The book starts with a very interesting premise. Yelena, a prisoner, is given the opportunity to avoid execution by becoming the food taster for the military leader of Ixia, a different type of death sentence, one that she can't see coming. Yelena's position as a food taster adds a layer of suspense to an already suspenseful story. Yelena faces many dangers at court from the Commanders enemies, from powerful magicians, from the father of the man she killed, who also happens to be a General, and from her friends. Snyder does a very good job of keeping the reader guessing about several characters' motivations and intentions. Unlike many fantasy stories, there were plenty morally ambiguous characters, which are always welcome.
Yelena was a great heroine, who is both strong and intelligent. She's able to use her mind to figure out how to survive the various threats she faces. She is also not the type of character who sits around waiting to be rescued. Instead, she fights for herself and attempts to better her skills to increase her chances of survival. Valek, her love interest, is also a strong character, both in his assassination skills as well as his intellect. He is a character with many layers. There is no instalove in this story. The romance between them builds over time and it's easy to see why the characters like each other. They admire and respect the others' skills and intellect.
I was also impressed by the world building. Most fantasy stories I've read take place in a kingdom ruled by a monarch. Synder chose to set her novel in a land under military control, which gave the setting a slightly more modern feel despite the fact that the weaponry and technology was medieval.
Overall, a fantastic story. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy stories about court intrigue, with strong female characters, and moral ambiguity.