It was a fair few years since I first found Poison Study by Maria V Snyder. Bought during my fantasy obsessed pre-university period, I consumed the book and its two sequels with vigour, entrapped in the world that Snyder created. It wasn’t until recently (almost six years later) that I returned to the world created by Snyder, discovering the two sequel trilogies that she had published in the intervening years.
The Chronicles of Ixia are comprised of three trilogies, starting with the Study Series which focuses on Yelena Zaltana, The Glass Series which turns its attention to Opal Cowan, a character introduced in The Study Series, before returning to Yelena nine years after the events of the first novel in the final triology. Poison Study starts with an intriguing premise – Yelena is in prison and scheduled for execution. She has admitted to murdering her benefactor, and is ready to accept her fate, when she is offered a short reprieve in the form of becoming the food taster for the ruler of her kingdom, Ixia. What follows over the course of these novels is an interesting interrogation of power and governance, hidden underneath the surface narrative of magic and assassination.
Snyder takes plenty of time establishing Ixia, and its opposite in many ways, the country of Sitia. One is an apparently benevolent military dictatorship, run by a strict code of conduct, where everyone has to wear uniforms which dictate their position within society. The other is run by a selection of clan based councilmen and magicians. Through each country Snyder exposes faults and problems, and leaves you with the uncomfortable question of whether any method of governance is adequate for the instance when one person decides that they want to abuse the power they have attained.
However, while this is all interesting from an academic point of view, it is the characters which keep you reading. Snyder’s greatest strength is her character creation. Yelena and Opal are interesting and flawed female heroes, and the individuals who surround them are not two dimensional stereotypes – they are given enough character to overcome any stereotypical associations which might be drawn from their positions in the women’s lives. Yelena in particular is fully established within Poison Study, her past and motivations revealed in tantalizing drips as we move through her present day narrative. These are characters which engage, entreat you to care about what happens to them, and surprise occasionally in their actions and motivations.
This is not to say that these books don’t have their faults. There are times where travel appears instantaneous, which can make it feel as if Yelena and her cohort are moving from crisis to crisis with no narrative break. This is more of a criticism of the latest trilogy of books, and I suspect it comes from the widening of the world and narrative which attempts to span action in two countries, with characters frequently travelling from one end to the other as part of their adventures. Similarly, sometimes the colloquial English that Snyder falls into, particularly in dialogue, can feel at odds with the content of magic, assassins, and soul reading. This may well be a personal critique, based upon years of reading fantasy which reflects an older age, not our current world. These criticisms, however, do not undermine the real joy and entertainment that these books provide. Snyder creates characters that are compelling, narratives that hook, and mysteries which genuinely surprise at the first read.
The Chronicles of Ixia are perfect for anyone who is looking for an easy, engaging read, which rewards repeat attention.