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Excellent follow-up to Poison Study
on 18 April 2007
"Poison Study", the first novel published by Maria Snyder, was excellent. It followed the fortunes (or misfortunes) of Yelena, a prisoner about to be executed who is given a chance to live a little longer by being the food tester for the Commander, the leader of Ixia. Yelena is trained by the assassin Valek to taste different poisons but it isn't only death by poison that she faces - her latent magical skills are beginning to break through and magic is outlawed in Ixia. When saving the life of the Commander by defeating a magician Yelena shows that she has magical talent and the Commander has to write an order for her execution, so Yelena decides to travel to Sitia, apparently her birthplace and home of magicians, to learn her trade, leaving her lover Valek behind.
"Magic Study" starts when Yelena, having travelled through Sitia for a couple of months with Irys and the rescued girls and having been taught magical skills on the way, approaches her home. She has no memories of the Zaltana people but they remember her and her welcome is generally good - apart from that of her brother Leif. She has to travel to the magicians Citadel with Leif but on the way they are ambushed and Yelena's life is once again pulled into danger. It's hard for her to know who to trust and how to stay safe in an unfamiliar place but she once again is able to assemble some friends around her, even four-legged ones.
The polarisation between Sitia and Ixia is very well written - each side views the other with suspicion and Valek's reputation in Sitia is mud. Yelena has to keep quiet about their partnership and yet she has grown up a lot in this series of books and is able to look deeper into the morals and deeds of those around her. In "Poison Study" Yelena was a slightly fearful character whose main method of self-preservation was to run away; in "Magic Study" she has grown in confidence in stature and in fact now her reaction tends to be to barge in, magical guns blazing. It's a welcome development in her character, that we see her able to stand on her own two feet as she slowly unravels the extent of her powers. She faces a great deal of opposition from an evil magician and even from the heir to the throne of Ixia who becomes her friend and yet she throws herself into protecting those weaker than her, even at risk to herself.
For those (like me) who liked Valek in the last book - and I know not every reader has found him a suitable hero - he features again in this book. This time, however, he allows Yelena to find her way as she is growing into her skills and power; his assassin and spying abilities seem somewhat magical again and yet he is not always able to protect Yelena and she has to rely on herself. This book contains some good writing as their relationship settles into something more of equals than the teacher-and-student of the first book.
For those who enjoyed "Poison Study", "Magic Study" is definitely worth reading. It's as good, has the same great writing style but isn't just a rehash of that story - it's a new direction for our characters to move in and one that is very well realised. There's a third book, "Fire Study", due out some time in 2007 and I, for one, am very much looking forward to its publication.