Maria V. Snyder
Young Adult / Fantasy
With her greatest enemy dead, and on her way to be reunited with the family she’d been stolen from long ago, Yelena should be pleased. But though she has gained her freedom, she can’t help feeling isolated in Sitia. Her Ixian background has changed her in many ways – and her newfound friends and relatives don’t think it’s for the better….
Despite the turmoil, she’s eager to start her magic training – especially as she’s been given one year to harness her power or be put to death. But her plans take a radical turn when she becomes involved with a plot to reclaim Ixia’s throne for a lost prince – and gets entangled in powerful rivalries with her fellow magicians.
If that wasn’t bad enough, it appears her brother would love to see her dead. Luckily, Yelena has some old friends to help her with all her new enemies….
Rating: 3 / 5
After devouring Poison Study earlier this year, I’m on a mission to finish Maria V. Snyder’s first Study trilogy. (That way, I’ll be caught up before the second Study trilogy kicks off in February 2015.) Like with its predecessor, Magic Study was impossible for me to put down. However, unlike Poison Study, this book sucked me into a love-hate relationship. Not a fun bond to have with a book, but the “love” side (well, “like” is more appropriate) tips the balance in the end.
Magic Study continues the story of former poison taster Yelena Zaltana as she returns to her birthplace of Sitia to reunite with her family and begin her magician training. Within a few chapters, all hell breaks loose. Yelena endures conflict after conflict with countless Sitians, each with their own agenda or negative judgment of her. She also faces her own struggles, from naivety about magic and her homeland, to learning who she can trust. How does she overcome it all? Without giving away much: By being the brave, resourceful, persistent, and resilient heroine who won over readers the first time around.
Magic Study can be overwhelming at times, however. Certain characters completely drop out of the story after Yelena rescues them, and Snyder’s reliance on torture as plot-fuel is starting to curdle my stomach. Not to mention the sheer number of antagonists that Yelena’s forced to deal with here made my head spin. After a while, it was hard to tell what the story’s main external plot was. I do have a favorite Magic Study villain, though: Cahil, the young man who claims to be a descendent of Ixia’s last king (who was slain by Yelena’s soulmate, the infamous assassin-spy Valek). Cahil is brash, proud, and an inexperienced leader. Yet he’s also vulnerable and loyal to his family and country. There was a point in Magic Study where I thought, “Hey, he’s not such a bad guy after all.” Then he’d revert to idiotic madness and vengeance when things didn’t go his way, just to prove me wrong – and I loved it. *lol*
One aspect of Magic Study I enjoyed was the change in setting. Sitia has more diverse terrain and a more tropical climate than Ixia. Deserts, striking colors, and jungle treehouses don’t appear in fantasy stories very often. The Citadel and the Magicians’ Keep are fascinating as well, with ornate architecture, lavish decorations, and a massive market that introduces Yelena to disparities in wealth and social class that didn’t exist in Ixia. My mind’s eye thrived on these visual exercises, yet my brain couldn’t grasp Snyder’s method for naming Sitians. Some citizens have exotic names (Esau, Zitora, Tula) that matched the vibrant, magical culture. Others (Dax, Cahil, Fisk) don’t fit it at all. Some readers may not mind this, but as a fantasy writer I think it’s important that every aspect of a story’s world-building makes sense – and when inconsistencies like this pop up, it forces me to start questioning the story as a whole.
A number of reviews I’ve read on Magic Study voiced their disappointment with Valek’s limited involvement. As much as I adore Valek, I see why his absence is necessary. Yelena needs time and distance away from her beloved to find her life path. Even Valek acknowledged this just before Yelena fled for Sitia at the end of Poison Study (“Yelena, you need to learn… you need to spread your wings and see how far you can fly.” Love that quote, by the way!) Funny thing is, I’m not a huge fan of Yelena and Valek’s relationship in Magic Study. Whenever they’re together, they’re either plotting Yelena’s next move, engaging in combat, or making love. Sure, it moves the plot along – but don’t they do anything else??
I apologize if reading this review feels an awful lot like a seesaw ride – but that jarring rhythm mirrors my feelings about Magic Study. At times I liked this book a lot. Other times, something irritated me and made me wonder what possessed Snyder to put it in the story. For the most part, though, I was happy to return to Yelena’s world and follow the next phase of her journey. That might be why I refuse to give up on Snyder and her Study series just yet. Fire Study is next in my TBR pile, and I’m still excited about Shadow Study coming out in a few months. So, I’m just going to hope that Magic Study is a case of the “middle-novel syndrome” and things improve from here. I guess I’ll find out soon enough, won’t I?
Have you read Magic 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.