Poison Study, Magic Study, Fire Study (Yelena Zaltana: books 1-3), By Maria V. Snyder.
A series of books that follow a 20 year old woman (Yelena) from her time as a prisoner awaiting her execution, through to the discovery of being a rather powerful magician. To put things into context, the world Yelena grows up in is divided into to countries: Ixia (ruled by The Commander who had killed the tyrannical magic-weilding King, and split Ixia into military districts), and Sitia (viewed as being more liberal. A refuge for those seeking to escape military rule. Also a sanctuary for magicians).
Yelena chooses to accept the high-risk position of food taster for the paranoid Commander and, in doing so, sets about a chain of events that begin to reveal who she is, where she has come from, and a whole host of other events she was embroiled in without even realising. As any main character should know, their very survival is imperative in order to prevent the whole world from being destroyed, or changed in ways that the general populace would be unhappy with.
I really enjoyed this series. It had lots of action, strong female role models, as well as good and evil warring against each other (and many you think fall into one character, end up switching sides frequently). The general storyline comes across like a good YA fantasy, but parts of the content wouldn’t be suitable for younger audiences, as there are many references to rape, sacrifice, and gruesome murders. The rape scenes aren’t particularly graphic, but the murders are. The many references to these ‘bad people’ and the things they do to the young and vulnerable could be upsetting for the more sensitive audiences.
That said, our heroine is no Bella (re: Twilight). She has bouts of self-doubt (well, she was a nobody), she’s uncertain of her skill (she was never really trained), she’s consumed by grief or loss (a lot of people die)… but she claws her way back up and out of the cesspool and kicks some motherfuckin’ ass!
A minor issue with this series is the repetition. Chunks of text from previous books are regurgitated in later ones. I am very well versed in both Ixian and Sitian history, magic, and all that jazz since I have had frequent reminders throughout. I expect these tidbits would be useful reminders if I’d left more time between reading each book, but I read them directly after each other, so they became a little annoying.
In the last book, there also seemed to be a lot of people who were smiling “sardonically”.
Like I said though, minor issues. Definitely worth a read!