Saturday, September 19, 2015

Magic Study—Maria V. Snyder

"Of course. I chopped Yelena's bow into firewood," Leif joked.
"You took me by surprise. I didn't want to hurt you," I shot back.
Leif looked dubious.
"How about a rematch?""Anytime."
Valek stepped between us. "I'm beginning to wish that you were an orphan, love. Can you both manage to focus on the task at hand without trying to catch up on fourteen years of sibling rivalry?" (375)
I read the first book in this series, Poison Study, as part of VF Rewind, and loved that one, so I wanted to continue in the series. After this one, I'm not sure I'll be so eager to be moving forward because it just did not live up to that first book.

After having found out that she was kidnapped and brought to the north in Poison Study, and having found that she has magic, Yelena is on a quest to learn more magic and to be reunited with her family. However, every experience that she thought would be groundbreaking and life-changing seems to fall flat: when she meets her family, it doesn't really seem to fit; when she gets to the magic school in Sitia, she feels isolated and derided. To be fair, part of that may be that she seems to always be getting into "situations," the fact that she is basically considered Ixian (of the north), and that she seems to have a strange affinity for magic that rivals even the Master Magicians. Interestingly, the other magicians don't seem to mind when she has skills that are helpful to them. She must navigate the new politics of her situation—including an Ixian prince wannabe. It's definitely not going to be easy.

Many of the things that I loved in Poison Study were completely negated or nonexistent in this sequel. Valek, who was one of my favourite characters and whose relationship with Yelena I found really interesting, is barely present in the book. When he is present, rather than the cunning adviser and strategist, he seems to be—as one of the reviewers on Goodreads put it—a "stud stand-in" for Yelena, following orders and providing her his strength. It was completely un-interesting to read.

Yelena fell into a Mary Sue situation for me, with her immense power that she seems to be able to tap into with little to no training. And she has ALL the powers that magician's possibly possess. I am willing to be flexible when it comes to magical prodigies, because prodigies exist in the real world, but when you make it entirely unrealistic even with any stretch of the imagination, I just can't get on board with that. One of the most compelling things to me about her in the first book was that she so clearly DOESN'T KNOW. She doesn't know about poison, and then Valek trains her. True, she learns pretty quickly, but not automatically. She doesn't know any self defense or have any training, so she asks Ari and Janco to train her. She still is not great at running, but she finds a particular style that suits her and builds on that. All of that industrious, curious, inquisitive nature seems to have gone completely by the wayside.

But without Yelena, we would never have been introduced to Kiki, and she was one of my favourite characters. Kiki is Yelena's horse and because Yelena can do everything, she can also communicate telepathically with animals. As such, we get an inside look at Kiki's thoughts, and she was just sarcastic and short (as animals with limited vocabularies are wont to be). Loved her.

One other thing I really liked was the juxtaposition of politics in the north and the south. In the north, where Yelena spent most of her life, everything is very regimented and controlled; it's basically a dictatorship, with some meritocracy thrown in. BUT all of the citizens are cared for and nobody goes hungry or has to beg for assistance. So it's a bit of culture shock when Yelena comes "home" to Sitia and is immediately accosted by dirty children begging for money. It's more of a democracy in the south, but for some reason that also means that those who are in need are not heard. (Sounds familiar...) It was interesting because in each of the locations, it is emphasized to Yelena that the other is completely worthless and has no value. Her reflections on the two situations reveal that neither is exactly true.

Perhaps one of my biggest problems is how easy Snyder seems to be with the raping. Everyone is getting raped, and it is dealt with in a completely casual, offhand manner. I understand that, in this book's setting, rape is probably a fairly regular occurrence, as awful as that is. (Let's be honest, even in our modern-day setting, rape is a fairly regular occurrence.) But even so, it could be treated with a modicum of the gravity that it is owed.

If that wasn't enough, all of the "bad guys" in the book are entirely one-dimensional. Everyone that is fighting Yelena is very outspoken about being so, with no attempt at cleverness or subterfuge. And I have to say, I'm done with the torture-loving, raping magician scenario. That was exactly the case in the last book, and one of the villains in this book was almost a carbon copy. Find something new and interesting, maybe somebody who has other motivations than rape and who is more secretive about coming after Yelena.

Finally, the last 100 pages or so felt VERY disjointed, and almost like an entirely different book. I just...maybe there's some set up there for something that's coming down the pike, but I did not understand what purpose those pages served.

As I said in my initial Goodreads review, I gave it three stars for the potential of the series, and would have probably given this book a two star rating on its own. I'm hoping the next book will redeem this one, but I probably won't find out for a while.