You would think that a book put out by the Mira imprint would just have tons and tons of romantic this-and-that on just about every page. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. ;-)) After all, it's an imprint of Harlequin.
But you would be wrong.
Is there romance? Sure. But you're not conked over the head with it, and it's not just thrown in for the hell of it - especially as this is the second book in Ms. Snyder's Study series.
Here's my review of the first book, Magic Study. I'd suggest you read that one first before plunging into this one.
The Story - The Readers Digest Version
Twenty-year-old Yelana Zaltana returns to her family in Sitia along with the good magician (and friend), Irys. She hasn't seen them in 14 years - kidnapped as a 6-year-old by the evil magician Mogkan. Things are bad almost from the start, when she finds out her brother, Leif, has been spreading rumors that she's actually an Ixian spy.
Irys thinks its a good idea for Yelana to get a handle on her brand of magic, so she induces Yelana to "sign up" at the Citadel; she'll be taught how to further control her magic, and her teachers and she will learn exactly what she can and can't do with her magical talents.
Yelana finds out from Irys about a string of murdered girls, all about 14 to 16 years old. This is seen as the time when those magically imbued are at their most vulnerable, despite their magical talents, and the magicians at the Citadel suspect that a rogue mage is taking the magic from these girls to increase his own strength.
As Yelena joins the hunt for the killer, a diplomatic mission arrives from Ixia. Of course, it includes her lover, Valek, a well-known, notorious spy and assassin who can't be touched by magic. How does he get through, and how does Yelana know?
It's something she feels, deep down, and when her eyes fix on a minor functionary - she knows it's Valek in disguise.
Will they find the killer before he kills again? And will Valek escape the hangman's noose or firing squad?
I ripped through this book in about three days - that's how good the story and the writing are. Plus, of course, the characters Ms. Snyder has thought up. She gives them human qualities and frailities; no Mary Sues here.
What I also liked is that this is no standard, garden-variety Medieval Europe set up. I don't mind reading books of that type, but it's nice to read about an environment that's a bit different; in this case, Yelana and Irys head into the jungle, where all the Zaltanas live. They live in the trees, and have names that suggest flora and fauna (one woman is nicknamed Nutty, short for Hazelnut; yeah, that's her name).
You might think this made me roll my eyes, and it did, but not for very long. After all, Yelana has to get to the Citadel before long, so it's goodbye houses in trees, hello sleeping on the ground.
Ms. Snyder brings us along on Yelana's ride with Leif to the Citadel. Something happens which makes Yelana suspect Leif hasn't been truthful to her (and there's no reason why she should think that, as it's obvious Leif can't stand her), but they eventually make it to the Citadel.
And to Roze, one of the Master Magicians (Irys is one, too). Roze doesn't like Yelana right off (no reason is given), and I found myself rooting for Yelana even harder whenever that broad showed up. ;-)
There's plenty of action here, a little bit of romance, and some magic (of course); eventually, Irys comes to think that Yelana is what is called a Soulfinder, that she can almost (almost) wake the dead. She does seem to be able to go into a person's mind and unravel and untwist the nightmares that are there - but she goes beyond that towards the end of the book (you'll have to read it to find out exactly what I'm talking about here, but it's quite interesting).
However, Soulfinders have gotten a bad rap over the years, especially as the last known one was a bad seed. If it gets out that Yelana is a Soulfinder, what's going to become of her?
That's not answered in this book, but hoping it will be in the third and last book of the series.
The characters are what really make this story. Yelana and Valek do get together, but it's not long and drawn out. The new characters - like Yelana's mother, father, and brother, among others - are fun and interesting. You can feel for Yelana's mother not wanting to let Yelana go to the Citadel; it's been 14 years, for heaven's sake.
As for her father - he has an interesting, shall we say, hobby? ;-)
And Leif turns into an enigma. He's full of hate and loathing for his sister, and yet, there's an incident where he shows another side to Yelana.
Definitely put this on your To Buy list, but make sure you've read Poison Study first, so you'll have a basic understanding of Yelana and Valek, and where Yelana's come from.
~ Nancy Beck