New York Times bestselling author Maria V. Snyder wowed readers with Poison Study, the unforgettable story of poison taster Yelena. Now she’s back with a new tale of intrigue.
Once, only her own life hung in the balance…
Oddly enough, when Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. But she’d survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia. Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands — and protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, they are beset on all sides by those vying for power through politics and intrigue. Valek’s job and his life are in danger. As Yelena tries to uncover the scope of these plots, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. She must keep that a secret — or her enemies will discover just how vulnerable she really is — while searching for who or what is responsible for neutralizing her powers.
Yes, the days of tasting poisons were much simpler. And certainly not as dangerous…
Rating: 4 / 5
Confession: I hugged my copy of Shadow Study when it arrived in the mail. Yes, I was that excited to read it. Then again, Poison Study was one of my favorite reads of last year, and I devoured Magic Study and Fire Study a couple months later solely so I could stay on top of this series starting with the fourth book. So here it is, the newest adventures of former poison taster and current magician-diplomat Yelena Zaltana, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.
Shadow Study takes place about 6 years after the original conclusion of the Study trilogy. Yelena is acting as political liaison between the countries of Ixia and Sitia and has fully embraced her role as a Soulfinder. She’s also still with Valek, her soulmate and the famed Ixian spy-assassin. No sooner does the couple reunite in Chapter 1 that crisis strikes – literally. Valek is ordered home by Ixia’s Commander to address the country’s growing smuggler network and is confronted by a young, hot-shot assassin who wants Valek’s job. Yelena remains in Sitia to investigate a past enemy’s escape from prison – and is grappling with the sudden loss of her magic. Given how many enemies Yelena has, she’s in great danger if they find out how vulnerable she is.
Like Snyder’s other novels, Shadow Study is impossible to put down thanks to its suspenseful chapter endings and urgent prose. Also, the first bit of conflict pops up within the first couple pages, so Snyder gives us reasons right away to worry about Yelena and the other characters. I was also fascinated by how interwoven the conflict threads became as the story went along. Each chapter drops hints that widen the overall scope. Once I put the pieces together, my mouth dropped open. And for the record, I’m not much of a plot-twist guesser, but there were two in particular that I guessed correctly – and both will have a HUGE impact on the next two Study books.
One welcome change between the three older Study novels and Shadow Study is the POV narration style. From Poison Study to Fire Study, it was from Yelena’s first-person perspective. With Shadow Study, Snyder alternates between Yelena (first person), Valek (third person), and Valek’s assistant and Yelena’s friend Janco (third person). While Yelena’s the one who drew me into this series, Valek’s sections steal the show here. Readers finally learn more about his past, from his early days as an assassin-in-training at the School Of Night And Shadow, to the moment where he enacts his ultimate revenge. It’s a fascinating trip down memory lane that explains Valek’s unique and lethal brew of logic, meticulousness, and cunning. Readers also get to see the beating heart beneath, and feel for Valek as his loyalties become entangled.
Janco’s POV, on the other hand… Sometimes he was so funny that I’d burst out laughing. Other times, he was downright annoying, and I wanted to smack him. Janco’s perspective is necessary, though, since he’s in a number of important scenes where Yelena and Valek aren’t present. But at the same time, I feel like I learned very little about Janco, especially in comparison to what I learned about Valek.
A couple other things about Shadow Study threw me off. First, there were times where the timing for one character’s POV wasn’t synchronized with the timing for another character’s sections. I’m not sure why this caught my attention. It hasn’t for other multiple POV books like George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Fire And Ice novels. But for some reason, I noticed it more with Shadow Study, and it jarred me a little. Also, Yelena’s independent streak drives me nuts sometimes. It’s not a complete drawback; I like that Yelena is decisive and follows her instincts, but she rarely asks for help. So when she strikes out on her own, I always know something bad is going to happen.
I could say so much more about Shadow Study, including the characters who returned from the previous Study novels (and also the Glass trilogy), and the new characters we meet. But the point is, Shadow Study is a fantastic new installment to the Yelena Zaltana saga. It’s tightly written, packed with tension and action, and full of new reasons to love its memorable characters. I’m still reeling a bit from the bombshell ending (“cliffhanger” doesn’t quite fit for this one – trust me) and the other revelations that emerge – but that just means lots of crucial choices and juicy conflict for Night Study and Dawn Study. And I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds from here!
Shadow Study will be out tomorrow (Tuesday, February 24th) in North America. Are you looking forward to reading it? If you’ve been lucky enough to read a pre-pub copy, what did you think of it? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Goodreads and Amazon.
Also, I’m hosting a giveaway for a signed U.S. copy of Shadow Study! Click here for my recent interview with Maria, then scroll to the bottom for contest details. The giveaway ends Wednesday, March 4th at midnight EST.