Poison Study discussion

First, let me say that if you’re on LJ, please come over to my post on my wordpress blog so we can all have the pleasure of interacting together. I appreciate it.

Second, there are sure to be spoilers here. So read no further if you are concerned about that. There’s spoiler break. This is your only warning

Third, I can only allow 10 comments in a thread, so this will get messy. Begin a new comment thread and try to indicate that you’re extending the thread or discussion,
maybe quote what you’re responding to if you can. Basically, let’s have a good discussion and let’s be as organized and clear as possible.

All right. I have no idea how to go about a book discussion. But I do have some thoughts about the book that I thought I’d put down and put some questions out there
to begin with and go from there.  First I want to say that I read this book awhile ago when it first came out. At the time I recalling liking it, but I never picked up the
second book. I’m not entirely sure why, though I have some guesses now.

Poison_StudyThere are a couple things that are going on in this story and I’m not sure all of it works as well as it should. I have some issues, but I also liked a lot still. I rather liked
the idea of a military dominance and some of the effects. Like people choosing educations at 12 and never getting more education than that. No advanced education
is really encouraged, and if you end up not liking your position, too bad. There’s a lot of internal surveillance to keep people in their places. And of course, the Code
of Behavior that is black and white and totally unforgiving. I am really curious about the nature of magic and that makes me want to read Magic Study. I generally
liked all the characters, though I thought the Commander being a woman was a weird twist. It had no groundwork and didn’t seem to have much reason in the novel.

Okay, one issue I had with the Code of Behavior. Killing was always wrong. But Valek is allowed to kill at essentially his own discretion. Yet accidents were not to be
forgiven. There’s no excuse for killing. I was disconcerted about the lack of any confusion by the characters relating to that contradiction. What do you think? Did it
bother you at all?

Another place I was bothered with was the love scene. After all Yelena had been through at the hands of Reyad, she has no issues with sex. That just threw me out
of the story.

I sometimes like Valek and sometimes not. I liked how cold he was in some ways–he had a job to do and was ruthless about doing it–but I did wonder if Yelena should
have felt more betrayed once she found out that a) he’d been in love with her and b) never deviated from his plans and c) waited until it was only necessary to tell her
about the Butterfly’s Dust (a very clever ruse to keep the tasters close and loyal). I would think I would be pretty angry at first, though I can see how she would come around.
But he doesn’t have to offer explanation.

Along those lines, I didn’t believe entirely that he’d fallen in love. It was a little bit subtle for me. Same with Yelena, actually. I liked the way there was a building respect
on both sides, but I didn’t see the romantic elements building as well.

I liked Yelena as a character. I thought she was strong and smart. When she recalls what happened with Reyad that last night, I love that she does exactly what he says
and doesn’t fight. Because she’s a survivor and that’s what you do–you don’t let pride get in the way of survival. The same with how she handled becoming a poison
taster. She’s no fool. How did you feel about her?

I thought being an acrobat worked well into the story and made a lot of sense. I like that she had those skills, also, and could use them to help fight.

I really like Rand and how conflicted he was.

I’m not sure how I feel about General Brazell. He was pretty flat for me as villains go. Reyad’s ghost was more round a character. In fact, I really liked that he was
still present in the story. It allowed for Yelena’s past to still exist in the present.  I felt this was crucial to her overcoming what had happened to her. At the same time,
I’m not sure enough residue of all she’d been through stuck with her. I wonder if she’d have been as willing to be touched by anyone, even casually.

Marg was fabulous.

I have more, but I wonder what your thoughts are. What do you want to talk about? What did you like? What didn’t you? Is this book a success for you? What’s
missing? What is too much?



  • Cameron

    I finished up the novel late last night. I can’t say I really enjoyed it, but I thought it had a great premise, and as you said, the military dominance was a terrific idea.

    My biggest issue with the novel as a whole is with the writing. It felt like drama diarrhea. From the very first sentence, where Yalena says something to the effect of “Darkness surrounded me like a coffin,” my eyes hurt from rolling. Every paragraph, every bit of spoken dialogue, it all felt way too overly dramatic and theatrical. That scene with Valek confessing his love was excruciating for that reason – it felt like Telemundo Ocho’s story of the week.

    It lacks all subtlety and nuance. You don’t get a feel of Valek’s love because up until that point, there isn’t any. The twists are written solely for the purpose of having them, and that annoys the everloving piss out of me. Introducing drama for drama’s sake rather than telling a quality story and playing with the originality of the setting and backdrop is downright criminal.

    As to the characters themselves, I never really felt attached to any of them, but I thought Reyad was a pretty great villain, as was the idea of Brazell’s academy. Most everyone else felt too broad, too much like a caricature. Again, no nuance, no room to breathe. Character descriptions are dumped in one paragraph, giving the reader no chance to use their imagination (though the descriptions of the castle were pretty darn good).

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m being overly harsh. But seriously, at any given point in the novel, I expected a voice to say, “And these are the days of our lives!”

    • Di Francis

      Do you supposed you can point to some specific passages? Maybe insert a line or two here of the overdone theatricality? It’s curious, I didn’t pick up that as such. But I wonder if that’s because I read romance and possibly forgave the writing, or if I just wasn’t bothered as much as you were.

      • Cameron

        Here’s my second favorite passage positively dripping with drama diarrhea. I’m going to patent that phrase, by the way. This is about three quarters of the way through the book, when Yelena sneaks into the kitchen and is caught by Rand. This conversation takes place after Yelena’s been poisoned by Rand, after they’ve had a laugh and he’s made her sweet cakes, and they’ve had a nice, fine “how do ya do…” all after she’s been poisoned by the douchebag. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but that seems sort of bonkers. Anyways, here’s the sampling of overly dramatic writing:

        “…Oscove’s hatred of Valek rivaled my own, and I understood that, but your relationship with Valek…” Rand’s furrowed brows spiked up towards his forehead.

        “You’re in love with him,” he cried.

        “That’s preposterous,” I shouted.

          • Cameron

            It definitely would have helped. I’m a firm believer in the idea that sometimes, people just say things. They don’t shout them. They don’t murmur them. They don’t flap their arms and act like a goose while chattering. Sometimes, a person just talks.

            Really, that’s as good of a way to put my frustration with this and a lot of crap I’ve been reading lately. Sometimes, all the tags, all the similes and metaphors, and all the description dumps lead to a deadening of the writing – desensitizing me to anything the writer has to say. If every moment in the novel is a dramatic one, then that leaves no room for an emotional punch when it’s needed. Does that make sense? On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’d have someone like Joe Abercrombie, who (at first – his later novels showed marked improvement) used too much of a minimalist style and left nothing to get the creative juices of the reader going. But this, this is too much. You don’t need a seven course, incredibly rich meal every moment of every day when sometimes a sandwich just works better, you know?

            • Di Francis

              That makes sense. I get now what you’re saying. It makes me wonder–without going back and looking at this moment–if that the language is overdone, or if it’s that it’s wrong. By that I mean, is that she’s using a lot of words to get at what she wants? Possibly more adjectives and adverbs than great nouns and verbs?

              I know as a writer I like dense descriptions. I didn’t find myself having the same issue as you overall but then I tend to edit out in my mind when there’s stuff that I really don’t like, like overdone dialog tags.

              • Cameron

                Dense descriptions can have their purpose, particularly in something particularly dense itself – but it needs it time and its place, and usually it’s best if it’s spread around a little. If a slack jawed yokel is seeing the city for the first time, it makes perfect sense for he or she to notice all the garish clothing, the loud hawking of the vendors, and every nook and cranny of the architecture. But for some reason, I don’t like that kind of an info dump when it comes to describing individuals – I like those details woven into the fabric of teh story. Maybe not in a trickle, but certainly not everything just presented in a single paragraph. That’s purely personal taste, though.

  • Adrianne

    I thought she did a very good job of resolving her sub-plots. For example, the book starts with the knowledge that she killed Reyad, but as the plot progresses, we not only learn why, we discover the true bad guy who drives the plot, as well as her own origins.

    I also thought the book had a very strong rhythm. Valek asks her early on why she killed Reyad, and she answers, “You’re not ready to believe me.” Several scenes later, he asks again, and she tells him, “I’m not ready to tell.” There was a similar give and take in her trust of Valek that worked very well for me.

    The one problem I had was near the end, she has a plan for freeing the commander, she doesn’t tell us what it is, and everybody just agrees to do what she says, no argument. We get to find out through her actions and through the results. It felt like a bit of a cop-out to me. Did it bug anyone else?

    • Di Francis

      It did. There was so much trust thrown at her as a leader without any real support for that. I wondered at that point if Valek was demonstrating his trust/love in her, though it seemed out of character for me that he did. I’m assuming that she explained herself but that Snyder cut the scene to maintain the pacing. I think that might have been a mistake, in so much as character development is sacrificed (and a certain amount of believability).

  • Adrianne

    The code of behavior bothered the heck out of me. It makes no sense to have inflexible rules and then have the assassin showing compassion and breaking them. It felt like that was in there to make Valek more likable. I think Cameron is onto something when he says that it feels like the twists were there for the sake of the plot. They weren’t driven by strong, well motivated characters.

    I’m with Di on the love scene. I think Yalena would have had a lot of trouble letting down her barriers. And I agree, the chemistry between Yalena and Valek was weak. One of the things I want in a good romance is conflict based on why the two can’t be together. I didn’t see any of that here.

    I agree with Di on the butterfly’s dust. By withholding critical information, Valek risks having Yalena feeling betrayed, and it doesn’t feel right emotionally for someone who loves her to do that.

    • Di Francis

      You said you’re reading Fire Study, which means you’ve read Magic Study. I haven’t read either. Do you think their relationship has fleshed out in the two books? Does her torture history/emotional scarring ever come back up?

      • Adrianne

        The relationship is the weakest part of the series. In the rest of the series, the two are always happy together, sad to be apart, and of a single mind. Yalena’s history only comes up as a way to heal others.

        The plotting of Magic Study and Fire Study is much looser, and the bad guys don’t put nearly as much emotional pressure on Yalena. IOW, she doesn’t suffer enough. Also, the pacing of the sequels is slower. I’m reluctant to say more for fear of spoilers for those who want to read them.

  • Douglas Meeks

    Hey, I loved the book but then again I read the whole trilogy so I might have a bit different view than people just reading the first book.

    I liked the characters, obviously some were fleshed out more than others. I read for pure entertainment, unless the grammar/spelling/phrasing actually make me lose the story I don’t bother about it. Those a bit more OCD than I have a more limited selection of books to enjoy as I see it LOL


    • Di Francis

      I’m curious about the next books. I don’t know why I didn’t go back and read them ever. I have read the first in her healer series, which I like, but for a lack of setting detail. That may be a flaw on my part, however, since I really like to wallow in the world.

      I was reading for entertainment too. Totally turned off the critic. The things that bothered me faught through that entertainment. I think my favorite character is Rand, though. So tortured.

      • Douglas Meeks

        I enjoyed the series but it tended to meander at times in the last book but me having to scan at times does not mean it was a bad book, I am an impatient reader and I know it , the followup series was pretty much ignored by most of the readers as not up to the level of the Study trilogy. I understand about not being able to ignore certain things, we all have our thing. Insert politics or “author’s latest social cause” and your book just became a DNF unless you are REALLY good (couple of author’s have gotten away with a bit of it). I think the way I read things like this helps me, I always read them as 1 long story and can see the growth of the characters as the books progress.

          • Douglas Meeks

            “Speaking of the Glass books, are they good?” – I read all the reviews I could find and the general opinion was that they were did not measure up and so I did not pursue the stories after the “Study” trilogy, after reading what part I did about the Glass skill in the Study series I could relate to what most of the reviewers were saying.

      • Douglas Meeks

        I don’t want to get off topic in this discussion but one of the most amazing stand alone books I have read in years I stumbled upon last month (your tortured hero comment made me think), it is dark and at times you won’t like the “hero” early in the book. Read my review when you have time, this is not light reading.


          • Douglas Meeks

            One of the websites that I review for requires the genre of a novel in the review, this one I had to post this 🙂

            Genre: One-of-a-kind mix historical/horror/PNR/UF/SCI-FI

            it is just such a one of a kind novel

  • Adrianne

    Just because I pick apart the flaws doesn’t mean I don’t love the book. I do. I think I’ve read it 5 times now. And yes, I’m stuck with my nose deep in Fire Study today.

    • Douglas Meeks

      One of the bad things about this reviewer job is I seldom get to back up and reread a book (referring back to it when I write the review doesn’t count). I have between 12-20 books already scheduled for me at any one time now and it makes me really appreciate the good ones when I have to read so many less talented authors. I got the Horngate Witches due to this “job” (if it pays zero is it a job?) and that was a great find. Poison Study I was given for review, I bought the other two books for myself and I thoroughly enjoyed it although I thought there might have been a few TSTL moments during the three books 🙂

      • Di Francis

        I think that’s one thing that really throws me out of a book–the too stupid to live moments. There were none of those in Magic Study. In fact I really appreciated the fact that Yelena was smart enough to do what she had to do to stay alive. She was smart at all times and never stopped just for a helpful plot device.

        • Kristine

          I have to agree with you on that. Nothing stops me from finishing a book than wanting to yell at the characters for doing stupid things. The characters in this series really didn’t have those kinds of moments.

  • e_bookpushers

    I enjoyed reading this book and found myself fascinated by Yelena and how she grew/changed throughout. Her steadfast determination to never be a victim again. How she was able to win if not friends than support and some sympathy. I also found myself fascinated by all of the different poisons, their effects, and how to detect them. I think my favorite little twist was the effect of what I interpreted to be chocolate.

    • Di Francis

      I really did like all the food and poison stuff. I thought that was so well done and such a great idea. Imagine if you had to eat food you knew was poisoned. I don’t know if it would be better to know it wouldn’t kill you (just make you wish it had) or not.

      • Cameron

        Bah. I poison myself every other day cooking. Not on purpose, mind you. But my cooking skilllllz are mad whack, yo.

    • Cameron

      The poisons and food were definitely a highlight and made me both awfully hungry and immensely worried about food, all at the same time. Hah!

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