Have you ever read a story with an ending that left a smile on your face?
Every avid reader has one — or in my case multiple. A story that makes them laugh, cry and yes, just smile.
As a reader I am not prone to enjoy romances. I find most stories centered around a romance to be dreadfully boring, and I can normally only enjoy a good one when it’s surrounded by much more interesting plot points.
To put it simply: I just don’t care if Romeo gets with Juliet.
So, I suppose I am quite lucky that individuals like Gail Carriger exist — a writer who can spin a story of adventure in a steampunk-Victorian-era society filled with the supernatural, and yes, even with romance.
I have read every book Carriger has written, and I have searched for other authors who have series and stories set in similar settings — steampunk fantasy in the Victorian era. Yet, I have never once fallen in love with a world and characters in these series like I have with Carriger’s world.
While I could delve deeply into the world she has created, the characters and style I would like to focus on is a specific title of hers for this review: “Poison or Protect : A Delightfully Deadly Novella.”
The reason I would like to speak on this novella, rather than any of her series is because I think for a reader who is uncertain whether they will love or hate her writing, this is the perfect choice to start.
“Poison or Protect” focuses on Lady Preshea Villentia, known by many as “The Mourning Star,” a title given to her due to the trend of her multiple past husbands dropping dead.
Widowed a substantial amount of times, we find that these deaths were no accident, as Preshea is revealed to be a well-trained intelligencer who has already completed her indentured contract under the powerful vampire, Lord Akeldama. Now wealthy, deadly, respected and feared in society, Preshea quickly is overcome by the one thing no one can run from — boredom.
When offered a mission from Lord Akeldama, Preshea agrees to take on the task, possibly to ease the boredom of not knowing what to do with her life.
The story is largely told through her eyes, but not through her eyes alone.
Enter Captain Gavin Ruthven, our second narrator who is no stranger to death and destruction due to his service in the military. Despite this, Carriger paints an amazing contrast between Preshea and Gavin. While Preshea’s death count is lower than Gavin’s, the giant Scotsman is no killer at heart.
Perhaps the most daunting aspect of the book is how the two view each other and others throughout the series.
While Gavin acknowledges and even respects the danger that Preshea undoubtedly presents to him and others, he also views her almost innocently as an attractive woman who was hurt in the past. Likewise, Gavin almost immediately sees the best in people and gravitates toward protecting others and establishes a warm aura with everyone he meets.
In the complete opposite of this, we see Preshea’s thoughts almost always tinged with a layer of darkness. Her cold assessment of every situation, along with her carefully calculated moves, lends to an air of a predator to the reader. Even more delightful is seeing how, despite the reader’s alertness to her danger, her actions can easily lead to others viewing her as a beautiful, docile sheep missing the wolf that lays beneath the wool.
This mission Preshea accepts encompasses the entire plot of the story, leaving the main leads to guess each other’s intentions. Both acknowledge they could be allies or enemies frequently throughout the novella, leading to a great set up in terms of tension, both romantic and suspenseful.
The dynamic between the two leads is not the only noteworthy element of the story, however, as we are introduced to a slew of interesting characters such as the notable Lord Akeldama who frequently appears — and is sometimes a main character himself — throughout other series Garriger writes, and the charming Lady Florence and Lady Pagril who, while only appearing in this novella, certainly leave an impression.
In a novella packed with adventure, danger, suspense and even a thrilling romance, just as many of the characters, not everyone is as they seem and the most dangerous individual may just be the smallest.
“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, and very few of them were actually supernatural,” Preshea says in “Poison or Protect: A Delightfully Deadly Novella.”
Nichole Harwood is the culture editor for the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers alumni and art features. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Nolidoli1.