Poison Study -- Maria V. Snyder
The Territory of Ixia's military had come to power only a generation ago, but the rule had produced strict laws called the Code of Behavior. During peacetime--most of the time, strangely enough for the military--proper conduct didn't allow the taking of a human life. If someone committed murder, the punishment was execution. Self-preservation or an accidental death were not considered acceptable excuses. Once found guilty, the murderer was sent to the Commander's dungeon to await a public hanging.
"I suppose you're going to protest the conviction. Say you were framed or you killed out of self-defense." He leaned back in his chair, waiting with a weary patience.
"No, sir," I whispered, all I could manage from unused vocal cords. "I killed him."
But the Code that condemned Yelena to death will also provide her a chance to live: It states that if employment as the Commander's food taster is available, the job must be offered to the next person slated for execution.
Given the choice between a quick and immediate death or life as the food taster -- which will almost definitely result in death, probably painfully, of poison -- Yelena chooses to stay alive, hoping that she'll eventually find a way to escape.
But she hadn't bargained on this: To prevent escape, the food taster is poisoned -- if she doesn't report in every morning for a dose of the antidote, she will die. And death by Butterfly's Dust is a far more unpleasant one than death by hanging.
So. She needs to find an antidote to Butterfly's Dust. She needs to avoid the father of the man she murdered -- and his soldiers. She needs to keep from being poisoned and she needs to deal with the fact that she might have magical abilities (which are illegal).
Okay, so at first, I wasn't so sure about Poison Study. Fantasy Description* really doesn't do it for me. It tends to make me roll my eyes. A lot.
But once I was hooked on the story -- and it didn't take long -- my eye-rolling ceased. I got Way Into It. Didn't want to put it down into it. Got halfway through and put in an ILL request for the sequel into it**.
There was largish problem towards the end, though. You know how sometimes you have a Secret Crush on someone and then when you actually meet, it's actually a letdown? That's what happened with the romance piece of the story -- when Yelena and The Guy finally get together, it kind of fell flat. The tension leading up to it was more fun than the final declarations of love. Much more fun.
But that was my only major complaint*** -- I liked the secondary characters, I liked the magic system, I liked the political structure -- I certainly liked it enough to read the sequel. Should work fine as a cross-over title for older teen readers (there's a decent amount of violence, including a rather gruesome murder and a rape scene), especially those who like Tamora Pierce and other fantasy with strong female heroines.
*I'm not talking about any old description in a fantasy novel. I'm talking about the kind that deserves Capitalization. You know what I'm talking about -- Example: "He walked to the door; his stride as graceful and light as a snow cat traversing thin ice." Bah-lech. But maybe that's just me.
**I do tend to love Combat Training In Secret plot lines. Why is that?
***Except for the Commander's Secret, which really felt like it came out of left field in a big, big way. It just didn't seem to fit.