Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jan 27, 2006

Poison Study

This fantasy novel by new author Maria J. Snyder is a thoroughly enjoyable romance. It follows the travails of a young woman, Yelena, who murdered her benefactor's son and was scheduled to be executed. Then she was offered the position of food-taster for the nation's ruler, a position that might very well lead to her death.

To ensure her loyalty, she is given a dose of a mythical poison, Butterfly Dust, that will lead to her death almost instantly if she is not daily given the antidote.

Personally, I would recommend this book, but I'm a sucker for a good romance, so let me add a caveat to that statement: read it if you don't have anything serious or important on your reading list ahead of it. It's a great book to curl up on the couch and eat chocolates with, for it's a pure pleasure, but it's also utterly forgettable.

I decided to review it because it exemplifies two errors that I've noticed recently coming from what I understand are "Writer's Workshop" authors. Namely, they have no original style and almost no substance. Oh, all the parts of a novel are there, but the book has no life to it. The plot moves along methodically, but you get the feeling that anyone could have written it.

When you read a book by Robert Heinlein or Neal Stephenson or Ayn Rand, you know you are reading a book by one of those authors. You could not mistake them for anyone else. Poison Study has no real marks to betray the provenance of the author, except one.

There is a tendency I've noticed among female authors especially to believe that suffering is identical with conflict. While conflict often causes suffering, pain does not necessarily mean that there is an interesting conflict going on. I think the books suffer for it; there are numerous descriptions of dastardly deeds, pain, and wretchedness that give you a little shiver of horror to read, but in the end you have to wonder why the hero (or heroine) got so worked up over it. The guy hurt you, you killed him, end of story. Pure melodrama.

The real dramatic conflicts in the story are resolved not by a focused action on the part of the hero/heroine, but by the accidental discovery of some piece of information that was earlier missing. It turns out that the apparent villian is a really nice guy. Your new position just happens to put you in place to overhear an important conversation. You have a prior relationship with the real villian of the piece that makes him devote attention to you and accidentally ruin his own plans.

On a positive note, the book appears to be part of a future series but it is also pretty much self-contained. Ending a novel on a cliffhanger is just about one of the worst offenses I've ever encountered. Okay, I get it, you want me to buy your next book. But I'm ticked off at you now, so I will probably not enjoy it as much as I might have. I will give you a poor review and my hordes of loyal fans will obediently ignore you forevermore.

Hah. What an ego I have.

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