This is the story of Yelena. We meet her in her prison cell, where she is being punished for murdering her foster father's blood son. The punishment in Ixia for murder is death, no questions asked. Unless the Commander's food taster dies (which is an inevitability as their job requires them to taste the Commander's food for poison)... If that taster dies, the job offer must be presented to the next in line for execution. And guess who the next person to die is.... That's right, my friends! Yelena.
While Yelena is a somewhat weak excuse for a heroine (in my humble opinion), you still cheer for her. You want her to learn all of the poisons that the Commander's right hand man teaches her. You want her to stand up for herself. And more than anything else, you want her to fall in love with the absolutely delicious Valek (the aforementioned Commander's right hand). More than anything else, when things start going haywire at the castle, you really, really want Yelena (with Valek's help) to overcome the threat presented by her former foster father when he shows up demanding vengeance for his son's murder.
The best part? Valek. No question. He is a perfect candidate for a book crush. He's handsome, serious, artistic, smart.... and an assassin. I mean, COME ON. He's even funny! "It's a dirty way to fight, but I'm late for lunch." Valek is easily the most quotable. He sort of makes other common book crushes look like wimpy, brooding little boys (sorry, Edward Cullen). He is worth reading the book for alone.
This novel is classified as fantasy because of the magic and the poisons. I get it, but I would venture to put this book into a category called Fantasy Lite. It does not slap you across the face with Tolkien-esque fantasy qualities. It's the chick lit version of fantasy - and I loved it. I read this book in one day (granted I was travelling from Chicago back to Ohio, so I had some time). My only regret about reading it so quickly is that I did not have copies of the two sequels to continue Yelena's journey.