As promised to fans of Maria V. Snyder’s books (who also happen to be devoted readers of this blog), here is my review of the highly anticipated start of a new series in the worlds of both Ixia and its neighboring country of magic Sitia. But this time around, Maria V. Snyder experiments much more with different challenges that her characters face, including Yelena’s unforeseen loss of her magic. In more precise terms, her magic is blocked by some indiscernible cause, though she thinks it may be some kind of poison from a dart that is shot by a shadowy assassin, lurking in the woods near the borders of both Ixia and Sitia. It is symbolic that both Yelena and her heartmate Valek, the cunning, adept assassin both reside in a cottage hidden away in the woods, right on the fringes of the Sitian/Ixian border. Both of them are deeply enmeshed in the power struggle between these countries, and we have seen this conflict between a more utilitarian, , practical, semi-socialistic state like Ixia, which bans any use of magic within its borders, and a country whose economy and very well-being thrives on magic, like that of Sitia. The conflict between these countries has always been a palpable, though slightly subliminal subplot in both of the first three Study books, focused on Yelena’s growth into a fully-realized Soulseeker, and Opal’s own character growth into coming into her own as a mature, intelligent woman, faced with all sorts of difficult life choices. Both these female characters are powerful, interesting, standing at odds with the crop of forced, contrived female characters in other fantasy books. Maria V. Snyder has a knack for making them strong, while also making them insanely interesting and real at the same time.
Maria V. Snyder’s Shadow Study, begins dramatically with the exciting, fast-paced beginning scene where Yelena faces the assassin attack and resulting block of her magic, grapples with what type of tangible strength remains in the aftermath of this distressing situation. Characters, in Maria. V. Snyder’s books, are always faced with real challenges, and sometimes there are no easy solutions to these problems. The book becomes not another way for the writer to tout the strength of the main character with her magic, but allows Yelena’s internal reserve of temerity and endurance (and strong back bone in general) to come to the surface, through a loss of magic. This thread of narrative of dealing with a female character, losing magic powers and relying on another type of strength much like in the Glass Trilogy, continues to be a deeply enthralling focus for the story. Many female character in inferior fantasy stories are lazily given magical powers to give them a vapid, almost “weak” notion of strength, whereas Maria V. Snyder, a smart writer to boot, allows her women characters to really show their strength in all sorts of compromising, challenging positions.
Shadow Study alternates between three perspectives: Yelena, Valek (a welcome surprise), and Janco. My only complaint with this story lies with the way these perspectives sometimes do not intersect/connect well to one another. One part of the story focuses on something stronger, like Yelena’s continuing search for how to get rid of the block on her magic, and to discover the politician that may have financed the assassin to kill her. Yet Janco’s story sometimes feels,oddly, uninteresting at first, as it doesn’t involve anything that feels at first like it connects back to the main plot, involving Yelena. Valek, on the other hand, just feels, at least at the beginning, like his story, involving reminiscing on his past being educated at the night school feels initially irrelevant to the whole scheme of things in the story Alluded to in earlier novels, it is something that has always been of interesting to me, the story which tells of how Valek progressive learns the skills to assassinate the king, thus avenging the death of his family. Taken in isolation from the rest of the story, it very is satisfying, deeply interesting, but again does have the strange feeling of not connecting well with the main plot in question. This starts to taper away once you get further into the novel, and everything miraculously clicks. I really liked Valek’s perspective, demonstrating some of Maria V. Snyder’s best writing in the whole novel, in that the fluid action scenes are fused so well with language that clearly evokes the wry humor of Valek, and his clear, sometimes sly/evasive personality. His character is as interesting and fascinating as both Opal and Yelena, further bearing evidence Maria V. Snyder can write interesting, strong characters of either gender (Does it really matter in an entirely egalitarian world, like Maria V. Snyder’s books? I think not).
,Again,the criticism above is extremely minor, in that these subplots cohere well with one another, and make much more sense, as you get further in the story. And the writing in all three sections is balanced very well, and the writing is very, very strong in this book. It has so many layers and dimensions to it, while not relying on so many words or verbiage that can slow the pace of the story tremendously. That is the talent of Maria V. Snyder’s writing, in that she can have a story of depth and rich intrigue, with so many different facets, like a mystery novel, political intrigue novel, and slight romance story, and more all tied together in a fine-tuned, interesting, dangerously engrossing novel.
All the characters are distinctive, interesting, and memorable. The humor, in particular, is very sharp in this one, especially the banter between Janco and the newly introduced assassin rival, who wants to have Valek’s job and challenges him for it earlier on in the novel. Towards the end, there is a huge surprise that will totally make fans of Maria V. Snyder’s fans gasp aloud. Before that, there is a resonating, edifying reflection on finding inner-strength within ourselves, which really illuminates a real stronger, underlying story that has been unraveling from Poison Study all the way up till now in Shadow Study. This story grabbed me, especially with the way it related with Valek’s own parallel journey towards finding himself as well. I won’t lie, I was crying just a bit during this scene, as it is the dramatic crescendo for the development of the relationship between Valek and Yelena, and Maria V. Snyder does such a good job, reminding us of their slow journey of individual character growth, and their continuing journey that they’ve had together. With two more novels that act as sequels to this new story planned in this wonderful world that Maria V. Snyder has created, I am deeply excited to see how Maria V. Snyder’s continuing evolving skill as a great writer continues to be put to the test with the next two entries in this all-new, exciting series. I am so, so happy, to be reunited with the colorful, quirky, relatable cast of the Study and Glass trilogies! Early 2016 cannot come soon enough, and I await the release of the sequel to Shadow Study with bated breath!
LITERARY CAFFEINATED BEVERAGE RECIPE!
If you’re an inveterate drinker of hot beverages while reading books, you will want to pay extra attention to the above recipe. It is a hot beverage, like that you’d find in the Illias jungles, where members of the Zaltana Clan, who have close ties with the Sandseed clan, grow a special, highly addictive type of cocoa nut that carries all the antioxidants that milk chocolate often doesn’t have. High quality bars of Organic Dark Chocolate often contain Cacao, which has tons of very great health benefits (besides tasting really damn good, and adding an extra bold “kick” to your coffee drink.
So here is the recipe for making your own Zaltana Coffee Drink:
1 tsp. of Nescafe French Roast Instant Coffee
1 tsp. of Organic Cacao Powder
1 tsp. of Chicory Root Powder
1 tsp. of Raw Cane Sugar
Splash of Milk (any type is perfectly fine, whether it be soy, almond, or coconut)
The procedure for preparing this, a beverage that Yelena secretly indulges in off-the-page, is to basically combine all the drink ingredients in your favorite mug, heat some water up using any preferred method (microwave, electric tea kettle, kettle on stove), and then add the hot water to the mug w/ the dry ingredients. Stir the mixture for about 20 seconds, then add a splash of milk, and you have yourself a mug of Yelena’s Favorite type of tantalizing coffee drink, all ready to drink slowly, and indulgently, while flying through the exciting pages of Maria V. Snyder’s Shadow Study.