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The Ninja Reader

High-brow or downright pretentious, good PNR or sparkly vampires, I don't care about the premise so long as it entertains me.

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Bullying: The Social Destruction of Self
Laura Martocci
Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder Yalena has spent almost a year in the Commander's dungeons, awaiting execution. She's then given a choice - the noose, or become a food taster for the Commander, as the last one... didn't quite have the stomach for it. Self-preservation winning over guilt, she agrees, and is immediately thrown into a whirlwind of intrigue and secrets. But surviving poison and assasination attempts is a picnic in the park compared to the inner demons that plague Yalena - demons old and new, who will stop at nothing until she is brought down.This is my second Maria V. Snyder book, and I must say, I am really impressed with her fantasy settings and brilliant plots. Her books move at a breakneck pace, never slowing down or giving me a boring moment, and the twists she throws are quite shocking, if you haven't been paying attention. Then there are the beautifully drawn characters, three dimensional and always a pleasure to read. There is quite a wide supporting cast and pretty well drawn secondary characters, but of course, the centerpiece of all this is Yalena herself, who is wonderful in her characterization. Tortured and beaten down, sure, but also stubborn, brave, and incredibly loyal to those who win her respect and trust. Moreover, she is quite a departure from usual fantasy cliches: she doesn't start off as a ruthless badass who kills without a second thought, or as a martyr for the weaklings - no, she's just a girl who ended up in a horrible situation, acted on impulse and ended up doing something that will haunt her forever. She is naturally intelligent, but not a know-it-all, and learns when given the opportunity. When she is given the chance, she also learns how to defend herself, and by the end of the novel, she is quite a capable character who is able to stand her ground against bullies. That said, the novel is not without its flaws. I don't know whether it's an accident, but I recently read Snyder's newest book, Touch of Power, and I couldn't help comparing the plots of the two and finding them eerily similar. Do we have a broken, self-sacrificial heroine? Yes. Do we have a love interest who is a bit of an asshole, and who also happens to have a suspiciously personal interest in the wellbeing of a certain military leader? Yup. We even have the female protagonist almost dying from an ailment that has the symptoms that resemble menstrual cramps to the tenth degree. It made me pause and reflect a lot, and I ended up going to my review of the other book and diminishing the rating, simply because the plots are recycled, and I don't think the quality is improved.There's also one aspect of the novel itself that I didn't sit well with me. Prior to the events of Poison Study, Yalena is subjected to some horrible things. Truly horrible things, which leave a deep scar on her and which she tries to get over for most of the story. However, the payoff doesn't quite match the build-up, not entirely. Some of the things felt realistic - her tentatively learning to trust people again, and making friends. Others, like her relationship to Valek, didn't. I won't give too much away, but their romance felt a bit rushed, and the resolution they reach in the end left me unsatisfied.However, this is a very solid book, and I would pick up Magic Study, if given the chance. It's good.