Maria V. Snyder
Young Adult / Fantasy
The apprenticeship is over – now the real test has begun.
When word that Yelena is a Soulfinder – able to capture and release souls – spreads like wildfire, people grow uneasy. Already Yelena’s unusual abilities and past have set her apart. As the Council debates Yelena’s fate, she receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by a murderous sorcerer she has defeated before.
Honor sets Yelena on a path that will test the limits of her skills, and the hope of reuniting with her beloved spurs her onward. Her journey is fraught with allies, enemies, lovers, and would-be assassins, each of questionable loyalty. Yelena will have but one chance to prove herself – and save the land she holds dear.
Rating: 3.25 / 5
The best way to describe how I felt when I started reading Maria V. Snyder’s Fire Study is “cautiously optimistic.” I adored Poison Study, the first novel of her best-selling Study series; and while I generally liked the sequel Magic Study, I was disappointed by its inconsistencies and overwhelmed by the staggering number of antagonists. Yet I didn’t want to give up on this series. So, I plunged into the concluding Fire Study – and came away relatively satisfied with the ending.
Fire Study tells a stronger, less congested story than Magic Study. The main conflict is clearer, the number of villains more manageable, and Yelena’s inner turmoil more palpable. This novel shows Yelena at her worst sometimes, which can be frustrating for the reader. Characters who are stubborn, dismissive, and constantly pushing their loved ones away aren’t easy to root for. But trust me when I suggest – no, urge – you to stick with Yelena and finish the book. Her turnaround starts with about 100 pages left, and the payoff is both a reward and a huge relief.
Also, I admire how Snyder walks a fine “relationship tightrope” throughout Fire Study. She forces Yelena to screw up, raise her guard, and find reasons to distrust just about everyone, even the people she cares about most. The friction between Yelena and Valek at one point is so thick, I was afraid they’d call it quits! Funny thing is, I enjoyed that kind of tension between them, especially since their relationship seemed too smooth and perfect in Magic Study.
I can’t explain how annoyed I was by Yelena’s behavior toward her mentor Moon Man, however. Yes, his advice was often cryptic, and I can see how it would take time to appreciate his kind of guidance. But, the biting sarcasm and immaturity Yelena would spout in response was grating on me well before the halfway point. Eventually Yelena learns to accept and interpret Moon Man’s ambiguity, but I wish it happened a little sooner.
Even though Fire Study tells (in my opinion) a better story than its predecessor, the writing in this final book is the weakest in the trilogy. There’s an alarming lack of variety in word choice; Snyder often repeats phrases to describe certain physical or vocal reactions that convey emotion. Many of the chapter transitions threw me off as well. Some felt forced or jarring; others just… didn’t seem like appropriate spots to split chapters. Usually an author’s writing improves with each novel, but Fire Study feels lazy in technique compared to the first two books. And as a writer who pays attention to technique, this was a huge disappointment for me.
Ultimately, however, Fire Study brings Yelena’s tale to a climactic and compelling conclusion. It’s a trial by fire, literally for Yelena as she tests the limits of her powers and the heights of her courage, and figuratively for the reader. For the first time, we truly see Yelena as her own worst enemy – and the trick is to continue caring about her, even when we want to reach through the pages and wring her neck. Personally I’m glad I kept my faith in Yelena and in this story despite the aggravation. And though I hope next year’s Shadow Study improves on Fire Study, my anticipation for the new Study novels hasn’t been swayed.
Have you read Fire Study? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it yet, do you think you might check it out based on what you’ve read above? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Amazon or Goodreads.