is not real. The antidote is the true poison and if she doesn’t receive it regularly, she will become very sick but it will pass eventually. She convinces Mogkan and the guards that she is dead. They go to carry her out and Valek is able to kill them and swipe the keys allowing them to escape, rescue the children, and kill Mogkan. In the meantime, Yelena and Valek do a bit of slapping bellies (which was kind of a surprise but not really?) and find out that Yelena was kidnapped from Sitia and is a “Zaltana” (not really any explanation in this book as to what that means).

Yelena “wakes” the Commander up from his Criollo haze by finding him in his mind. It turns out that the Commander is gender confused and grew up identifying more with a woman. In his youth, he killed a snow cat (very ferocious and nearly impossible to kill) to prove that he was masculine. This is the dream location where she located him and coaxed him back to reality.

He, by law, has to execute her for being a magician, however, he gives her some leeway to escape before she is punished. She leaves to head to Sitia to learn about magic and her family with the promise that she and Valek will be together soon.

Verdict: 4 stars

I read this book basically nonstop straight through. It was addicting. I found the story unusual and interesting, and there weren’t any obvious plot holes like in a lot of stories like this. I just received the sequel that I had requested from the library and I am really excited to start reading it.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who liked Hunger Games. To me, it has a very similar feel.

6 Comments

Filed under 4 stars, Book Club, Book Review