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 colour. 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.
For those who have read earlier novels in the Chronicles of Ixia (which I would recommend, before picking up this latest instalment), Shadow Study returns to familiar characters: Yelena, the heroine of the three previous Study books, and Valek, her heart mate and chief of security for the Commander of Ixia.
Since she stopped working for him, Yelena and Valek really don’t have much luck when it comes to spending time together, and they get no reprieve in this book. They’d intended to snatch a few days in a secluded cottage, but even that plan is soon thwarted, and the story then follows the two of them in alternating and diverging storylines.
I really enjoyed being reunited with all my old favourite characters: Yelena and Valek take centre stage, of course, but Janco also gets the opportunity to be a point-of-view character, and we’re treated to more time with Opal’s family. Onora, the latest recruit to Valek’s team, feels like a woman with potential to become a major character in her own right. And I particularly liked the scenes which delved into a little of Valek’s history, showing how he went from innocent young man to cold-blooded assassin. The novel ends on a cliffhanger, with many questions still unanswered, so I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next one.
As part of the launch for Shadow Study, we also had the opportunity to ask Maria a few questions about her books.
Rachel Cotterill: What was the first book that got you hooked on the fantasy genre?
Maria V. Snyder: A Spell for Chameleon, by Piers Anthony. My future brother-in-law lent it to me and thought I might like it. He was right!
RC: In Shadow Study, we return to Yelena and Valek as main characters, after they’ve taken a back seat during Opal’s arc (in the Glass trilogy). How did you find the process of returning to these familiar characters?
MVS: It was like hanging out with old friends. It took me a while to get back into their “heads” and I had to re-read all the Study books to re-acquaint myself with them, but once I started writing, it all came back.
RC: Your books tend to have strong romantic plots alongside the adventure. Since Yelena and Valek are a well-established couple, now, will you be giving us some new couples to cheer for in the forthcoming Study books?
MVS: I’m continuing Yelena and Valek’s adventures and am focusing on their relationship for the most part. I’m not showing any new couples, but the established ones are getting more screen time. I’d like to explore the next generation of characters like Reema, Teegan, Quinn, Heli, and Fisk and then discover the possibility of new romances.
RC: Have you always known you wanted to include romance and relationships as an important part of your stories? Perhaps you could tell us a bit more about how you found your niche.
MVS: I had no idea! When I wrote Poison Study, I was thinking it would be a stand alone traditional fantasy novel. At the time, romance wasn’t part of fantasy—in fact the diehard fantasy readers frowned on it. But since I discover my stories as I write them, the relationship between Yelena and Valek developed and grew despite my best efforts to curtail it. And then I was quite convinced they were a minor subplot until the book was published and my readers told me differently! So I guess that means I discovered my niche quite by accident. Now I can’t write a story without a bit of romance in it.
RC: You seem to be an optimist at heart – so how do you get inside the mind of your villains?
MVS: I am fascinated with the criminal mind. If I wasn’t a writer, I would be studying to be a criminal psychologist. What I do for my antagonists is try to see the world through their eyes. Most villains have their reasons and logic for what they do and it makes sense to them. I discover that core belief and then use it to build the antagonist.
RC: And do you truly believe that love trumps logic?
MVS: Yes I do :-)
RC: If you could spend a week on a relaxing holiday in Sitia or Ixia (seriously, no death threats!), who would you choose to stay with, and why?
MVS: I’d spend the week with Kade on the coast. I love the beach and he’d make sure I’d have plenty of warm sunny days. Also as an ex-meteorologist, I find his magic to be very interesting and would love to see it in action.
RC: And finally, just to increase our TBR lists even further, who are your top three favourite female speculative fiction writers, past or present?
MVS: Just three? This is going to be hard! Ursula K LeGuin, Barbara Hambly, Sheri S. Tepper, Connie Willis, and Kate Elliot (I’m a writer not a math major!).
Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog. If your readers would like more info about me and my books, I have the first chapter of all my books on my website as well as a number of free short stories (including ones with Yelena and Valek) they can read. My Facebook page is where I’m the most active with updates and news: http://www.facebook.com/mvsfans