The first book in the Study series, published October 2005.
Choose: A quick death . . . Or slow poison . . .
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 . . .
Yelena gets a second chance at life just when she is about to be hanged for murder. A year ago, she killed the son of her benefactor, if you can call him that. General Brazell “rescued” some orphans, only to treat them as his lab rats. On the surface he took care of them, educating them, but secretly testing them, looking for magical powers. Magic was outlawed since the monarchy was thrown down, and Ixia was a military society. Every person got a duty, a rank and a uniform. Generals ruled the provinces, and the Commander ruled the Generals.
Yelena was punished brutally for not obeing orders, for performing her acrobatics on the Fire Festival when told to stay in her room, and finally she snapped. She thought she would die when she attacked Reyad, the General’s son, but to her surprise, she managed to kill him. Glad about that, now he would not be torturing her best friend, who was like a little sister to her. That she would die herself, she had already accepted. There was nothing to live for anyway.
Valek was bound by the Code of Behaviour to offer the job of food taster to the next person scheduled to die, and that would be Yelena. She is to get lessons in recognizing food, will get a room and clean uniforms for her own. She is surprised to hear herself accept the offer, so perhaps she does want to live. She is 19 years of age, and spend the last year in the dungeons, awaiting her execution.
General Brazell is not happy with this. He wants to see her hang for murdering is only son. So he keeps sending men after her, trying to kill her. And when in danger, like a rat in a trap, strange things happen to Yelena. Could it be magic? But possessing magic is also a sure way to get killed, so she denies it all. Even when a southern magician is trying to kill her, Yelena has no clue whatsoever. She is making friends among the other servants, and she starts to like Valek, which is a dangerous thing, as he is the only one who knows the antidote to the poison he feeds her every day. He is a trained assassin, and he was the one to kill the King and his magicians, as he himself is immune to magic.
General Brazell has other plans for the country, and it appears up to Yelena and Valek to stop him, when the Commander seems to have fallen under a spell.
I have been meaning to read this author for years now, as I have read some good reviews about her books. However, I am a bit disappointed. It just didn’t grab me. It is a good original story, but it is written in first person, which doesn’t always appeal to me. I could totally not relate to Yelena. I kept reading mainly out of curiosity, I did want to know how it all would end. The story was also to slow to my tastes, a bit more action, more intrigue would have been nice. At this moment, I have no idea if I will read the rest of the series, or perhaps try the next one. It was her first book after all.