Wednesday 21 May 2008

Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder

POISON STUDY by MARIA V. SNYDER published Sept 2006 by Luna

This book was just one of those that never quite made it to the top of the TBR pile. Always dropping further and further down whenever something new came along. Plus (I think) when I got the book about twenty of the centre pages were slightly torn, which I didn't notice straight away and I think it always narked me a little bit.

On with the review. Yelena is about to be executed for murder. With her life on the line she's offered a choice - attend her execution or become a food taster for the Commander of Ixia, a man under constant threat of assassination. She accepts the job offer, aware that whilst it may be merely a delay of her death, it also offers her the opportunity to escape. Despite her circumstances she manages to make a life for herself, but when rebels plot to seize Ixia from the Commander and with her own life under threat the choices she makes not only shape her destiny but also the destiny of those around her.

Yay! Another score for the TBR pile. I really enjoyed this one and am kicking myself for not getting to it sooner - darn those torn pages.

Poison Study is set in a society (Ixia) which is Totalitarian. But it's made clear that in some ways this is better than the monarchist system it replaced. Whilst neither situation is a democracy the people as a whole appear to be better off under the rule of the Commander - everyone has a job, there are no homeless, people are expected to contribute to society. But it's also a rigid system with high standards, there is little flexibility. The use of magic isn't tolerated for example. Creating another problem for Yelena when her magical abilities start to develop. Unfortunately even within this controlled system there is still room for unscrupulous people to manipulate things to their advantage.

The story did start out slow for me. I was hooked on page 81 and at that point basically read until I'd finished the book.
"Tell me why you killed Reyad."
"You're not ready to believe me."
And with those words I wanted to know how this story was going to end.

Initially the story seems very simple. Yelena is the hero, we're on her side. The people who've imprisoned her are bad. But it's more complicated than that. And as we progress through the story it becomes more complex and layered. Especially as Yelena doesn't know who it's safe to trust. Every time she confides in someone it's a risk and you feel that as you're reading. This becomes even more dangerous as her magic develops. Who does she trust? Who won't betray her? And in sharing her secrets is she endangering the people she's come to care for?

What made this book for me are the relationships between Yelena and the other characters. Not just Valek her mentor and more, but also Ari, Janko and even the characters that she didn't get on with. They're very well drawn and make you feel like this is a story about a real place and real people, even though some of the circumstances are fantastical.

Valek is one of those men who sees everything. He slightly reminded me of Anafiel Delauney from the Kushiel series. And the author doesn't betray his character. At the end when he has the most difficult choice to make. He makes it, but he makes it his own choice. It's the relationship that develops between Valek and Yelena that kept me turning the pages. How it progresses from jailor and prisoner, to mentor and student to more. The way they circle cautiously around one another both constantly testing the other.

LOL - and I learnt a new word. Mucilaginous - of the nature of or resembling mucilage; moist, soft, and viscid. Lovely. :)

If I had any complaints it would be that some of the resolution was a little convenient and wasn't as involving (for me) as I hoped it would be. Slightly too much running from place to place.

But apart from that this is definitely a book I'd recommend. And I've already got Magic Study on my TBR pile ready to go.

Sunday 11 May 2008

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Ilona Andrews was one of my breakout authors for 2007 (along with Jeri Smith-Ready and Jennifer Rardin) so this will be an ungraded review, as I'm such a fangirl. :)

Magic Burns picks up three months after Magic Bites. Atlanta is about to experience a flare - a time (every seven years) when magic runs rampant. So things in Kate's life are even crazier than usual. A simple job for the Pack (Atlanta's paramilitary clan of shapeshifters) to retrieve some maps, puts Kate in the path of two Gods fighting a battle of power. The price for stopping this war is going to be high.

Whilst I could just quote and quote from this book, the dialogue is sparky, witty and compelling, I will restrain myself so you can read the best bits for yourself.
Julie stared at me from the crates. "He went poof."
"Yes, he did."
"He likes you. He grabbed your butt."
"Next time I see him, I'll cut his arm off..."
Kate is a spunky, smart-mouthed heroine, who doesn't always think before she opens up her mouth, but is usually able to think fast enough to get herself out of any trouble her mouth gets her into. Though she should really know better than to preface a visit to anyone in Atlanta with the comment "...he's harmless." (That has to vie with "I'll be right back" as the top thing not to say in a dangerous situation.) Although a lot of this book will have a smile on your face, or have you reading faster to keep up with the action. It's intercut with moments of seriousness and sadness - a bit like real life in that way, but without the shapeshifters and the vampires and the impending apocalypse.

Retrieving the maps is not as easy as it sounds. Whenever Kate gets her hands on them, the thief steals them back. Bran is a character you can't help but like. He's such a rascal. :)
'"Hello, dove." He grinned at me. "Look at that: you don't have your pretty knife and I've got your hands. What are you gonna do now?"
I rammed my head into his nose.'
The relationship he has with Kate is both funny and sad, though I think at the end of the book he is her champion.

There are some nice set pieces in this book. At the beginning Kate summarizes the attitudes of the police, the guild and the order to supernatural problems. A great catch-up for anyone who missed the first book. Probably my favourite section is when Kate has to visit the werehyenas, not only for the stuff we find out, but also because the characters of the hyenas are just so hyena-like. I read that bit and I've got the trio from the Lion King in my head.

In some ways this book is more fantastical, and I wonder how much of that can be attributed to the flare. The number and variety of supernatural creatures on display increases - salamanders, stymphalean birds, giant tortoises - as does the strength of magical activity. It gives you an idea of what Atlanta would be like if it ever tipped completely over into the magical world. (Slightly reminded me of Simon R. Greens Nightside).

We get a lot more hints about Kate's secret. Some whacking big clues. I'm pretty sure I know what it is but it doesn't really annoy me that we still don't know for sure. I like that it's slowly unfolding with events.

The chemistry between Kate and Curran increases. Phew!

Quibble - On page 26 when Kate comes across a chasm in the ground she 'estimates' it's size as at least a mile wide, close to a quarter mile deep and stretching forth for a good two miles! And I just don't think you can put quantities on a hole that big. But hey, when that's the only complaint you've got about a book, you really shouldn't be complaining.

Any book that can make you laugh and cry is a keeper. My major gripe is that 2009 is too long to wait for the next book.