Review: Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger

4 “Black Widow” Stars for the story and narration.

I’m a fan of the romance subgenre of steampunk and had been wanting to try Gail Carriger’s works for some time now. So when I got the chance to review Poison or Protect, the debut of her new series, Delightfully Deadly, I jumped at the chance.

Set in the Spring of 1867 between Ms. Carriger’s previous two well known series: about 10 years after the Finishing School Series (a YA age romance) and 10 years before Parisol Protectorates Series (an adult age romance); there is an author’s note that the Delightfully Deadly Series can be read or listened to as a standalone in any order. Having not previously listened to these other series, I can vouch that I had no trouble following the plot or romance.

Lady Preshea Villentia, also known as the “Mourning Star,” has a deadly reputation as a wife. Trained at the famous finishing school (from the previous YA series), and leaving a trail of dead husbands in her wake, all four of her previous husbands have turned up dead lending fuel to the rumor that she is an assassin who carries forth her profession in a most personal way. Her beauty, however, is entrancing–a trait that her vampire “employer” counts on–which means that men continue to put themselves in the line of danger for a chance at being her one true love.

There is one Scottish Captain, Gavin Ruthven, however, who is not oblivious to the true nature of her charms though he too is attracted to her. Unfortunately for him it appears that Preshea’s next assignment is focused on his friend–an assignment he is determined to make fail. But when Preshea’s mission appears to take a less deadly turn, Gavin and Preshea end up being together long enough to feel their mutual attraction. Could there ever be a HEA between such good and evil opposites? Particularly given that Preshea has never ever been loved by anyone before, and therefore believes she lacks the ability to do so, could a HEA ever be in the cards for Preshea even for the right man?

Suzanne Lavington narrated Poison or Protect. This was my first experience with Ms. Lavington and I generally enjoyed her pleasing voice. She also did a good job with varying her pitch to provide differentiation among the characters, including by producing deep enough sounding voices to convincingly sound male, a trait which can be a difficult feat for some female narrators. Ms. Lavington also did a good job with creating accents as both British and Scottish sounding accents are necessary for this story.

There was one effect of the narration, however, which I had never heard before, and which I’m still pondering. Throughout the book there were occasional passages that were differentiated from the rest of the narration with an echo like effect. I believe these passages highlight when a character is thinking out loud (in their own head). While it definitely differentiated these thoughts, it also had the effect of bringing the listener out of the audiobook flow at times. It may just be that I had never heard this effect before though. By the end of the book it was definitely less noticeable.

All in all, Delightfully Deadly was a decent debut to a new series. I enjoyed the steampunk setting and blending of vampires with a historical romance feel. I can certainly see how the world building in this series (which is the same as Ms. Carriger’s other two series could make for a fascinating storyline). The one area, however, where I felt the plot was a little more rushed was in the romance department. However, as this book was a novella length novel, this is frequently an effect of the shortened nature of this stories and therefore is somewhat to be expected.

My curiosity has definitely been piqued. My plan now is to go back to some of Ms. Carriger’s backlist titles from the Finishing School or Parasol Protectorate Series to further explore this promising world.

Source: Review copy provided for review purposes.

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