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Poison Kiss (Earthside Book 1) by [Mardoll, Ana]
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Length: 258 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Product Description

Rose awakens in a fairytale land, stripped of her memories and any sense of self she might once have possessed. Facing a short life of brutal servitude as one of the May Queen's executioners, she chooses instead a reckless dash for freedom alongside her sister-captive, Lavender. Yet even if the two women manage to flee the otherworld to return earthside, they may never be safe from the reach of cruel faeries who seek to use them as pawns in a deadly game.

When a strange silver man calling himself Clarent unexpectedly dumps out onto the doorstep of their apartment, Rose and Lavender will work together with a diverse community of survivors in order to stay alive and free. Through the magical dangers that assault them on all sides, Rose must navigate the struggles brought on by her painful past while contending with the difficulty of forging an intimate relationship with the two people who love her most when her very body is lethal.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2048 KB
  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Acacia Moon Publishing; 7 edition (25 November 2015)
  • Sold by: Amazon Australia Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B018JOICT4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #276,964 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars 21 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strong world-building, great PTSD exploration, but harmed by less than stellar consent 26 December 2016
By Cerberus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There is a downside to reading an author's later work first and seeing xers polish and shine before reading xer more raw and less confident earlier works. And Poison Kiss shows that earlier hesitance, marrying closer to certain tropes that xers later works more fully play with and dismantle and having some characterization that made it initially very difficult to keep reading at points.

Overall, though, it is a strong first work, presenting a fascinating world of fantasy that is absolutely believable and immersive from the first chapter and heavily devotes to the worldbuilding that will set the whole series in good stead and assure it has a solid core with which to build off of (a key ingredient of any series). Additionally, the powers the characters have are novel and intriguing and the way they combine in the action scenes is both clever and at times profound and moving.

Additionally, much like with Survival Rout, the representation within the story is extremely welcoming and refreshing. The main love story is a poly triad with at least two of the characters within it identifying as queer (it is never fully stated in the text whether the man in the triad is straight or bi). Additionally, as an ace reader, I greatly appreciate that each book seems to have at least one ace-spectrum individual in a badass leader role. And it was nice seeing enby characters play important roles in the plot where their identities and pronouns were just treated as normal and were not written to invite scrutiny of any kind.

More specifically...

SPOILER WARNING FOR EVERYTHING BELOW:

Here's what I liked a lot:

1) PTSD. Most fantasy stories focus only on the battle and the action, centering on one particularly chaotic event, with everyone sort of flittering out to a happy-ever-after with little to be done in processing the pain that went before. In life, winning a victory, surviving a traumatic event, leaves large and lasting scars and oftentimes the longer and more in-depth battle is healing that damage afterwards.

As such, I love that this novel dives deep into that and shows the complex nature of "what comes next" and has Rose and Lavender realistically grappling with flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and self-blame. The question of how do you heal from something like that is central to the main plot and Rose's struggles are presented realistically and with compassion and that resonates deeply for someone who's suffered through abuse and terrifying circumstances and had to struggle with the long-term healing of the damage caused by those "exciting and interesting times".

2) Rose and Lavender's relationship. It may only be one part of the triad, but Rose and Lavender's relationship is just a beautiful realistic relationship of love blooming between two individuals injured by trauma, but finding strength and comfort in their support and care for each other. The slow way they respect each other's boundaries and try and lend what support they can are beautiful to read and every time Lavender interrupts one of Rose's self-abusive spirals is just heart-warming. Additionally, Lavender's fierce protectiveness towards Rose's emotions as Rose struggles with intense PTSD makes me just want to cheer when they finally are able to cross the boundary into an open romantic relationship.

3) The second half of the novel. The first half of the novel had some questionable plot decisions and unfortunate characterizations that had me seriously considering stopping reading because there were points when it was more causing me pain than joy to read. And frankly, if Survival Rout hadn't been so good and filled me with trust for the author, I doubt I would have kept reading and I was at the time considering putting a review score as low as 2 or 1 because of those elements.

However, I'm really glad I held on, because the second half of the book is a beautiful romp, showing many of the strengths that the first half did and even fixed a lot of the most glaring issues in the first half. For instance, there is a character who in the first half has terrible consent practices who closes out his arc actually asking without coercion or pressure for something free consent is critical for. Additionally, a really terrible early plotline involving blaming a survivor for causing sexual assault with arousal fingers is patched and fixed with the character actually having the power to amplify and speed up existing emotions and a number of characters emphasizing how free their choices to be with and around her have been.

If the book had been more of the second half of the book and more of the Rose and Lavender sections earlier on, I'd feel much more confident about giving it 5 stars, however, the flaws hinted at really did make the reading experience somewhat literally painful at times.

What did not work for me:

I will note that everything I list below were things that heavily bothered me. These issues may not bother everyone and some of these issues may be as caused by things I'm more sensitive to than an inherent fault of the book. That said...

1) Clarent. The central romantic relationship of the novel is a triad between Rose, Lavender, and Clarent and oh dear, does Clarent's relationship with the other two of them just fundamentally not work for the majority of the novel. And the issues are myriad as to why.

First up is regarding consent. Clarent is introduced in an act of non-consent, kissing Rose (which is an act that heavily triggers her PTSD and panic attacks) and trying to suck her up into a chivalrous fantasy as she is working hard to rescue him. And while he apologizes for this, he does so in some of the most red flag ways possible, never actually acknowledging or showing understanding about why nonconsensual actions are wrong regardless of whether or not they trigger PTSD symptoms, constantly turning on the charm and flirting heavily, pushing for increased sexual and romantic activity (which she's thirsty for, but still, the fact that he's always pushing is extremely off-putting and red-flaggy) when she is in the midst of panic attacks or in the midst of non-sexual activity in which she is a captive audience.

Additionally, he parrots feminist ideas when caught out doing something wrong ("women are just as capable of men", "women can be strong", "hurting people you romantically are into is wrong"), but never in a way that shows he understands the meaning behind them and never in a way that takes actual ownership of the way his direct actions cause harm. He also is quick to blame anything but himself for his mess-ups, frequently alluding to how he comes from a sexist fairy's lands and that is the reason for his sexist actions and bad consent, and makes hasty promises to never again do non-consensual behavior, but until the end of the book, almost every single romantic or sexual interaction he has with Rose occurs without her explicit consent or with him heavily piling pressure on her to proceed, with him each time promising it will be the last time he fails to obtain proper consent. Additionally, he frequently shows no actual awareness of her PTSD and traumas, treating himself as an aware chill dude because he doesn't actively hold her mental illnesses against her, while doing little to change his behavior in response to her triggers and need for comfort, frequently rushing her into things that are only acceptable and pleasurable because Rose finds him unbearably hot and is just that desperate for the kind of touch he offers.

And it means it's fundamentally difficult to care about his character and to root for him to get with the main character when he actively seems dangerous and harmful to the main character's recovery and where his red flags and terrible consent practices are only forgiven in the text by the main character's attraction for him. And he feels much more like a toxic remora on Rose and Lavender's affections than a meaningful relationship.

And this is further harmed by the narrative from about 25%-55% of the novel just becoming all about him and his sexiness without showing him actually growing and changing in his consent practices or his "I'll say whatever you want for you to sleep with me" way of interacting with Rose and Lavender. Multiple characters actively try and wingman for him, selling the idea of Rose and Lavender as a package deal for him to enjoy and consume (which was heavily triggering for me having been a queer woman in a long relationship with a bi woman and having a number of gross dudes view us as a bundled consumable for their 3-way fantasies) and encouraging Rose's romantic relationship with him or making excuses for his pressuring behavior towards Rose (thank Bob for Celia for being the one character in the entire narrative to call him out on his terrible consent practices, though it doesn't seem to penetrate beyond him starting to make casual promises he eagerly breaks).

And the whole thing was extremely hard to read because I've watched friends be harmed by similar men to Clarent, one's who can talk a good feminist and sex-positive game in public, but in private are quick to pressure folks into sexual activity before they are ready because "c'mon baby, this is how you heal" or use repeated promises of improvement to escape consequences for bad consent or abuse practices. And that's definitely not helped by Rose's low self-esteem making excuses for his negative behavior, creating false equivalences about her actions to feel "equally as bad" and feeling guilty for when she has to call him out surrounding the reality of her PTSD and triggers and when he uses ableist language.

And there's a scene where he flirts at Rose about contact, she asks an innocent question about kisses with confusion and no sign of interest and immediately takes that as a sign to start kissing her heavily and pawing at her, which is literally terrifying coming from a survivor background and nearly had me quit in disgust right there.

Again, the second half of the book tries to fix the worst of the problems largely by having Lavender step up in a major way surrounding the triad and taking the lead on a lot of the consent stuff and comforting stuff that her and Clarent provide for Rose, but it's not until the very end of the book that he shows full respect for what consent actually means and seems to respect Rose as a person as much as her role in getting him off and it's somewhat problematic that that respect only comes when she and Lavender are much more powerful and capable of having the relationship structure they want all on their own.

2) Elric. There's a character who appears at right about the midpoint of the novel called Elric, who is absolutely terrible. He's presented as somewhat of a heel, but the way he presents that is with at least one scene of moderate to intense racism towards a latino individual, relishing in calling him undocumented and with a scene of him sexually assaulting Rose and then blaming her for it.

So, content warning sexual assault, there is a scene where Rose is staying over at Elric's house over night and during a normal conversation, he starts coercively hitting on her in a very predatory manner, straight up implying she owes him sex because he's her friend and "friends do favors for each other". In fact there's a line:

'"Don't you like to do favors for your friends, Rose?" he presses softly, his eyes eating me up with seductive hunger. "Aren't I one of your friends?"'

Which is beyond awful. And the scene continues with her actively saying no and him continuing to press the point and straight up leaning in to kiss her and press the point, causing her to need to actively flee the situation. He then comes to his senses because he realizes that oh yeah, her kisses kill people and immediately blames her for the assault, stating that her hands cause magical arousal in people and thus she's responsible for the sexual assault he just committed as well as for Clarent's repeated violations of consent thus far.

And it was at this point, if this had been the plot-point continued by the narrative, that I would have given the work a one-star, but luckily the very next scene involves every other character including non-consent-happy Clarent noting that that's not how her powers work, she only amplifies existing emotions and that causing arousal doesn't actually justify assault and forcing oneself on someone.

But still, the whole scene was uncomfortable in the extreme, the narrative seemed to lack the awareness that Elric's coercion is similar to Clarent's coercion, coming from similar faux-sex-positive places, setting it instead as a means of showing Clarent as "more evolved" than Elric despite similarly rushing to kiss her without consent, and the plot hook developed while quickly redeemed, was deeply problematic to start with.

And the fact that Elric is still treated as one of the heroes we're supposed to be rooting for at the end with no general acknowledgment of his assault by anyone else is somewhat hard to take seeing how a similar plotline was resolved in Survival Rout.

Additionally, Elric makes a horrible statement stating that any man who's been without sex for awhile will naturally fall over themselves to assault someone who exudes her alluring sexiness, thus echoing a million pounds of terrible rape denialism.

These flaws couldn't fatally mar the work as a whole, but the characterizations of Elric and Clarent and especially the way the narrative seemed to not be aware of how bad on consent Clarent was in practice versus in theory, made the period of the book from about 25% through to about 60% through painful to read at times.

Luckily this is more than made up by the amazing second-half and the world-building, but if what I noted above feels like deal-breakers, I heartily recommend skipping straight on to Survival Rout which has a much more all-encompassing awareness of consent and abuse and has thruples and triads that are much easier to root for.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There were a lot of things I really liked about this book. 15 June 2016
By Xan West - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It is a book that centers characters with PTSD, that focuses on the ways they are impacted by trauma afterwards. It is not trauma porn, does not share unnecessary details about the trauma, and doesn’t feel like it exploits the trauma for the reader’s titillation or vicarious thrill. This is actually quite rare, and I treasure stories that do this. It is a book that centers trauma survivors & depicts some violence, that I was able to trust to do that in a way that was respectful, that did not build on ableism, and that felt real. I loved that about this book. It depicts the some of the really hard s*** about being a trauma survivor, and still really feels hopeful.

This is a book that focuses on how survivors band together to create queer chosen family, and it felt both lovely and complicated, the way chosen family often does. The characterization was lovely and complicated, as was the way magic works in the story. I really fell for & felt for a lot of these characters, both central and less central, who were complicated and messy and struggling and sometimes quite rude, grumpy and self centered.

This is a deeply queer & deeply poly story and that was built in to every aspect of it in a way that I liked quite a bit. There is a queer triad in the story, and there are some lovely moments with that. There are a few very clearly marked non binary characters, which is another thing I like about this story, how much their gender was marked, but otherwise not a thing in the story, just part of who they were. The book generally treated identities in this way, and it worked really well I thought.

I liked how the characters in the story were thinking about and grappling with consent in a complex way, and really cared about magical influence and other sticky things when they were considering it.

I want to think more about the ways metaphor worked in the story; being tainted was a big thing, and I want to think more about what that meant, especially with regard to trauma and queerness. So I may amend this review once I’ve given that more thought.

I had some trouble with one aspect of the story. <spoiler> There are two queer women who are into each other and know that they both are into each other yet they do not either talk about it or try to figure out how they might have sex (there is a magical obstacle, that’s pretty easy to work around). Instead, the sex doesn’t even come up until a third partner shows up, who is a man. I would buy this if it were part of a story arc around trauma recovery or being in shock or not knowing that the other reciprocates their feelings, but it is pretty clearly not. As far as the text of the story goes, they just…can’t figure out how to have sex? Which I found really difficult to buy; it just didn’t make sense, especially given the frank way that many of the other characters talked about sex around them. Why had they not even tried to work around this issue? It felt like it was stuck in this idea about poly that all the partners need to get together at the same time. Also, stuck in a sexual script that you do sexual things in a particular order and if you can’t do the first thing you can’t do anything at all. I was particularly troubled by the story working this way because it falls into the thing where two women can’t figure out what to do in bed until a man comes along to join them.</spoiler>

Overall, I was able to overlook this issue and still really enjoy many things about this book.

Trigger Warnings: <spoiler> depiction of PTSD & depression, complex situations around consent and magical influence, sexual coercion, several battle scenes that include grave injury and death, descriptions of magical assassination, child in peril, detailed descriptions of characters treated like objects by others in positions of power.</spoiler>
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting work of fantasy that explores more than just the same old tropes 7 March 2017
By Lindsay Beth Maruska - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I liked so much of what I read--the characters are very real; they act and react in ways you would expect and I really enjoyed how this book handled trauma. So often in fantasy, the emotional and psychological repercussions are glossed over or ignored entirely. This book, however, manages to create a trauma narrative that rings true and painfully accurate; it's portrayal of a healing community is wonderful as well. Guilt, fear, and regret are very well presented and you never get the sense these emotions are manufactured or artificial--I would recommend the book on this alone, honestly. As a healing narrative it does something I can't recall having read before in this genre.

Unfortunately, there was a lot I didn't like so much. I think most of all the pacing felt very uneven. The plot falls into a series of repetitive events: something strange happens, someone gets injured, the characters go see someone for help, the narrative provides an infodump through experts that are introduced seemingly only to give context, they sleep, and repeat. It becomes rote, nearly, reading about going places-talking to people-sleeping-repeat and it takes away from the very effective character work being done.

The writing itself is strong overall, except I felt that the author tends to stop the action in order to provide an inner monologue for the narrator. Things happen and then we have paragraphs of the narrator thinking about the events while they're happening. This introspection is good but perhaps would have been better if done AFTER the event. These monologue-breaks prove to be somewhat uneven in terms of a cohesive narrative

I also felt a bit uncomfortable regarding the relationship between the three main characters. The narrator cares very much for her fellow escapee but they are stymied on a physical relationship until a special man enters the story and solved their intimate issues. The male character isn't very well developed at all, honestly--he's more plot device that person. I enjoy having a polyamorous relationship presented rather than the tired old love triangle trope, but the way it's written leaves me a bit cold to it.

Overall I did enjoy this book. I think the author presents something different, something needed for this genre. It's definitely worth a read if you're tired of the same old fantasy tropes.
4.0 out of 5 stars A delicious introduction to an intriguing new world & cast of characters 25 July 2016
By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A delicious introduction to an intriguing new world that blends faerie with a present-day Texas community of faerie refugees struggling to survive and support one another in their "altered" state. Rose and Lavender, servants in the court of the May Queen, make a narrow escape from their life of servitude and are scooped up by a Hunter named Celia who resettles them in the human realm. Their close friendship is unsettled and deepened with the arrival of a new refugee, Clarent, who appears to be immune to Rose's lethal fae ability -- to kill with a kiss.

I very much enjoyed the world-building here and the introduction to our cast of characters in what will hopefully be first of the series. I was disappointed, however, that the novel packed so much plot in that we were unable to linger on the character- and relationship development of and between Rose, Lavender, and Clarent. I wanted more of a build toward their emotional and physical inter-relationship than the story made space for, and as a result their coming together felt a bit rushed. I hope future installments flesh out the depth and nuance of their relational chemistry.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Comforting, Romantic Tale of Recovery 23 January 2017
By H. N. Stone - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
At a time when a lot of fantasy is grim and obsessed with entropy, this story of recovery and healing was a blast of fresh air. I'm not sure I've read a paranormal urban fantasy recently that was more sincere in its diversity. Mardoll writes a believable cast of POC and LGBT characters, each one treated with empathy.

Additionally, I love how the sexuality of the main characters is presented as a strength, and while this was my first time reading a story about a polyamorous relationship, I found Rose, Lavender, and Clarent's blossoming love extremely touching and sweet. (No pun intended.)

If you're looking to combat the negativity of our current political climate with a comforting, romantic read that offers characters who accept one another for who they are, this is the book for you.

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