New York Times bestselling author Maria V. Snyder wowed readers with Poison Study, the unforgettable story of poison taster Yelena. Now she's back with a new tale of intrigue.
Once, only her own life hung in the balance
Oddly enough, when Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. But she'd survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia. Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both landsand protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, they are beset on all sides by those vying for power through politics and intrigue. Valek's job and his life are in danger. As Yelena tries to uncover the scope of these plots, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. She must keep that a secretor her enemies will discover just how vulnerable she really iswhile searching for who or what is responsible for neutralizing her powers.
Yes, the days of tasting poisons were much simpler. And certainly not as dangerous
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By Maria V. Snyder
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2014 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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U'gh, mud, Kiki said as she splashed through another puddle. The wet muck clung to her copper coat and dripped from her long tail. It packed into her hooves and coated the hair of her fetlocks with each step.
Through our mental connection I sensed her tired discomfort. Stop? I asked. Rest?
No. Images of fresh hay, a clean stall and being groomed formed in Kiki's mind. Home, soon.
Surprised, I glanced around the forest. Melting piles of snow mixed with black clumps of dead leaves—signs that the cold season was losing its grip. Rain tapped steadily on the bare branches. The light faded, turning the already gray woods leaden. For the past few hours, I'd been huddling under my sopping-wet cloak, trying to keep warm. With my thoughts fixed on my rendezvous with Valek, I'd failed to keep track of our location.
I scanned the area with my magic, projecting my awareness out to seek life. A few brave rabbits foraged in the soggy underbrush and a couple of deer stood frozen, listening to the squishy plodding of Kiki's passage. No souls haunted these woods. No humans within miles.
That wasn't a surprise. This remote area in the northeastern Featherstone lands had been chosen for that very reason. After Owen Moon ambushed us about four years ago, Valek and I had decided to move to a less well-known location near the Ixian border.
I leaned forward in the saddle. We were getting close and my wet cloak no longer pressed so hard on my shoulders. At this pace, we'd reach our cozy cottage within the hour. Valek's involvement with our friend Opal's rescue from the Bloodrose Clan and the aftermath had kept him busy for months. Finally we would have a few precious days all to ourselves before he reported back to the Commander. He should already be there waiting for me. Visions of sharing a hot bath, snuggling by a roaring fire and relaxing on the couch once again distracted me.
Kiki snorted in amusement and broke into a gallop. Behind the clouds the sun set, robbing the forest of all color. I trusted Kiki to find the path in the semidarkness as I kept a light magical connection to the wildlife nearby.
In midstride, Kiki jigged to the right. Movement flashed to the left along with the unmistakable twang of a bow. Kiki twisted under me. I grabbed for her mane, but a force slammed into my chest and knocked me from the saddle.
Hitting the ground hard, I felt all the air in my lungs whoosh out as pain erupted. Fire burned with each of my desperate gasps. Without thought, I projected again, searching for the ... person who had attacked me. Despite the agony, I pushed as far as I could. No one.
Kiki, smells? I asked. She stood over me, protecting me.
Pine. Wet. Mud.
Not good. The person had to be protected by a magical null shield. It was the only way to hide from me. Null shields blocked magic. At least it also prevented the magician from attacking me with his or her magic since it blocked magic from both sides of the shield. But it wouldn't stop another arrow. And perhaps the next one wouldn't miss.
I glanced at the shaft. The arrow had struck two inches above and one inch to the left of my heart, lodging just below my clavicle. Fear banished the pain for a moment. I needed to move. Now.
Rolling on my side, I paused as an icy sensation spread across my chest. The tip had been poisoned! I plopped back in the mud. Closing my eyes, I concentrated on expelling the cold liquid. It flowed from the wound, mixing with the blood already soaked into my shirt.
Instead of disappearing, the poison remained as if being refilled as fast as I ejected it. With pain clouding my thoughts, the reason eluded me.
Kiki, however, figured it out. She clamped her teeth on the arrow's shaft. I had a second to realize what she planned before she yanked the arrow from my chest.
I cried as intense pain exploded, blood gushed and metal scraped bone all at once. Stunned, I lay on the ground as black and white spots swirled in my vision. On the verge of losing consciousness, I focused on the hollow barbed tip of the arrow coated with my blood, reminding me of the danger. I remained a target. And I wasn't about to make it easy for my attacker to get another shot.
Fix hole, Kiki said.
I debated. If I healed myself now, then I'd be too weak to defend myself. Not like I was in fighting condition. Although I still had access to my magic, it was useless against arrows and, as long as the assassin hid behind the null shield, I couldn't touch him or her with my magic, either.
Kiki raised her head. Her ears cocked. We go. Find Ghost. I groaned. How could I forget that Valek was nearby? Smart girl.
With the arrow still clutched in her teeth, Kiki knelt next to me. Grabbing her mane, I pulled myself into the saddle. Pain shot up my arms and vibrated through my rib cage when she stood. She turned her head and I took the arrow. It might give us a clue about the assassin's identity.
I crouched low over Kiki's back as she raced home. Keeping alert for another twang, I aimed my awareness on the surrounding wildlife. If the animals sensed an intruder, I'd pick up on their fear. A sound theory, except I'd been in contact with the deer when the arrow struck. I'd be impressed by the assassin's skills if I wasn't in so much pain.
It didn't take long for us to reach our small stable. The main doors had been left open. A warm yellow glow beckoned. Kiki trotted inside. The lanterns had been lit and Onyx, Valek's horse, nickered a greeting from his stall. Kiki stopped next to a pile of straw bales. Relieved to be safe, I slid onto them then lay down.
Kiki nudged my arm. Lavender Lady fix hole.
After Ghost comes. I suspected I would drop into an exhausted sleep once I healed the injury and I knew Valek would have questions.
She swished her muddy tail and stepped away. Ghost.
Valek appeared next to me. His confusion turned to alarm as his gaze swept my blood-soaked shirt. "What happened?"
No energy for a detailed explanation, I filled him in on the basics and handed him the arrow.
All animation dropped from Valek's angular face. Fury blazed in his sapphire-blue eyes as he examined the weapon. For a moment, I remembered our first meeting when he offered me the job of the food taster. Poisons had brought us together at that time, as well. But I'd never expected it to last. Then I'd wanted nothing more than to escape from him as quickly as possible.
Clear liquid dripped from the hollow shaft. He sniffed it. "Did you expel all the poison?"
"I think so." Hard to tell for sure, but I wouldn't add more fuel to his anger. Valek's hard expression already promised murder.
He smoothed the hair from my cheek. "How bad is it?"
"Not as bad as it looks. Now go, before the assassin gets away." I shooed.
"I'm not leaving you unprotected."
Kiki huffed and flicked her tail, splattering mud on Valek's black pants. I yanked my switchblade from its holder, triggering the blade. "I'm far from unprotected. Douse the light before you go."
"All right. I'll station Onyx outside the stable. Stay here." Valek opened Onyx's stall and the black horse trotted out. After he extinguished the lantern, Valek disappeared into the blackness.
I lay there listening for any sounds. My shoulder and left arm throbbed. Each inhalation caused a sharp stab of pain in my chest. To ease the discomfort, I pulled a thin thread of magic from the blanket of power that encompassed the world. A mental picture of the injury formed when I focused on the wound. My clavicle had been broken. The arrow had sliced through my muscles on impact, and the metal barbs in the arrow's head had ripped chunks of skin when Kiki had yanked it out. Lovely. I used the ribbon of power to lessen the pain—a temporary measure.
Once more sending my awareness into the surrounding forest, I kept a light contact with the nocturnal creatures. Too bad my bat friend was hibernating over the cold season. His unique senses would have helped with finding the assassin in the dark. The wildlife conducted their nightly hunt of food and showed no signs of agitation—not even from Valek. His immunity to magic prevented me from keeping track of him. I hoped he stayed sharp.
As time passed without incident, I wondered who had attacked me. That line of thought didn't go far as all I could deduce at this point was the person was a magician who had the power to form a null shield, who favored a bow and arrow, and who might have an affinity with animals. Either that or he/she was really quiet and had masked his/her smell.
Unfortunately, pondering why I was attacked generated a longer list. As the official Liaison between the Commander of the Territory of Ixia and the Sitian Council, I'd created at least a dozen political and criminal enemies in the past six years. As the heart mate of Valek, the infamous Ixian assassin, for the past eight years I'd been a target for anyone who hated Valek, which included most of Sitia and probably hundreds of Ixians. As a magician and Soulfinder, I made many people nervous, worrying that I'd turn rogue. These people were under the mistaken impression that I could create a soulless army when in fact all I did was find lost souls and guide them to either an eternity of peace in the sky or an eternity of suffering in the fire world, depending on their deeds while alive.
A slight squish jolted me from my thoughts. Careful of my injury, I sat up and swung my legs over the bales of straw. Then I slid off. Better to stand and fight than be caught lying down. The darkness outside was one hue lighter than inside due to the faint moonlight. It illuminated just enough to see shapes.
I kept alert for any movement, peering through the door. When Kiki stepped between me and the entrance, I startled. Even though she was sixteen hands high she could be really quiet. Her back was taller than me and she blocked my view.
Granted, I reached only five feet four inches, but she was a big girl like most Sandseed horses.
A few more squishes set my heart to beat in double time. I tightened my grip on my switchblade.
Ghost, Kiki said, moving away.
I sagged against the bales. A Valek-shaped shadow strode into the stable. He lit the lantern. One look at his grim expression and I knew he'd lost the assassin's trail.
"The guy's a pro," he said. "He used magic to erase his footprints. They just stopped. And without leaves on the bushes, it's harder to track him, especially at night. I'll go out again in the daylight."
"He? How do you know?"
"Big boots, deep prints. We can discuss it later. Let's go inside and take care of you."
"Kiki first." And before he could argue, "She saved my life. If she hadn't moved, the arrow would have pierced my heart."
Valek's shoulders dropped. Knowing I wouldn't leave, he worked fast. He removed her saddle and knocked the dried mud off her legs and stomach. After he cleaned out her hooves, she walked into her stall and munched on hay.
"Guess she's happy enough," Valek said, tossing the pick into a bucket. "Now, let's get you warm and dry, love."
I removed my muddy cloak and left it on the bales before I wrapped my right arm around Valek's shoulders. He wanted to carry me, but I worried he might jar the broken bone out of alignment and I wouldn't have enough strength to heal it.
The sharp pain returned by the time we reached the house. I made it as far as the couch. A bright fire burned in the hearth and a bottle of wine sat on the end table with two glasses and a plate of cheese. Valek must have arrived a few hours before me.
Tilting my head at the food, I said, "That's lovely."
"We'll indulge after you're healed and rested. Do you want to change first?"
Just the thought of moving my left arm hurt. "No."
"Then what are you waiting for?"
"A kiss. I haven't seen you in months."
Valek transformed when he smiled. The sharp angles of his face softened and warmth radiated from him. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to mine. Before I could deepen the kiss he pulled back.
"No more until you're better."
"Yelena." His stern tone would have made my mother proud.
"All right." I reclined on the couch and closed my eyes.
Reaching for the power blanket, I gathered a thick thread of magic. I wound this ribbon around my broken clavicle, fusing the two pieces back together. A second thread knitted the muscles and a third replaced skin. The effort exhausted me. Drained dry, I passed out.
By the time I woke, afternoon sunlight flooded the living area. Besides the green plaid couch, a couple of oversize nubby brown armchairs and a matching love seat made a semicircle in front of the hearth. In the center, a dark brown deep-pile rug covered the floor—soft on the feet and ... other body parts.
All that remained of the fire was ashy coals and half-burned logs. The wine and glasses waited—a promise for later. No sounds emanated from the rest of the cottage, but moving without a sound was second nature for Valek. I called his name just in case. No response.
I opened my mind to Kiki. Is everything okay? I asked.
Quiet. Nap time, she said.
If the horses could sleep, then all should be well. Ghost?
My left shoulder and upper chest ached. The muscles would be sore for a few days. I sat up and examined the wound. Purple bruises surrounded an angry red circle. Another scar to add to my collection. I'd stopped counting three ... or was it four injuries ago? Stretching with care, I tested my range of motion. Not bad.
The cold had soaked into my bones. My blanket had fallen to the floor. A hot soak in the tub should cure it in no time.
Stiff with blood and poison, my shirt reeked. All the more reason to bathe. But first a quick check of the rest of the cottage. It wouldn't take long. I palmed my switchblade, but didn't trigger the blade.
The ground floor consisted of a living area, kitchen and washroom. The living area spanned the left half of the cottage while the kitchen and washroom occupied the right half. The hearth sat in the middle of the building so all the rooms could share its warmth.
I peered into the kitchen. A layer of dust covered the table and chairs, but the wash sink, cold storage box and water jugs had been cleaned. Nothing appeared out of place.
The washroom's entrance was to the right of the hearth. I smiled. Valek had filled the large water tank near the back wall. Hot coals glowed underneath—one of the benefits of having a stone floor. I tested the water with my finger. Almost perfect.
Excerpted from Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder. Copyright © 2014 Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Oooooohhhhhhh Yeah!!!!!! Yelana and Valek are back, and oh how they are back! what can I say? I absolutely loved this book! I devoured it in 1 evening after preordering it months ago. As I neared the end I was so afaid that it was just a one book thing. that they were about to tie everything up and yalena and Valak would be gone from my life again. I am so happy to say that the book ended with a HUGE cliff hanger, and while that is upsetting I cant be happier because that means there is more to come!!!! This book was wonderful. there is multiple perspectives from Yelana, Valek, and Janco. Yes, Janco! It tied in everything we already knew from the study series and the glass series and the put so much more on top of it! Those of you who worried it wouldn't be the same, or as good, or as deserving as the originals need not worry. Snyder picked back up as if she hadn't left off for years. The plot was great and intense. The action was non stop. And the romance was good. I know people will complain about the amount of time Yelena and Valek spent together ( or rather the lack of time) but it seemed pretty standard to me. They were not together much in MAGIC STUDY or FIRE STUDY so why change now? Although they both seem to be growing tired of that in this recent book. All in all it was lovely. I cant wait for the next book to find out what happens next. With Yelana. With Yelana and Valek. With Valek and the Commander. It will be a long wait!
Wish I could give it 10 stars!
Fantastic, non-stop action, thrilling, exciting, I didn't want to put it down.
Stuck on bed rest this pregnancy I never thought I'd look forward to sleepless nights and yet here I am curled up with my book. So grateful to the author.
I wanted to read Shadow Study, because I loved the first Study books in her series, and have liked the other series she has written. Her books are exciting, engaging, and I love the fantasy world that she builds and the brave and dynamic characters she writes. They are strong women and they have hot romances. I really enjoyed getting back into Yelena's head. She is strong and smart, and the same girl I remember loving in the previous books. Her and Valek have a great relationship except that now they have to be apart so much since he works for the Commander and she is the liaison between Sitia and Ixia. Valek is still madly in love with Yelena, and though he wants to protect her, he also respects and acknowledges her own strength. We get both their perspectives in this series, as well as Janco's. Janco is still funny and outgoing. He is also a great spy and helper for Valek. They are tracing some black market rings as well as tracking the person who tried to assassinate Yelena at the beginning of the book. There is a lack of communication and Valek doesn't realize that Yelena has lost her magic, and she doesn't realize what he is doing for the commander. But we get to see more of the characters from other series Leif, Yelena's brother and Fisk, the street kid that Yelena helped start his own business. The plot is fast paced and a lot of fun even with our main characters in trouble, and working their way out. The mystery of the smugglers and the vulnerability of Yelena kept me flipping the pages and guessing. There was something that I suspected that turned out to be true and I can understand the introduction of another strong girl who is motivated and snuck up on everyone. I enjoyed this new saga and continuation of the series, and I can't wait for the next book, and see what our heros get themselves into this time. Bottom Line: Fast paced look into beloved characters.
I enjoy these books immensely. Read this one in two days and still worked two ten hour shifts! I'm ready for the next one please. Yelena and everyone else simply draw you in to their lives and you become invested in seeing the story to the end.
I love the continuation of Valek and Yelena's story. In this story Ms Snyder fills in Valek's history as well as puts Yelena in danger. A new character is introduced and is paired with Janco on a mission. This doesn't appear to be the end of the story between Ixia and Sitia because of a huge revelation at the end and the escape of the bad guy. Can't wait for the next installment. Hopefully we won't have to wait long.
Shadow Study is the new spin-off book from the Study series by Maria V. Snyder. Readers who loved the Study series will really enjoy going deeper into the past of one of the main characters, Valek. Readers who aren't familiar with the original series, may need a little history to get them started, but this is still a great stand-a-lone novel. Ixia and Sitia have a peace treaty in place, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes from assassins to smugglers. A great new book by a trusted fantasy author! I absolutely loved the Study series for a so many reasons. The fictional countries of Ixia and Sitia were amazing. The complex political climate was entertaining and imaginative. This was the kind of series that you needed to think about a little bit and I like those. The new book, Shadow Study is the beginning of a spin-off series and I think readers will sit up and take notice. If you loved Yelena and Valek in the study series, finding out so much more about them in this book will be well worth the read. Valek has always been this kind of mysterious man, who was willing to put his life in danger to protect his Commander and country. I respected him before, but in Shadow Study the reader gets to see into the mystery of Valek's past. I loved the flashbacks and I felt like I learned so much about his motivations and where that strong sense of loyalty in his character comes from. I think Snyder really did this character justice and it made me want to know even more. Yelena is a strong, independent woman, but she has a lot more to think about now. She and Valek are in love, it isn't just about her anymore. But in this book, the reader almost takes a set back. There isn't much romance except for a brief encounter in the beginning and Yelena is basically on her own in this book, without her magic and vulnerable. I liked seeing her return to her roots and start to relearn how the world works without magic, but I missed that aspect of the story. The secondary characters as always, were amazing. Ari and Janco add a lot of comic relief to the book. The mysteriousness of the Commander and his changing ways, was once again an intriguing factor in this book. Onora a new assassin that is after Valek's job was a refreshing addition to the book. I loved the check in with Fisk and his helper-guild. I think Snyder has a good grasp of how to make the side characters essential to the plot. Bottom Line: Excellent characters make for a really great spin-off to the Study series. Soulfinders looks to be a great series continuing the story of beloved characters. I think perhaps you should read the Study series first, just for the background. It's a great stand alone book but there is just so much I think you miss without reading the other books. An excellent start, I can't wait to read more.
Shadow Study is a fast paced, action filled adventure of Yelena and Valek. The story is told by both their POV. Although they start out together, they quickly separate heading for different directs and paths. From the first page, Yelena is under attack. Her magic has disappeared or is somehow blocked and its all being perpetrated by an unknown entity. Trying to keep this a secret for her safety, she is even reluctant to send a messenger to Valek for help. Valek is busy trying to find the culprits behind the black market trading coming into his country, an order he can not disobey. Returning to his military position, he has to repair and mend some fences. I saw this was a "new series" by Snyder so I jumped on it. I have to admit this is my first Maria V. Snyder book and I was lost. I could follow the bases of this story but it was serious catch up for me. Realizing it was a spin off, it made more sense. That being said, this was a wonderful storytelling that pulled me in almost immediately. The intense and passionate characters really care about this magnificent world Snyder has created them. This is a world I'd like to explore more...like starting from the beginning and reading all of Snyder's works.
Shadow Study, Maria V. Snyder Review from jeannie zelos book reviews Well, in the pre kindle days I ordered what I thought was a historical fiction read from amazon and realised I’d made a mistake. It was Poison Study and of course fantasy. That’s a genre I had stayed away from til then, thinking it was all Tolkien, middle earth and star wars type reads, but once into Poison Study I was hooked, and haven’t looked back since. I now love fantasy and paranormal reads and have read all in this series so far, so to see more Yelena and Valek was a real treat. Looks like its another trilogy, but the great thing about Maria’s books is that though the story continues she stops at a natural break, not an awful, hated, frustrating cliff-hanger – thanks Maria. Anyway on to this book. Its been a few years since I read poison study – maybe four or five - and yet the story is still clear in my mind. It was great to be back with them both,. with Kiki and Onyx, and of course with people from Sitia and Ixia. Yelena is on her way to meet Valek for a much needed break for them both, when she’s attacked. Kiki rushes her to Valek and she recovers from the poisoned arrow. Sadly their break is brief though as Valek has to return to Ixia, and Yelena stays another day to recover before returning to Sitia. After Valek leaves though she’s beset by some kind of odd fever which seems to have taken away or blocked her magic, leaving her incredibly vulnerable. Both she and Valek have numerous enemies, people who want power, who want to use politics for their own ends, and she needs to find out who is behind the attack without letting too many people know just how vulnerable she is. Valek meanwhile is having his own problems, it seems while he’s been away on his latest mission things have changed at the castle, and not for the good. They’re both busy and as usual danger seems to follow Yelena around, but this time she’s not got her magic to protect her. Its a real puzzle – who’s behind the attack and why, and for Valek, why have things changed so much? How come there are new personnel at the castle, and where is Marin and what assignment had the Commander sent her on that he hasn’t told Valek about? Its the usual well plotted and gripping mystery, trying to work out what’s happening and why, and how they can stop the bad while staying alive. And this time staying alive is so much harder for Yelena, as she’s so used to having her magic to help her. Its a fabulous read, and I’m so glad Maria decided to bring back Valek and Yelena, ( and of course all the old favourites that share their story) and I’m really looking forward to continuing this series. Stars: Five, a fantastic read, full of the old magic ( in all senses) and a real treat for fans of the Ixia and Sitia worlds. ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers.