Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Gail Carriger - Poison or Protect

Lady Preshea Villentia, the Mourning Star, has four dead husbands and a nasty reputation. Fortunately, she looks fabulous in black.
What society doesn’t know is that all her husbands were marked for death by Preshea’s employer. And Preshea has one final assignment.
It was supposed to be easy, a house party with minimal bloodshed. Preshea hadn’t anticipated Captain Gavin Ruthven – massive, Scottish, quietly irresistible, and… working for the enemy.
In a battle of wits, Preshea may risk her own heart – a terrifying prospect, as she never knew she had one.
New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a charming love story set in her popular steampunk Parasolverse. May contain plaid, appearances from favorite characters, and the strategic application of leather gloves.

Comment: I have loved the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. Since the, I have read other things by her and the majority, I have liked, but some series have not appealed to me. That is why I keep adding books written by her (both under her name and her pen name) to my TBR and this month I added this novella, labeled as a different series but connected to the one I mentioned.

In this short story, we follow Preshea Villentia, a clever woman who is known to have became a widow four times and many don't know if it as always naturally. This gave her an aura of mystery and curiosity which makes it easier for her to conduct her secret role of assassin or simply spy if necessary. When this books starts, she had been given the task of preventing an assassination and a possible engagement, and that is how she sees herself at a house party, which suits her goals wonderfully. At the same place, she meets captain Gavin Ruthven, who is there with the same goal but although they play for different employers, it seems there is a special connection between them, or there isn't?

For a short story, this was quite well laid out. I think the author did a god job in placing things in motion and in allowing the reader to have a feel of what kind of story this would be. Her wit and style is as sharp as ever and the characterization and dialogues wonderful as I remember from that original series (what I have read by her more recently was contemporary). I think a new reader might start this and feel a little confused about the "rules" of this steampunk series but I think it wouldn't take too long for any reader to get used to it.

I think the best feature of the author's style in this genre is the wording, the way characters talk. It can be both amusing and overwhelming because I would struggle to think about which words to use to have the biggest impact, so I can imagine the author cleverly writing away and thinking about how to best put things on paper. Because of this, the characters always seem larger than life, although they can also look a little too able or too much of everything. I like it best when we are able to see their vulnerabilities, to understand their softer side but I wouldn't say this happens as smoothly as it could all the time...in this novella, for instance, perhaps due to the smaller length, the more personal side of both protagonists felt a little "forced" for the place (a house party with established time line).

I liked Preshea, and I think we are able to have a good idea about her personality and "softer side" like I call it, while the plot develops. Nothing is overly explained, though (page limit) and I miss some more interactions of her with others outside of the house party to be able to say I got to like her as a character. The little things we learn about her past help but it still felt there was a big gap between who she used to be and the persona she presents now.

Gavin reminds me of a teddy bear, in the sense he is big and strong but cute and wants to comfort, to take care of Preshea. Although some secondary things occupy a lot of his time during the house party, they still found a way to be attracted and talk but apart from the obvious, I don't think I got to know him that well and I foresee I'll forget most things about him (and the novella) in the future. I'll say I wasn't too excited about the romance between them and how they are made to match intimately. I suppose the author wanted to put all the details in sync when it comes to how well this couple is meant to suit but I certainly wasn't convinced.

In the end, perhaps what I can say is that, for me, the romance wasn't as romantic as I imagined it could be. I'm aware of the author's style, yes, I have said so, but there's always this hope the characters would go a certain way in their mutual journey and even though this story delivered on what it promised, I still imagined... well, it doesn't matter because if one thinks from a different perspective, then the author was faithful to her style and to her characterization. Still, it seems to me that the original series was perfection and everything steampunk I've tried by her since then wasn't as amazing to my expectations... but I'll try something else in the future too.

Grade: 6/10

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