At 19 years old Yelena is condemned to death for the murder of a General’s son. She is given a not-quite-second chance to live and be Commander Ambrose’s food taster. While she won’t die immediately by the noose, she could die at any time by poison.
The story starts out really slow and kind of cliche as it focuses largely on just Yelena and adjusting to life in the castle and her job as food taster. Around the time of the Fire Festival, a summer celebration, the action gets started. It is about this time that we finally get to find out more about Yelena’s past, why she killed Reynad. There was an initial impression when she is talking about what happened to her that the author plugged these in to give her a tortured past so to speak, just used it as a device to make the reader pity Yelena and shock them at how bad her life was. Thankfully, those experiments do end up having a significant place in the plot.
Another backstory that was more underlying and not immediately consequential to the story was that of the corrupt monarchy of the land of Ixia being overthrown and replaced by a militaristic dictatorship. With the overthrow of the monarchy did not come the utopia that many hoped. The Code of Behavior under Commander Ambrose treats everyone as equals but is harsh an unforgiving. A person that kills someone else will be put to death regardless of if there was a reason for the murder, i.e. self defense. The concept was interesting that the solution to a problem, such as that of a corrupt government, comes with it’s own host of problems. It also presents an opportunity for conflict down the road. Commander Ambrose is not a bad person. He showed frequently that he could be understanding and just. But it would not be surprising at all if there were another uprising at some point because of his harsh stances.
As far as characters, this book has some cool ones. The bad guys are kind of flat cut outs of what a bad guy should be but everyone else gets some depth. As mentioned, the Commander is probably the most complex. Yelena is in some ways a typical YA heroine. She is pretty, smart, and special. This could easily have led her to be the most annoying character written for the story. Fortunately, (and yes the full irony of the comment is understood) she has a flash of temper at times and does not always make the most logical of choices (man, what has the YA genre come to when we feel fortunate that our heroine is flawed!). Valek is utterly faithful to the Commander but frequently makes choices that lessen the harshness of Ambrose.
The romance between Yelena and Valek is, I am extraordinarily happy to say, NOT insta-love!! Their affection for each other comes on gradually and naturally.
Definitely an easily recommendable YA book.
At the start of the story, I was really afraid this was going to be a disappointing read. I am very happy to say that, like the hokey pokey, it turned itself around! There were some inconsistencies in world-building early on but as the story and writing improved down the line, I was willing to forgive them to the point they are not really mention-able. The only actual complaint I have is there were some awkward chapter breaks. Often, the chapter break would happen mid-conversation just for the sake of ending on someone saying a really cool line, just for the other character to directly respond at the opening of the following chapter. Apart from that, I am shipping Yelena/Valek (Yelek? Valena?) super-hard and may have a bit of a fictional character crush of Valek.;)
Very excited to get to Magic Study!
Like Dani’s HILARIOUS hokey pokey joke, I was not excited about the beginning of this book, but it won me over with funny and well developed characters. Unlike a certain book we have already reviewed, (cough) Daughter of Blood (cough) the romantic relationship in this book makes sense and I am excited to see where it goes from here. Interesting world-building, and good characters has me ready for this story to continue.