Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder
Published: 2007, Mira
Series: Study, #2
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Poison Study (my review)
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"Living is a risk," I snapped at him. "Every decision, every interaction, every step, every time you get out of bed in the morning, you take a risk. To survive is to know you're taking that risk and to not get out of bed clutching illusions of safety.”
It's a frustrating feeling to realize upon later reflection that a book you read with such delight is not actually as good as you initially assumed. Such was the case for Maria V. Snyder's Magic Study. After thoroughly enjoying Poison Study, I was eager to return to Yelena's story and see what was next in store for some favorite characters. I will not go so far as to say that Magic Study should not have been written, because there are definitely worthwhile aspects to this book that do expand my understanding of Snyder's world and her characters. But I just wish that it all had come together more cohesively than it did.
Magic Study picks up nearly right where Poison Study ended. Yelena and Irys, Fourth Magician, return Mogkhun and Brazell's remaining Sitian captives (those children too young to have had their souls harvested along with their magic) to their families. Along with the other Sitian children, Yelena is reunited with her clan, the tree-top living Zaltanas. But after being gone for nearly fifteen years, it's impossible for Yelena to go back to the life she no longer even remembers. And even when she travels to the Citadel to begin her magic training under Irys, Yelena experiences difficulties adapting to the Sitian lifestyle. Once again, she's the subject of intense scrutiny, distrust, and magic powers that no one has seen the likes of in hundreds of years. On top of that, there's a killer going around draining the magic from young girls before he kills them. It doesn't take Yelena long to realize that Sitia is not quite the safe haven she expected after being exiled from Ixia.
Where Magic Study really excels is in Snyder's ability to develop Yelena's world in an organic and believable way. Much of Poison Study is devoted to explaining the history, culture, and politics of Ixia, as well as the tensions present between Ixia and its southern neighbor Sitia. As Yelena is unaware of her Sitian roots, readers are given a very skewed perception of the "savage" Sitia. By moving the action of the story to Sitia, therefore, Snyder can expand upon the history, culture, and politics of Sitia. Along with Yelena, readers can witness a new land that claims to be the complete opposite of everything that Ixia stands for, giving its inhabitants freedom to choose careers, homes, and more. Sitia is run by a council comprised of the magicians and leaders from each of the tribes, in an attempt to be fair. But by privileging fairness and individuality in the place of equality, Sitia still is not an ideal world; poverty and unfairness continue to exist. Yelena's gradual realization of the flaws that affect both Ixia and Sitia's governing bodies allows even bigger political and social commentaries to unfold.
Where Magic Study suffers is primarily in its execution of major storylines. Although it is fascinating to witness Yelena's struggles to fit in Sitian culture and find her sense of worth, there's a sense of repetition present. This has been done before, after all. Yelena may have new friends, new enemies, a new setting, and new skills to learn, but her struggles are nevertheless reminiscent of those she encountered as Commander Ambrose's food taster. Once again, Yelena must prove herself worthy against a host of skeptics, this time by being a proper Sitian instead of a proper Ixian. The most interesting aspect of Yelena's new life is the attempt to understand her magical powers. Even though the Sitians embrace magic, Yelena's ability to control others is different enough from the norm that she's further stigmatized and viewed with fear and distrust. I do love witnessing Yelena's continued growth in this novel; while the incorporation of her magic powers does make Magic Study distinctive in comparison to Poison Study, I couldn't help but wish for other equally complex and distinctive issues for Yelena.
One of the better aspects in Poison Study was the relationship between Yelena and Commander Ambrose's head assassin, Valek. Although I admit I was a bit skeptical of the evolution of their interactions into a romantic relationship, I was still satisfied with how the two learned to see past misconceptions and stereotypes, learning to appreciate each other for who they truly are, rather than what others think they are. Even more so than forming a strong understanding of one another, in Poison Study Yelena and Valek eventually formed a relationship based on equality and respect, trust and confidence in one another and their abilities. Imagine my disappointment, then, to find that Valek and Yelena are separated for the majority of the book. And when Valek does make an appearance, he's focused on romance to such an extreme degree, completely outside of the characterization I'd come to expect of him. His character is relegated to the role of romantic interest. Rather than strengthening each other, Valek primarily serves to aid Yelena.
While not a bad book necessarily, Magic Study is certainly not as good as its predecessor. I did not find it to be a waste of my time because I was curious to learn more about Yelena's magic powers, as well as the land of Sitia. Snyder presents some interesting ideas and I liked the direction she appeared to be taking, but there were unnecessary plot elements that could have been eliminated, and this does not seem to be as polished and complete a novel as Poison Study does.