I’m just going to try this out… Peeking out behind my dedication to and interest in science communication, I am an ardent reader of science fiction and fantasy. Always hopeful but frequently disappointed, I’ve begun to catalog the trail of my voracious consumption of books from these genres. Bear in mind my tastes lean more toward YA than adult speculative fiction, but a good book is a good book.
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
My my. Just when I think I’m too jaded to enjoy this genre any longer, a book like this comes to my attention, and I am so glad to be wrong.
This brilliant story has a lot going for it; The tired old adage encouraging writers to “show and not tell” takes on a new shine in Snyder’s voice. The characters are carried through their actions – a face devoid of emotion, a sardonic lift of an eyebrow, twitching fingers, lingering at doorways, guiltily starting…I know these are just the basics of good writing, but my god, it’s so refreshing to find a character beneath behavior instead of slathered on top.
Plus – poison taster. Why didn’t I think of that? A very convenient profession to coast through a narrative. She faces danger in every snip, snort and bite. Plus it’s a profession that requires a degree of cunning and sensibility. Anyone who can survive this job is necessarily a smart badass.
And Yelena lives up to that challenge. She’s strong, savvy, smart and brave while also being utterly human – i.e. stinky, snotty, sometimes funny and occasionally not up to the challenge. I like her squirrly-ness.
So many things I love about this man, but mostly it’s how unsure we are about him almost all the way through. Snyder plays a delicious game where she feeds the reader just a drop of sugar and then withholds for pages and pages. Then one more sweet drop just to keep us hanging on. He’s that dark prince whose always one step ahead. You’re pretty sure you want him to kiss you if you can just avoid the edge of his knife. Lovely.
Snyder’s secondary characters are rich, fertile and full of complexity. Most of them opened up side-trails I wanted to explore further – the Commander (woah – what? that needs a whole book) Irys, Magg, J&A…I hope I learn more in the sequels.
A minor nitpick: While I loved how Yelena was haunted – a manifest of her own fragmented sense of self perhaps – I wanted a little more out of this. It could have been funnier, it could have been creepier..something. It needed a little more depth to be justified.
On the whole, I heartily recommend this book. I love being surprised, and this one snuck up on me in a way I haven’t been able to shake.