Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
LibraryThing tags: haven't bothered with this yet, but they'd probably be fantasy, romance, maybe suffering and... oh, I don't know. Let's get on with the review, shall we?
I finished Poison Study earlier today. I don't normally review books so quickly after finishing them (ah, there's an understatement for you), but I've had words spinning around in my brain and I need to get them out. I've found a new favorite, thanks to amazon's recommendations based on books I like and thanks to whoever it was that sold this copy to the store I work at. I highly recommend it, and if five of you want to email the author to say I said so, I would appreciate it, since that could get me a free signed book. Blogging that feels like cheating, but I doubt she cares, and I'm sure I'll mention the book to five people in person either way. This blog post was mostly composed before I found out about the referral program. Anywho. Poison Study is about a woman who is given the choice to become food taster instead of being executed. It's about much more than that, but I wouldn't want to spoil anything.
Someone might think it's just a fun light fantasy/romance, but that person would be wrong. For example, to the amazon reviewer who said, "I thought the plot was well thought out and pretty good, although it slid over precisely what it was that Brazell had been trying to do to Yelena," my witty rejoinder is, "huh?" And I'll throw in, "I do not think it means what you think it means" for good measure. Props for liking the book despite that, but I'll give him or her the benefit of the doubt and assume he hasn't read much fantasy, making him a little more disadvantaged than the rest of us when it comes to putting two and two together in said genre. I pity him for the details he wouldn't have noticed that he didn't notice, as they added to character rather than plot (hmm, no one ever mentions "character holes"... although of course characters are "flat" if they severely lack).
Sure, I've read fluff that sort of resembles this novel -- at first glance. An author has a good idea, loves the characters and is willing to put them through horrible pain and suffering for the sake of a good story, is good at appealing to emotion, but doesn't necessarily apply very rigorous logic to the plot. Or perhaps simply doesn't have a very sophisticated grasp of history or some other subject important to the novel. This book still would have been good if that had been the case. But there were a few details here and there that made my jaw drop. She obviously thought of everything, but maybe even more importantly, she told it well, without feeling the need to prove herself and spell everything out for you. Maria V. Snyder is an amazing writer, but not in a way that draws attention to itself. I don't think most readers would notice -- not her techniques anyway, just the result of loving the book.
Side note: I hate it when literary fiction critics look down their collective noses at genre fiction, and I really hate reviews of books which "shine" in the midst of "trash" that "gluts the market." Since I only read books I'm interested in, before I worked at a bookstore I really didn't know what they were talking about, or where all these market glutters were. Even now, I'm pretty sure that the most commercial of writers take their work seriously. As Tad Williams has said. If a book seems like it was thrown together, it probably wasn't. Again, perhaps the author didn't have a very good understanding of history, or some such. Whatever. I'm not trying to make it sound like I think most fantasy is "light fare," I'm just trying to say that Poison Study is not one of those books that seem like it was thrown together -- even if seems to be one of the ones that seem like that, to some people, at first. Clear as mud? Great. End side note.
One thing in particular... well, I won't explain clearly because it involves a very minor spoiler. But some novels would have elaborated on it for pages and pages, full of emotional angst. This one mentioned it in two places, just a couple of lines each, and leaves the emotional whammy to your deductive powers. I was very impressed. Obviously.
Oh, and don't get me started on the politics of this fantasy world, because I'd probably spoil something; let me just say, once again, what seems black and white at first? Yeah, not so much. Oh, don't get me wrong: there are thoroughly evil villains. But... heh heh. Maria V. Snyder is like... like a cross between Patricia Briggs and J. Michael Straczynski. And maybe... oh, I don't know who else. I'm not literate enough to think of someone known for their subtlety right at the moment. Besides a scene from Remains of the Day which springs to mind; I'd probably just confuse the issue if I said she was a cross between Patricia Briggs, J. Michael Straczynski, and Kazuo Ishiguro.
The mysteries could have been a little more difficult to solve at times, but given the character and writing strengths, I didn't mind. The characters' densest moments had good reason behind them, true to the characters (and by "true to the characters" I do not mean the characters are Dumb). Oh, and the ghost! Brilliant! Yes, I know you don't know what I'm talking about. I command you: go find out.
For myself, now I've glowed and gushed enough that I'm afraid I'm wrong, exaggerating in those first obsessive moments after reading a good book. Yep, better go read it again to check.