Poison Study  - Maria V. Snyder WELL THAT WAS FANTASTIC.

I don't know why I'm always so surprised when everyone is gushing about how good a book is and then I read it and it's really fucking good. This one definitely lives up to the hype. Yelena is awesome, the rest of the characters are awesome, the setting is awesome, the plot is awesome. If you like fantasy, spies, and/or ambiguously dystopian worlds, read this.

I say "ambiguously dystopian" because the world the book is set in seems dystopian at first glance, but turns out to be more complicated than that. The territory of Ixia has traded a corrupt, classist monarchy for a strict, controlling autocracy. The new government is much fairer, but also rather totalitarian, with a strict code of law that accepts no excuses for breaking it. The new system has some benefits--greater equality, for one--but also many disadvantages, one of which is what lands our heroine in her predicament in the first place.

I think this is more realistic than if either type of government had been portrayed as unambiguously good, since in real life nobody's been able to discover a perfect system yet. The contrast reminds me a bit of The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, and I'd like to see it explored more in the sequels.

I'm not a huge fan of summarizing plots in my reviews, because you can get that information elsewhere and personally I don't like to know too much about a book's plot before I read it. But one thing I'd like to mention that I don't see a lot of other reviews mentioning is this book's portrayal of a transgender character. That's rare in fiction and I appreciated it very much here.

I adore this book. I hear the others in the series aren't quite as strong, but you better believe I will be reading them as soon as possible.

Also, now I REALLY want some chocolate.