Yelena has a last name, a family, and a whole new set of problems as she travels south with Irys and the fellow orphans rescued in _Poison Study_. She's got enough to eat (and she isn't cold at all!) in the south, but intrigue follows her wherever she goes. After a very abbreviated visit with her mother and father, she sets out with her older brother, who hates her, and is either really stupid or really corrupt. Or something else tangled that will need to be straightened out by the end of the book.
Snyder presents a host of contrasts for Yelena and the interested reader: chosen family vs. biological; the north's meritocratic system with guaranteed minimums vs the south's lack of a safety net and looser set of rules; a world of uniforms which reflect one's job vs. a world in which one's clothing reflects family/clan, gender and fashion. Neither world is prepared to accept Yelena as she is: one would kill her outright for her magic, the other suspects her for her kind of magic and her divided loyalties. As she attempts to create a place for herself, she inevitably forces change in all the worlds around her, shaking things up and making trouble everywhere she goes.
Moon Man and Kiki are the standout background characters this time around. Lots of fun. I'm looking forward to the series continuing. So far, Snyder is doing a pretty good job creating an extremely powerful mage with very well-defined limitations. That's tricky to do, and I'm interested to see if she can continue to find that balance. Having Dax around keeping track of how much she's pissing everyone off is both entertaining and helpful in displaying that balance.
Best of all, the truly fabulous T character from _Poison Study_ reappears in this volume; the interaction between Yelena's developing magical abilities and that character help illuminate both characters and the magical system. Slick.