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Book Review: Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger

Title: Poison or Protect

Author:  Gail Carriger


Publication Date:  June 21, 2016

Genres: Steampunk

Shelves: Female-fronted, Female-dominant

I am a newcomer to Gail Carriger’s Parasolverse but, based on the strength of Poison or Protect (the first Delightfully Deadly novella), it is somewhere I intend to spend a great deal of time in the future.

This was a book that captured me from the first page. The language of the telling, full of wit and whimsy, is absolutely spectacular. It was clear, early on, that this was to be more of a romance and novel of manners than I had anticipated, but I was smiling too much to second-guess myself. Lady Preshea Villentia, the Mourning Star, is a character of darkness and mystery who immediately captured my attention. I took a little longer to warm up to Captain Gavin Ruthven, who seemed a bit too calm and perfectly polite, but the more I understood of his character, the more I found myself being drawn into the potential for a relationship.

And, let’s be honest – vampire and werewolves, airships and assassins aside – this is a book where relationships are the primary attraction. The romance lurking beneath the mystery is a slow-burning one, taking a long time to get to anything even approaching familiarity, but the characters are so strong and so deep that you don’t begrudge them that time. And when sparks do ultimately fly, the language so exquisitely captures all aspects of Lady Villentia that you have to admire how perfectly Gail Carriger pulls it off.

Then the tingling exploded and she was soaring. Splintering and fracturing and spinning as if drunk on champagne and dancing a waltz and perfectly executing a killing blow . . . all at the same time.

The primary attraction for me, however, is the nature of that romance. Gavin is a man without much romantic experience, but what he does know is that he prefers to be the submissive partner in a female-led relationship. Preshea is a cold, jaded woman, hurt too many times by the arrogant, violent, controlling men, leaving Gavin the challenge of breaking through, showing her that love can be different, and teaching her to take the same lead in romance that she does in society, culture, and the art of assassination. As he tells her (and I love this line):

“For me, it is about your pleasure. I dinna know the right way of saying it, but I wish it to be for you. This, me, everything.”

Everything about this book just worked for me. The narrative is delightful, the dialogue razor sharp, and the action – for there is a assassination attempt and a daring rescue – is thrilling. For a book I entered into with entirely unrealistic expectations, this was a sheer reading pleasure.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2

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