Review: Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Title: Fire Study 
Genre: fantasy, young-adult
Series: Study #3
Pages: 445 (paperback edition)
Published: March 2008
Rating: 2.5/5
Source: Bought

The apprenticeship is over—now the real test has begun.

When word that Yelena is a Soulfinder—able to capture and release souls—spreads like wildfire, people grow uneasy. Already Yelena's unusual abilities and past have set her apart. As the Council debates Yelena's fate, she receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by a murderous sorcerer she has defeated before....

Honor sets Yelena on a path that will test the limits of her skills, and the hope of reuniting with her beloved spurs her onward. Her journey is fraught with allies, enemies, lovers and would-be assassins, each of questionable loyalty. Yelena will have but one chance to prove herself—and save the land she holds dear.

Well, I'm really sad to say I found the finale to a series that started so originally and strongly to be quite a disappointment. Yelena herself felt off to me in a way during Fire Study not seen in the first two books and there was just so so much unnecessary goings-on and fights and betrayals and traveling... it got a bit old round about the 250 page mark. I was actively waiting for the end of this drawn-out escapade to mercifully come something interesting to happen and I got more back-and-forth, more Yelena making harebrained decisions (pushing Valek away, her "plans") and less of what I loved so much from the first novel.

I will right away admit I'm very happy with the direction of Cahil's storyline. I was interested in the Wannabe King from the start (uninherited claimants are so medieval history) and was glad he wasn't just foisted off as easily as say, Ferde. While I love that Ferde wasn't a repeating villain for the last two books as I had initially feared at the conclusion of Magic Study, I did dislike his easy, unremarkable demise.  Quick, and almost glossed over in the narrative, I was pretty disappointed by the lack of resolution that came with the end of a major antagonist for the company. I had hoped for a little more to Ferde's end as an active player in the novels and Yelena's story - what happened seemed too easy and lacked satisfaction for such a gruesome plot-line as his was. I was disappointed with the turns the relationship between Yelena and Moon Man takes: she is only further encouraged by their poor communications that only Yelena knows best or can ever do anything to help. I also admit that the magic aspects of these novel continue to evolve and change in an unpredictable manner: Opal's magic (and the revelation's about the Commander) were both interesting and handled well. I appreciate the imagination and thought that went into crafting the magic aspects/details (the bit at the end with the 'blanket' and the souls? Brilliant twist!) is consistent and never content to rest on the creations of the previous novel.

But most importantly and constantly in my mind were these thoughts: Where were Ari and Janco? Where was Yelena's mentor and friend Irys? Where was Valek, for the last two books? And while we're on that subject, what happened to Valek's individual personality and fire? He went from being just as much of a main character as Yelena to a backup singer in a chorus of dozens, if one that is immune to magic. I missed the rounded characters I met in the first book, Poison Study. Largely gone for much of this third and final novel, I missed the power twin's lively additions and dialogue. (Thank goodness the short story Power Study [Study #3.5] is pretty much just the two of them in fine fettle!) The personalities introduced in the later books (Cahil, Goel, Tauno, Star) feel much shallower than their earlier, much more interesting predecessors. But seriously: what the hell happened to the charming, devious, rounded personality that Valek had at the beginning of his relationship with the Soulfinder? Poison Study-era Valek was in command, intelligent and not just used as a blue-eyed deadly deux-ex-machina for all so many of Yelena's mishaps/miscalculations. I missed that first Valek, the one who stood toe-to-toe with Yelena instead of hastening to do her bidding; I think I'll pretend these later novels never happened to my cool-eyed Assassin. Through the last two books in this fantasy series, I've learned I like Yelena much better with a company of characters than on her own - she is much more likeable in a cast.

I'm very conflicted over this series. The last two books leave so much to be desired after the fun and inventiveness of the first novel. While each novel in this series successively in turn degraded in quality, I still mostly liked what I was reading; I just wanted more depth to the later characters, more ingenuity like what was shown in the first novel with the Districts, the poison-taster position, etc. Just less typical fantasy elements (constant traveling and bickering between Leif and Yelena, the betrayals, the hidden pasts of villains) would've been appreciated; it's not that I don't like all those things, but that they were so overdone and that this series started off very well without such. I've recently read and enjoyed Maria Snyder's latest novel, Touch of Power, but now I find I'm very wary for the following sequels, if they trace the same trajectory as this series.

This series does have a lot of covers for each novel, so here are two more of the covers for Fire Study:


  1. Well, the good thing is that at least all of the covers for this series- I've seen three different versions for all three books- are gorgeous!

  2. I was just disappointed! I loved Valek - what happened to him? That and I hated the constant back-and-forth journeying. Series started out well, but left me unsatisfied. But you are totally right: the covers, as varied and many as they are, are gorgeous!


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