About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.
And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.
As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear…
I loved the premise of this book. Take your chances and definitely die from poisoning someday or be executed today. Rock meet hard place and both of you meet Yelena who will scornfully look at her situation and decide that she likes neither the rock nor the hard place will find someway out of this mess. I won’t lie, Yelena is my favorite part of this book. She is incredibly stubborn and an almost suicidal need to take things into her own hands. when she knows she is doomed to eventually die one way or another she decides both not to give up, and that if she is going to die then she has nothing to loose and might as well risk everything. But she takes smart risks. She learns to fight and pick locks so that she can keep herself alive and attempt to find a cure for Butterfly’s Dust. There is also a lot of action in the book and it’s just fun reading. Maria Snyder breaks down the fights so that you have a good sense of exactly what is going on and what people’s battle strategies are. I found that refreshing and very appealing. She takes into account that Yelena is a short girl, who isn’t as strong as the soldiers around and develops a fighting style to adjust. Every minor character fights in a way that takes their body type, height, and age into account. Kudos.
Unfortunately, there’s plenty in the book that made me scratch my head. There are a lot of circumstances and times that Yelena just happens to be in the right place at the right time to overhear something. A lot of times. Yelena has to be the luckiest poison taster around. Also her background before getting made poison taster just happens to give her a big advantage over the people around her, and her athletic abilities as an acrobat just happen to be the skill she needs to survive and impress the higher ups. Maybe is she had other skills she would have been able to compensate in different ways, but I can only take so many coincidences before my ability to suspend disbelief starts to get strained. Also, Valek, who is in charge of Yelena, is supposed to be an expert Spy Master. We see him be a strong fighter, assassin, and strategist (Yay! for showing rather than telling), but the extent to which he comes to rely on Yelena for information does his credibility more harm than it does her’s good. Yelena becomes almost Mary Sue-ish at times.
One last small point that bothered me…. When was the book set? It starts out seeming very medievalish, but then you get smatterings of technology that seem out of place. It’s not important to the plot, but it drove me nuts. When are you set book?! When!?!
I liked this book a lot. There were some problems with the plotting, but I stayed entertained the entire time and invested in whether Yelena was going to make it out alive. It’s a little like a mix between Graceling and The Hunger Games, which are two of my favorite books.
3/4 Throwing Stars