Sticking with Wednesday's theme on plants, I thought this week would be an appropriate time to recommend Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. The whole book is laced with great details about poisons (and other fun topics like fugitives and lockpicking). I had a great time reading it just on account of these little tidbits, but the book has so much more to offer as well.
Yelena is a prisoner awaiting execution for murder. On the day she is to die she is given a choice: die immediately as planned or become the Commander's food taster and live in constant fear that her next bite might kill her. And death isn't waiting only in the form of food and drink; there are other risks to contend with: a magician who thinks Yelena is a danger to her kind, secret plots against the Commander, the surly assassin and right-hand man to the Commander who trains Yelena as food taster and warns that he will test her frequently, and the General whose son Yelena killed and who now wants her dead.
The characters in Poison Study are all very well portrayed and recognizably human. Yelena is an interesting companion who never grows tiresome (the four hundred pages of the paperback go by quickly). Valek (the assassin) is delightfully unpredictable; he does not stick to the typical tough man persona but surprises the reader with humor and sometimes even good will. The Commander defies the “evil dictator” role and is instead a complex character with both good and bad traits.
Poison Study has just the right mix of adventure, magic, intrigue and romance. I don't recommend it for younger readers as there are elements of Yelena's back story that are more appropriate for a maturer audience, but I would not hesitate to give it to an older teen. It's a fun story, and one I hope to reread in the future.