I’m going to try a new format today. Let me know what you think of it in the comments.
Maria V. Snyder
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this story. It has all the components of my favorite stories: knights and swords, magicians, assassins, kings (though in this case the King is dead and the Commander is in charge, and rightly so), and a lead character that you don’t just invest in, you want to be them a little bit (minus the history of severe abuse and the poisoning). This story is an epic adventure that is impossible to put down. If consumes your thoughts. I was working out, listening to the Nerdist, and this story completely crowded him out of my brain, which is pretty damn hard to do.
Yelena is magnificent. You meet her just as her life changes forever. She has suffered greatly at the hands of the family who took her in when she was an orphan, General Brazell. She has murdered the son of the General. We meet Yelena on her way to execution because there are no excuses in Ixia and murderers are always executed even if it was in self-defense. Immediately, she shows her strength. She sheds no tears over her impending death, but sits straight-backed, listening to the head of security and intelligence, Valek, offer her a chance to keep living. She must choose between becoming the Commander’s food taster or immediate death by hanging. Of course, Yelena chooses life.
I have to say the life of a food taster is far more complicated than I had ever envisioned. Yelena is caught between all of the forces at play: a General who wants her dead, a very powerful magician who wants her either trained or dead, and a head housekeeper who writes threats in the dust in her room, all while tasting every single thing the Commander eats to make sure none of it is poisoned.
Snyder gives all of her characters the same depth that she imbues Yelena with. Valek is a former assassin whose office is entirely filled with stacks of books, which I found to be nothing but endearing. However, the most refreshing character Snyder crafted is the Commander.
Snyder succeeded in creating a leader that I wouldn’t hesitate to give my loyalty. In our current world, where even the leaders who were elected based primarily of hope turn out to be exactly the same as all the others, it’s a cool breeze on a summer evening to read of a leader who gives people jobs based solely on skill and acumen. Where women and men are treated the same and literally everyone had a job to do.
This is my favorite part about the commander: There is a point in the story when shortly after Yelena arrives in the Commander’s office, a teacher bursts into the room dragging along one of his pupils. The teacher tells the Commander that this little girl has been correcting his math in front of the class and he demands that she be punished for this behavior. He wants her to be demoted to a servant’s life. The Commander says that he’ll take care of it and sends the teacher away. As soon as the door shuts behind the teacher, the Commander leans down to the girl and asks for her side of the story. She tells him that she is good with numbers, but the teacher is bad with them. She had gotten so bored in class that she came up with faster, easier methods to solve the same problems. She promises the Commander that she won’t question the teacher again, just so long as he doesn’t have her whipped. The Commander sends Yelena to fetch his chief accountant. Upon his arrival, the Commander tells the student that she will be the accountant’s assistant. She has one day to prove herself or she has to go back to the teacher’s class.
Now here’s the impressive thing about that: there is no chance that our current President would ever take the time to listen to a little girl’s side of the story, believe her, and take the necessary steps to ensure that her skills are used properly. Hell, I would argue that most principals wouldn’t listen to her.
Artfully crafted, I highly recommend this tale to anyone looking for an escape. 5 ink bottles.