Rating: 2 Stars
Synopsis: A teenage girl about to be executed gets a second chance at life as a poison taster.
I really thought I would love this book and get hooked onto this series. During the first few chapters, I thought I would spend the rest of the week with dark circles under my eyes trying to read everything, but unfortunately that didn't turn out to be the case.
All in all, there isn't really anything too bad about the series. The heroine is pretty awesome. The whole poison taster acrobat angle is definitely a new one for me. She has a tragic past without whining about it. She is attracted to men without throwing herself on them and wailing bitterly whenever they aren't paying attention to her. Every male in the series is not slobbering at her feet. When she's in trouble, her immediate thought is not for someone to rescue her. She does not feel entitled to anything except basic human rights, and even those, she'll bargain for.
So why did the book feel so long? Why did her character still seem flat? Is it because she actually has little to no flaws? Is it because every part of her is a good and hardworking person? Maybe it's that her extremely traumatic past doesn't actually manifest itself into her personality in the least? Okay, given, she does seem like a person who had been oppressed to such an extent that her first and foremost thought will always be in on survival, but where's her resentment and bitterness?
Isn't it normal for a sixteen year old girl whose life had been completely destroyed and then redestroyed to be a little temperamental? Everything she says and does bears no ill-will and no bad intentions. At some points, she makes Valek, the cold-hearted assassin seem emotional and petty. He literally has to push her to the point of breaking to get a reaction, and even then, she bounces back pretty quickly as if being betrayed by the only person she was beginning to trust was only worth a few day's worth of brooding.
So let's get to Valek the love interest that you don't really expect to be the love interest, which is actually pretty awesome twist. We don't even get a description of him the first time we meet him. He's deadly, smart, agile, mysterious, and can't be trusted, A+ love interest right?
But first. How old... is Valek exactly? Let's do some math. Yikes.
The Commander took over the old empire about fifteen years ago and Valek was the one to assassinate the King and many of the magicians of the former monarchy. So that makes him AT LEAST twenty-five, assuming that he wasn't younger than TEN years old when he became a professional regicide. Let's also assume that the Commander would not actually trust a mere child to do his dirty work. There are people in this series who would, but let's just assume he wants someone pretty damn capable to trust him with such an important job. So then, let's assume that Valek was eighteen or around there when he first got the job.
So wait... Valek is... thirty-three? Maybe early thirties? Maybe even older? Forty?
MS.SNYDER, if you're going to make a romance between someone with such an EXTREME age gap... I would like to be informed beforehand! Now there's nothing wrong with age gaps, but I am personally not jumping up and down squealing at the thought of thirty-ish year old Valek swooning over a vulnerable sixteen year old girl, whose life, he literally has in the palm of his hand.
My gif for almost everything about this. Sorry, but that is definitely NOT turning me on. I don't know if Valek is meant to be that old or if it's just the author being sloppy. And as awesome as Valek is, I personally don't view him and Yelena as a good match. Halfway through, just when the romance was starting to happen, I was really praying it wouldn't.
And Yelena is... sixteen right? At least I think she's sixteen. She was sixteen when she became an experiment for Brazell, and then she spent one year in prison as Valek has told us... so.... is she... seventeen or eighteen? But wait, the magician said that powers manifested itself at sixteen and then became uncontrollable and unstable at seventeen. Yelena bargained for a year because she still had time... I'm confused now. The magician gave her the year, but if Yelena is already seventeen because she spent a year in prison then... *headache*okay, the author clearly has some plot holes and can't keep her own story straight.
Spoiler alert. Highlight to read.
So when Yelena starts trying to give Valek a rubdown almost out of nowhere, I was very uncomfortable. First of all, this kind of behavior is perfectly normal if it was in today's society, but the author has never let on how this particular society views sexuality and its display. Second of all, Yelena is sexually traumatized. She was raped. (OH adding to another point to the author being sloppy. She first mentions that Reyad did NOT rape Yelena, and then during the middle of the book, the rape scene is depicted in detail! WHAT? DON'T LIE TO ME MS.SNYDER!). So if Yelena has received little to no sex education and any experience she does have with sex has been negative and associated with pain, I have a hard time believing that she would suddenly start unfastening his belt no matter how drunk she is. You can't just do that without any sort of explanation! Agh. UGH! SIGH I am so disappointed.
I also was extremely annoyed that Maren, one of the strong female characters who was training Yelena, who is supposed to be all about girl power and who is supposed to not give half a shit about training men... is bitter and jealous because Valek talks to Yelena. What? Way to ruin the only other strong female and thus ruin any chances of Yelena forming any sort of real friendship with another woman. I could go in depth about gender stuff, ( and the transgender stuff?!?) but that would take too long.
Anyway, let's get to the side characters. Lovable but not at all interesting except Rand the gambling chef.
The setting feels dystopian (more sectors in this quasi-Communistic military government) but it's actually not? It's a fantasy with magic and swords and assassins in the dark. The fantasy gets a little lost in all these dystopian details. The whole magic blanket theory and mind-reading becomes a side thought to the rigid hierarchies, uniforms, and laws of Ixia.
Speaking of countries. There is another one, Sitia, where all the magicians come from. The Southerners have black hair, darker skin (olive probably), and green eyes which are almond-shaped. I'm not even going to get into the Southerners, who, by the way, wear exotic robes and animal masks decorated with fur an feathers. Really though? What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of exotic? OH. ANIMAL MASKS, FEATHERS, AND ROBES. The leader wears a hawk mask. Really!? And Yelena is supposed to look like these people, yet she faces no signs of prejudice or discrimination based on her coloring. Inconsistencies, they're everywhere.
The world building is okay, not great, but not as bad as in some of the other more popular books in the same genre.
The real problem is the writing. Snyder uses metaphors well, but the writing lacks flourish and complexity. At most, she can string two clauses together and that's it. Most of the time it's like one long military report.
"Valek lifted a box of eight bottles from the floor. They clinked musically as he set the carton on the table."
Why couldn't she write "The carton of eight bottles clinked musically as Valek lifted them from the floor and set them on the table." OR, if you want to emphasize that they clinked after they had been put down: "Valek lifted the carton from the floor and the eight bottles clinked musically as he set them on the table." AND is a compound words. You can use to combine sentences.
Why not just make that one sentence? Why does it have to sound like a play by play newscast of everything that is happening in exactly the order that it happens? Maybe this is only a personal pet peeve, but it would've really made the prose better if she could just combine sentences for maximum efficacy. I'm just saying. I know this might seem like nitpicking, but it's like this throughout the book. The writing is bland. Period.
The way its written makes it hard to really escape into the story, which is the whole point of FANTASY. I really do wish it could've been better than it was, I really do. Let's just say if this is what the book is after being professionally edited, I would hate to see what it looked like before. I will try to read the second book, but if it's really not going to work out, I won't bother forcing myself to finish like this one.
Still two stars because some people might still enjoy it regardless of the glaring problems, many of which I didn't even bother mention, and I'm sure there are more that I didn't catch because at the halfway mark I just wanted to be done with it.