Review: Maria V. Snyder’s Study Series

Fire Study (Study, Book 3) Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder

My review

rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars
I strong­ly rec­om­mend read­ing Poi­son Study, Assas­sin Study, Mag­ic Study, and Pow­er Study all at a go. The two novel­las are option­al, but canon­i­cal and fun. 

Sny­der’s world seems to be made up of just two coun­tries: Ixia and Sitia. Ixia has been ruled by Com­man­der Ambrose and his gen­er­als for about a decade when Poi­son Study starts, after a mil­i­tary coup over­threw the old monar­chy. There are no beg­gars, every child is enti­tled to an edu­ca­tion, nobody has to go hun­gry or home­less, and pro­mo­tions are based sole­ly on skill, with no gen­der or racial discrimination—but every cit­i­zen also has to wear a uni­form declar­ing his or her prop­er loca­tion and job func­tion, gov­ern­ment approval is required for mar­ry­ing, mov­ing to a new home, or chang­ing jobs, and any­body iden­ti­fied as hav­ing mag­ic tal­ent is killed imme­di­ate­ly. Every­one is sub­ject to the Code of Behav­ior, and there are no excep­tions for any kind of exten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stances. If you kill some­one, you are sen­tenced to death, even if you were defend­ing your­self or another.

Yele­na has been in the Com­man­der’s dun­geon for most of a year after killing the son of Gen­er­al Brazell. Valek, Ambrose’s spy­mas­ter, gives her a choice: go to the gal­lows, or become the Com­man­der’s food taster. The job does­n’t have a long life expectan­cy, as poi­son­ing attempts are fair­ly com­mon, but Yele­na sees a chance at life bet­ter than imme­di­ate death, and takes the job.

Yele­na man­ages to sur­vive sev­er­al attempts to mur­der her. The fact that Brazell wants her dead is under­stand­able, but the oth­er attempts are mys­te­ri­ous. Why would a Sit­ian mas­ter magi­cian try to kill her? Who would slip poi­son into her wine?

Mag­ic Study finds Yele­na in Sitia, learn­ing to cope with a very dif­fer­ent way of life. Mag­ic is almost tak­en for grant­ed, and a strong family/clan struc­ture forms the back­bone of the gov­ern­ment. But why are there beg­gars in the streets, and why is it that only those who can afford it are edu­cat­ed? Every­one in Sitia believes that life in Ixia must be hor­rif­ic, but look­ing around her, Yele­na sees that Ambrose’s rule does have its benefits.

Fire Study moves between Sitia and Ixia, involv­ing the lead­ers of both nations and intriguers who want to bring both of them down by pitch­ing them against each oth­er. Yele­na and her friends are try­ing to pre­vent a war and reveal the trai­tors, but they’ve been declared out­law and have to sneak around try­ing to fig­ure out what’s going on.

Anoth­er review­er found Yele­na too tal­ent­ed for belief, but I found her fair­ly real­is­tic. She cer­tain­ly isn’t good at everything—she could use a lot of help in terms of social skills!—and the skills that she begins with and gains over the course of the tril­o­gy do make sense. She trained as an acro­bat when she was a child, so it does make sense that she is able to learn some types of self-defense with­out too much trou­ble. Some of her apti­tudes make more sense after she learns more about her fam­i­ly back­ground. She does find that she has mag­i­cal abil­i­ties, but she isn’t good at every­thing, and indeed, can­not seem to mas­ter some tasks that oth­er magi­cians con­sid­er rudimentary.

I did find some of the betray­als to be dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend, as some of the trai­tors would have no defense against men­tal scans. There’s a Sit­ian Eth­i­cal Code of Con­duct that pro­hibits non-con­sen­su­al scans, but it does­n’t apply to crim­i­nals, and in a war sit­u­a­tion, I found it hard to believe that nobody ever did a lit­tle tele­path­ic peek­ing at the peo­ple around them.

These were fun books, and they could be use­ful in look­ing at the pros and cons of dif­fer­ent types of gov­ern­ments with teens. There’s some sex in the books, but noth­ing ter­ri­bly explic­it. The vio­lence is more trou­ble­some, but the author nev­er dwells on it.

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