Published: June 21 2016
Genre: steampunk, supernatural, paranormal, romance, comedy manners, Victorian
Audience: adult fiction
Rating: 4/5 owl hoots
Lady Preshea Villentia, the Mourning Star, has four dead husbands and a nasty reputation. Fortunately for her, she looks fabulous in black. But what society doesn’t know is that all of her husbands were marked to death by her employer, and Preshea has one last assignment.
It was suppose to be an easy assignment, attend a house party with less bloodshed but Preshea didn’t anticipate Captain Gavin Ruthven, a massive, irresistible Scot 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.
I was given an e-arc from the author in exchange for an honest review. Editing and copying my content is strictly prohibited. Stealing is rude!
I should back up a bit and provide a little backstory here. For anyone who hasn’t read her books yet, Preshea appears in the Etiquette and Espionage universe as a young student at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, where they teach young ladies to finish…everything. Including learning the fine art of dance and etiquette as well as death, diversion, and espionage. She isn’t one of Sophronia’s closest friend so she doesn’t appear as often, except as her adversary. Because we don’t see her frequently inside and outside the school, I always found Preshea as a mysterious character. Even for a young girl of her age, she seems to hide secrets about her past which had made me wonder where she came from and why the dangerous (and deadly) personality? Not to mention her obsession with poisons and her choice to live in widowhood.
But now those questions are answered in Poison or Protect, a novella focusing on Lady Preshea, ten years after the Finishing School series and ten years before the Parasol Protectorate series. Here, Lady Preshea has grown to be a mature, sophisticated young woman of English high society. She has all the qualities of a young lady of her status in addition to her deadly aim with pistols, her profound knowledge of poisons, and the mystery behind her four dead husbands. In Poison or Protect we see Lady Preshea in action and on a mission involving tea, a forlorn admirer, a Scot, a house party with mixed signals and dinner guests with the quirkiest personalities.
But out of them, Preshea stands out the most! She is one of the most alluring, seductive, manipulative, and clever ladies of the bunch, but with refined manners and exquisite taste in fashion it’s hard to even second guess that she is an intelligencer. I absolutely love the comedy of manners during the house party scene, especially the parts with Mr. Jackson trying (and failing miserably) to woo the Duke’s daughter, Lady Violet. I really think this guy should take lessons on how a gentleman courts a young lady because everything he did from playing the piccolo and riding a dirigible with a lobster is utterly shocking. Although Preshea is partly blamed for this but still, you would think a guy would have common sense not to flirt like this! As much as I felt sorry for poor Mr. Jackson, I couldn’t stop chuckling at his antics.
Mr. Jackson may have unintentionally provided the entertainment, but Lady Preshea was still the star of the party. There was so much to learn about her that I was surprised about her upbringing with no mother and a heartless father. However, this explained her cold nature in the Finishing School series, and why she chose to be a widow rather than falling hopelessly in love. I couldn’t help but feel sorry, except that Preshea refuses to have anyone pity her. She is the kind of woman who wants to be control over everything from how she presents herself in the room to her emotions, which to her surprise she had a hard time controlling after introduced to Captain Gavin, a Scottish soldier accompanying Mr. Jackson. When these two met, I had an inkling feeling that a romance was going to blossom, but certainly not in the way I anticipated!
It could be that it’s been a long time since I read her books, but never have I read such steamy and sexy romance scenes. I was quite taken aback by the erotica scenes and how she like takes control of the bedroom which is probably revealing a little too much about her character! Despite that, I love seeing how complicated things became for Preshea as she discovers her new feelings and in the end, choosing between a life of seclusion or a life with love and romance. There is a new side to Preshea I’ve never seen in Finishing School, so it was nice to see a kinder, gentler side beneath the cold exterior.
This was a novella full of surprises, new romances, juicy secrets, and returning characters including my favorite dandy vampire. I really enjoyed seeing Preshea again and I look forward to her adventures in this series with Gavin! If you’re wondering whether it’s essential to read her books in order before starting this novella, the short answer is no. As Gail points out, there is no means to read her books in any particular order before enjoying this one.