Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder
Published: 2008, Mira
Series: Study, #3
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Poison Study (my review) & Magic Study (my review)
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"Getting killed would have been easier. No guilt. No worries. No fear. Caring for someone is terrible and wonderful. I don't know if I have the strength to do it for another. How do you deal with it?"
"I focus on the wonderful parts and suffer through the terrible parts, knowing it will end eventually."
And this is how I really tell when a series gets worse: even after I start reading the next book right away, I find that it becomes a bit more of a chore to pick it up each time. It pains me to say this, because I really do love Yelena's story and think the Study series could have been very interesting and nuanced. Unfortunately, I simply don't think that Fire Study lived up to its full potential.
Unlike the gap between Poison Study and Magic Study, there is no lapse in time between the end of Magic Study and beginning of Fire Study. Yelena may have stopped the Soulstealer Ferde for now, but even bigger problems are brewing for her. The very publicly known fact that Yelena possesses the magical ability to control others' souls has turned her into a pariah. Even worse than being considered a pariah, certain Sitian council members are convinced that Yelena is a threat that needs to be eliminated, along with all of her supporters. While Yelena's life is in the hands of the Sitian Council, a more menacing threat forms. Apparently Ferde was not the only person capable of stealing others' magic. A group of magic-stealing men threatens the safety of her homeland, the tensions between Sitia and Ixia continue to rise, and for the first time Yelena finds herself paralyzed, unable to confront the powerful fire spirit being fed magic by the group of magic stealers.
My biggest issue with Fire Study stemmed from the fact that I found that this only told part of a story. Honestly, I wish that Snyder had been able to cut elements from both Magic Study and Fire Study and combine the overarching plotline of Yelena trying to understand her magical abilities while attempting to avert a war between Sitia and Ixia into one book. By the time that the events of Fire Study come around, Snyder seems to have figured out what works for her as a storyteller. And in no way do I think that it's an issue for an author to understand what plot elements work best for him or her. My issue lies in the fact that because Snyder wrote a trilogy, readers are subjected to similar plot elements more than once. Yelena identifies a villain that no one wants to acknowledge. She deals with persecution and misunderstanding from many. More and more obstacles stand in the way of Yelena and Valek's relationship. Yelena eventually wins everyone over and saves the day. I'm a fantasy lover through and through, so it's not the idea of a "chosen one" that bothers me, nor do I get tired of my protagonists struggling with what seems like overwhelming odds. Just a little more variety in installments in the same trilogy would be nice.
My favorite aspect of Fire Study is the focus on Yelena's personal growth, as it always has been throughout the series. Although by this point in the series, Yelena has proven herself against many doubters already, and gained some sense of self-worth. Drastic changes and perceptions in life do not happen quickly, however, and Yelena still continues to adjust to her new powers and lifestyle. Her major struggle in this installment is once again not any outside source (although the impending war and magic stealers do present interesting challenges) but in accepting herself. She can no longer deny that her magic revolves around the ability to control souls. She still doesn't know how to use this power properly, or if she even wants to - the last person with this power brought evil to Sitia. It is Yelena's fear of her power and her lack of purpose that dominate this novel, causing her to freeze up, make hasty decisions, and distance herself from her friends. At times this was incredibly frustrating to read, but at least her actions made sense.
I realize this review may sound a little harsh. While I did have some struggles with picking up the book to actually read it, a lot of my criticisms did not develop until after I'd completed the book and reflected back on my reading experience. In the moment of actually reading the book, I was involved in Yelena's story and eager to find out what happens next. In some ways it's frustrating how afterthought can really alter our initial perceptions of something, but that's just how it is.
Reading the first three Study books was enough for me, I think. Although Snyder has announced that she plans on continuing this series with an additional three books, I do not plan on reading them unless the reviews are super positive. But who knows - perhaps now that she's had a good span of years to plan them out and write them, perhaps Snyder's series will go back to the quality that Poison Study possesses. I'll wait and see what some others say before making any decision.