7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Fire Study

Title: Fire Study

Author: Maria V. Snyder

Review Number: 18

Genre: Fantasy

Stand alone or series: Third book in the Study series

Summary: (From MariaVSnyder.com)
FIRE STUDY: SURROUNDED BY FIRE WITH NO WAY TO ESCAPE THE BURN. (STUDY BOOK 3) Yelena’s new role as Soulfinder has made the Sitian Council uneasy. Worried that her new powers will corrupt her, the Council debates her fate. Yelena, though is trying to keep Sitia and Ixia from going to war. In the middle of political wrangling, Yelena receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by Ferde, the Soulstealer who murdered eleven girls and has escaped from prison with Cahil Ixia’s help. Cahil believes if he joins with the new Daviian Clan, he will have enough support to regain the Ixian throne. Testing the limit of her skills, Yelena becomes embroiled in the desperate fight to stop Ferde and the Daviian Clan from siphoning enough power to unleash a Fire Warper on the world. That would be worst than war between the northern and southern lands. Especially since, of all the powers Yelena possesses, she couldn’t set fire to a candle wick if her life depended on it. And there is more at stake than just her life.

Why did I read the book: I loved Poison Study and Yelena so much that I finished the book in one sitting, and immediately rushed to the bookstore for the sequel. Magic Study was also a wonderful, entertaining read that I finished in record time. As I have been eagerly awaiting the third installment in the series all year, you can bet your butt I dropped everything to pick up this book and see where Yelena’s new adventures would take her in Fire Study. Needless to say…I’m a fan.


After months of breathless anticipation, finally I was able to pick up the new adventures of Yelena, and get down to business. A quick recap for those who have yet to read the series, or who might be a bit rusty: Yelena was a murderer facing the gallows in the northern country of Ixia, and presented with a rare opportunity: the die, or to live as the Commander’s food taster. Yelena chooses the latter, and undergoes extensive training in poisons. She manages to save the Commander’s life, the fate of Ixia, and at the same time learns that she has impressive magical powers. She becomes a diplomat to the southern country of Sitia, and leaves the north to undergo the necessary training she needs to harness her magic, and learns that she is actually a southern Sitian stolen from her home as a child. Her training in Sitia reveals Yelena to be a Soulfinder—the first in a thousand years. The title earns her both awe and distrust, especially from the governing council of Sitia and First Magician Roze Featherstone. Great evil faces Sitia as someone—a soulstealer—kills and steals the souls of young mages, amassing power. Yelena stops the soulstealer, but faces trouble with the untrusting council, and her problems are nowhere near finished.

Fire Study begins immediately where Magic Study left off—the soulstealer Ferde has escaped with the help of the pretender Cahil, and trouble is brewing for Sitia. Political tensions are running high between Ixia and Sitia once more, and the Sitian council is even more wary and distrustful of Yelena’s powers. Yelena is assigned to report to First Magician Roze Featherstone for training to get her soulfinder powers evaluated and under control. Master Featherstone, however, openly despises Yelena, going so far as to attack her with fire. For all her powers and abilities, Yelena cannot spark a fire or control one with her magic—it’s like her kryptonite.

With tensions running high at the keep, Yelena, her brother Leif, and Cahil’s former captain and tracker Marrok set out to the Sandseed plains in pursuit of Cahil and Ferde. Joined by the cryptic Story Weaver named Moon Man, Yelena and company discover that something even more ominous is happening. Cahil and Ferde are being aided by the Daviian Clan, or “Vermin” as referred to by the Sandseed people who have cast them out, and are working with old forbidden magic to grow stronger and assume absolute power over Sitia. They have summoned an immensely powerful Fire Warper, and with each sacrifice both the Vermin and the Fire Warper grow more powerful and dangerous.

Yelena faces some pretty serious challenges in this book. She is declared a threat to Sitia and a bounty is placed on her head, she must deal with the impeding danger of the Fire Warper who she is helpless against, and the crumbling state of affairs between Ixia and Sitia to prevent an all out war. Simultaneously, Yelena keeps pushing away those she loves to keep them safe, and needs to come to terms with her powers and discover what it really means to be a soulfinder.

I enjoyed this book, but have some conflicting emotions. Certainly it is fast and action packed, and a good read…but it doesn’t quite live up to my hopes and expectations. While both Magic Study and Fire Study deal heavily with magic and Yelena’s powers, these two books lack the literary magic that Poison Study inspired. Ms. Snyder takes on a very ambitious task with her world building in Magic Study and here in Fire Study by expanding from the cold starkness of Ixia, to the jungles of the Zaltana clan, the warmer climate of the southern country Sitia, and to finally the dry plains of the Sandseed. One problem I had with the latter two books was the lack of proportions. In Fire Study, Yelena traverses from the keep in the heart of Sitia to the Sandseed clan in the plains, and to her family’s home in the jungle. Even when she sets off for Ixia, she reaches the North land within the span of a day. This contrasts with the grander scale of problems and the differences in each of the lands; the reader never really gets a good feel for the actual geography of this universe, and why it is so fast to travel from one place to the next. Surely these large ideologically and climate separated lands would either be harder to travel through or be separated by greater distance, or else they would be locked in constant war or would not be so intrinsically different. The lands never really felt “real” to me.

Also, Ms. Snyder addresses political and ideological critiques through Sitian and Ixian governments. The Sitians are a magic people, with a council created representing the different clans along with four master mages. They believe in the democratic process and talking things over in committees before making decisions. The Ixians, on the other hand, are ruled by The Commander—a dictator that presides over a militaristic based society, where everyone is given a job, everyone is identified by their uniform, and the laws are severe and unyielding. Magic is firmly outlawed; the Commander has seen too many power hungry mages destroy lives and land. There are perks and drawbacks to both societies, which Ms. Snyder handles exceptionally well in Poison Study, and to a lesser extent in Magic Study. While no one is homeless, everyone is prosperous and at peace in Ixian society, there is no personal freedom of expression, and laws are so severe that equal punishment is metted out to the letter, for every crime regardless of circumstance (i.e. a man who kills his wife’s attacker in self defense will meet execution, just as a mass murderer will). In Sitia, things are talked about and consensuses are reached—but there is homelessness, an abundance of crime, things never get accomplished because the council is forever in meetings trying to reach agreements, etc. In Fire Study, Ms. Snyder examines the two clashing ideologies, as Yelena makes comparisons and draws her own conclusions about the merits and faults of both systems. While I loved the way Yelena simply accepted her government in book 1, and then marveled at the differences in Sitia in book 2, I felt that the conclusions and observations she made in Fire Study came across as heavy handed. It’s hard to pull off a political commentary on two such polarized ideologies, and Ms. Snyder didn’t quite have the finesse or subtlety to make these comparisons work without sounding a bit corny. Not to say that Yelena’s observations aren’t valid—it just felt somewhat transparent in my opinion.

Ms. Snyder does, however, do a masterful job with plotting, her character development, and with the fabric and definitions of magic in her universe. There is not a dull moment in Fire Study (or in any of the books for that matter!) as Yelena moves from one challenge to the next, tackling her problems and fears head on. I love the quick nature of the books, although the drawback to having such an engaging plot usually means I devour the book in a few short hours, leaving me wanting more. I was happy to see Fire Study deal further with the relationship between Yelena and her brother Leif (I loved their interactions in book 2), and the continued presence of Cahil as a force in the story. I appreciate Ms. Snyder’s restraint from creating BAD and GOOD characters—and Cahil embodies this sentiment as he is neither all ‘bad’ nor all ‘good’. Certainly he has done some nasty things and had helped Ferde escape and would do anything for his false throne—but he’s not just an eeeevil villain. Roze Featherstone as well certainly is no cherry pie darling, but her reasons for her actions make sense in the context of her character. Bravo, Ms. Snyder!

There is also a bit more of the side plot burgeoning romance between Yelena and Valek, which honestly I could do without. I know many readers are fans of this romance, but I found it awkward in Poison Study and even stranger here. But that’s just me; I know plenty of people who are huge fans of the romance aspect in these books.

Overall, I have to say I am impressed with the series, especially when taking into consideration these are Ms. Snyder’s first books. I don’t know if there will be any more Yelena Study stories (no word on the author’s website), but this volume came full circle and is a good place to leave the series. Definitely recommended.

Notable Quotes/Parts: Ms. Synder writes combat scenes very well, and I loved the sparring matches between Yelena, Ari and Janko. Very reminiscent of Poison Study.

Also, the climax of the story with the ultimate showdown between Yelena and the bad guys (I won’t give away exactly who they are) had my pulse racing.

Additional Thoughts: I was a bit peeved with the lack of a map in this book. I like it when fantasy novels include a map near the beginning of the story for reference purposes (which is essential when so many names are being thrown around). Poison Study had a map, I believe that my copy of Magic Study did as well—however, there is none to be found for Fire Study. Hmph.

Verdict: Poison Study is still by far the best book, but Fire Study does the series justice. Enjoyable, quick, and a fitting end for an exciting adventure.

Rating: 7 Very Good

Reading Next: Queen of the Orcs: King’s Property (Queen of the Orcs Book 1) by Morgan Howell

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  • Li
    March 7, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Mmmm… I think I’m the odd one out, but I don’t love this series. I think her plotting is good, but her execution is sometimes lacking.

    It’s hard to explain, but I never feel as though I get to *know* Yelena or any of the other characters.

    There was this passage in “Magic Study” that summed up my issues with this series…

    *runs off to get book*

    Right p.53-54, when Yelena meets Fern:

    “May I help you?” she asked.
    “Are you Fern?”
    Her eyes widened in alarm as she nodded.
    “Nutty Zaltana sent me. Do you have any solid colors?”
    From underneath the table, Fern pulled out bolts of plain cloth and added them to the table.

    Okay, what’s with Fern’s eyes widening in alarm? There’s no follow through, no explanation as to why she was alarmed, no explanation of why her alarm was then soothed – or was it then soothed?

    I think it is good story-telling, and I did like the unusual premise in Poison Study, but she doesn’t do it for me.

  • Marg
    March 7, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I really liked the first two books in the series and I am really looking forward to this one!

  • Thea
    March 7, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    li–I getcha. I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly it is that keeps these books from ever feeling completely, winsomely genuine. I think part of it might be the disconnect between Yelena in Poison Study and Yelena in the later two books. And I get what you mean about knowing the characters. It feels a bit off. I love Ms. Synder’s plotting and as you say she is a very good storyteller…but there’s something missing. That extra little oomph that gives the book that sizzle.

    There’s also the weird thing going on with character reactions which you point out–there’s a part in this book where Moon Man suddenly becomes taciturn and weird for the rest of the story, and had me scratching my head. And the whole romance plot with Valek I really don’t get. *shrugs*

    That said, I do find a lot to enjoy in these books and read through them eagerly enough to know that the author has something good going on! But, I can totally see where you’re coming from, and understand why these books might not quite do it for you 🙂

    marg–if you loved the first two books, then you’ll definitely enjoy this one! Major plus–she gets to go back to Ixia for a bit, which is cool. And a few old friends pop up too (I love Ari and Janco). Definitely worth a read 🙂

  • Li
    March 8, 2008 at 4:34 am

    Thea – yeah, completely with you. It’s a bit like I’m watching the story unfold from behind a glass window, and not living it with the characters. LOL – I know that sounds weird, but that’s the only way I can describe it!

    However, I did read PS and MS all the way through to the end, because I wanted to find out what was going on – so you know, she does have something special.

  • Maria V. Snyder
    March 12, 2008 at 7:01 am

    Hello! I wanted to thank Thea for such an in-depth and comprehensive review of Fire Study. You obviously spent a great deal of time reading and thinking about the book – so Thanks!

    The other comment I wanted to make was to let you know there is a map of the Study World on my website (www.mariavsnyder.com/map) for anyone who wants to take a look at the world.

    There wasn’t a map in any of the US editions of the Study books (much to my chagrin), but the UK edition of Poison Study has a map.

    li – I’m learning as I go readers can’t read my mind 😉 Who’d of thought!

    Best to all,

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