May 28 2006
Dear Ms. Snyder:
I came across this book when I was perusing ebook releases. It had a gorgeous cover and an interesting summary. I did minor research and found it received a starred review from PW. I figured it was worth the risk (it was not an inexpensive book). I am glad that I picked it up.
The story is a first person narrative by Yelena, a condemned criminal who is given a chance to live. Yelena killed the son of her benefactor. According to the Code of Behavior that governs her country, Ixia (north), anyone who kills regardless of reason is sentenced to death. Yelena is sent to the dungeons where she stays for 1 year. At the time of her execution, she is offered the position of food taster by Valek, chief of security, right hand man of the Commander, etc. She accepts. The caveat is that Yelena is given a poison and the antidote, administered by Valek each night, is only good for a short period of time.
Her training as food taster was one of my favorite parts of the book. We aren’t just told that Yelena is a food taster, we are shown in great detail the skill involved in being a food taster and how one learns to be a food taster. I wonder where you discovered this information – whether that was actually the training given or whether you made it up. Whatever the source, it was creative and interesting.
In the beginning of the book, Yelena is a frightened, timid thing trying to enjoy being alive for one more day. But as time goes on and with the aid of some allies, she grows physically and emotionally stronger.
The romance was a bit of a delight between Valek and Yelena, with both falling for each other without really realizing it. Because we only get Yelena’s side of the story, we can only guess at Valek’s feelings which makes the romance a bit more unpredictable. Yelena is quite fearful of Valek in the beginning, after all he holds the keys to her imprisonment. Valek views Yelena as a mere tool to advance his goal which is protector of The Commander.
Yelena is discovered to have magic which is outlawed in the North. There is no good explanation for why magic is considered to be so evil other than it was used in the monarchy that The Commander overthrew. Jayne noted that the setup of Ixia was much like Bolshevik Russia, everyone is told what to do and what to wear (everyone has a uniform denoting their place in society). It is supposedly an egalitarian community defined by a militaristic rule. Why this was better than the previous monarchy is not well explained. Another disappointment was how quickly the book wrapped up while leaving so many issues outstanding. The romance culmination seemed quite hurried. I would have liked to have seen a bit more slow unwrapping of that portion of the book.
When I closed the book, however, I felt a great deal of excitement for the next in the series and for that I give you a B+.