CW: child harm, threatened rape, bloody violence
How do I love thee, let me count the ways. Specifically, there are six ways in which I love you, Poison Study.
Reason, the first: Yelena
Yelena is a badass. She survives cruel General Brazell’s torturous “children’s home” by killing her torturer, the General’s son Reyad. Of course, Brazell is now all aboard the SS Vengeance, destination: Yelena. But Yelena has an unlikely hero in The Rules. More on this later. For now, I’d love to rhapsodise a bit more on how extraordinary Yelena is.
Usually first person narration drives me a little nuts, but I love being inside Yelena’s perspective. It gives me the distinct pleasure and privilege of seeing the world as a brave, strategic, empathic person sees it. It’s a good place to be. The world building is deftly woven into the narrative. I traverse this world, seeing it through Yelena’s eyes. “Sheltered” as she has been, she and I discover the world around her together. The bravery and openness with which she interacts with her world stokes the fires of my curiosity.
Reason, the second: the world
The world of this novel is split into two countries. First, we have Sitia and its magical peoples. Second, we have Yelena’s country: Ixia which is divided into 8 military districts, each ruled by a general. The leader of MD6 is The Commander and the head of the entire state. This Commander has no time for rule-breaking. (I told you we’d come back for this.) Yelena killed someone, so she must be punished, extenuating circumstances be damned. Yelena is put on death row. A year later salvation comes in the unlikely form of a role serving the Commander: being his food taster. And so she embarks on a whole new life at the Commander’s side, privy to all sorts of intrigues and secrets.
Reason, the third: the plot
Sometimes I like knowing what’s going to happen before it actually happens. It’s comforting. But, BUT that is not how I feel when it comes to fantasy novels. I need to be Constantly. Surprised. And indeed I was surprised by who Yelena falls in love with (see below) and by the choices that Yelena makes. It helps that my memory for plot is notoriously dismal, so with each reread I am surprised afresh.
Reason, the fourth: the hero (SWOON!)
Our heroine has a hero, and I’m hiding him behind spoilers because he’s a delicious surprise.
For me the love between Valek and Yelena was a revelation as this was the first book I read where the delicious love between the two leads was not a point of tension or angst. Valek loves Yelena. Yelena loves Valek. Simple. Whether they are in the same place or not, that love does not shift. Valek does not stand in Yelena’s way as Yelena gains power. He, a powerful man in his own right, is not afraid to be enamoured with his superior in insight and power.
Reason, the fifth: Yelena’s friends
Our heroine makes friends. True, genuine friends. And how dear those friends are to her! Her friendships are with fully-rounded characters in their own right. And that’s one of the strengths of this book, and, indeed, this series: the supporting characters are real, compelling people.
Reason, the sixth: There’s a whole series!
There are more books! I’ve chosen to focus on the one which I have reread the most often (Poison Study) but there are so SO many more books (nine to be exact, with an extra six short stories and novellas) in this world. So you needn’t surface from this wonderful world for many many days should you so wish. Escape is not only possible but guaranteed.
If we weren’t in the midst of a global pandemic and all its concomitant ills, I would have listed at least 20 more effusive reasons why I love this book, but all of them would have been spoilers. That I can put fingers to keyboard at all when it feels like the world is falling down around me is testament itself to the power of this book to make me believe that things will be okay. If you’re in need of being in a different time and space with people who make good decisions when faced with bad things, then come join me and Yelena in Ixia.