Sometimes, when I feel like grabbing a slice of pizza at the local mall, I have to stop in to the local bookstore and pick up something to read while I eat. I picked up Poison Study because it was the most likely looking thing on the shelf that day that I hadn’t already read. It ended up just sitting on my shelf for a while until I picked it up again a week or so ago and found a very pleasant surprise.
But first, a short digression. Have you other fantasy readers noticed that most fantasy novels take place in very similar worlds? With the exception of books by Brandon Sanderson, China Miéville, and Jeff Vandermeer, most fantasy worlds look like technology stopped before the Renaissance, all the governments are monarchies (or were until the evil dictator showed up), and so on.
But Poison Study is about the first time I’ve seen socialism, complete with guaranteed employment and enforced atheism, in a fantasy novel.
In Poison Study, the main character, Yelena, is forced to become the food taster for the “evil dictator”–who overthrew the monarchy and instituted the socialist regime. The plot involves various people trying to kill Yelena, for a variety of unknown reasons. But I really admire Yelena’s brains. She has very quick wits and a strong instinct for survival. I think what I liked most about this book was how often Yelena and I agreed with each other. In most books, I end up mentally disagreeing with the main character over courses of action.
Yelena must uncovers a plot to overthrow the new leader and has to diffuse it. While I don’t think this book is meant to be a critique on socialism and capitalism in our world, I am very intrigued by the way Snyder has managed to treat socialism here in its own light. (For the record, I think socialism will never work and think that Communism as practiced in the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba are or were terribly repressive and murderous regimes.) In Poison Study, socialism is treated like a new social experiment.
Even before I finished Poison Study, I was trying to find its sequel. Unfortunately, this book is apparently not to be had outside of one of the public libraries here in town. I’ve been to three book stores, including two Barnes and Nobles in Salt Lake and still haven’t been able to put my hands on a copy. Tcha.
The sequel, Magic Study, follows Yelena after her exile from the north. Instead of lots of people trying to kill her outright, she finds herself constantly accusing of being a northern spy. (And there are still people who want to kill here, just not as many.) This book wasn’t as fascinating as Poison Study, but I’m so hooked on the characters–Yelena and Valek in particular–that I am already looking forward to the third book in the series.
I’m not sure why I didn’t like this book as much, maybe it’s because this book takes place in a more traditional fantasy setting that I am not thinking as much about how the society works. Having written that sentence, I’m starting to wonder if I’m a closeted sociologist.