I won A Kiss of Venom in a BookLikes giveaway and decided to push it to the top of my TBR. However, it's Book 3.5 in Edwards' Araneae Nation series, and I wasn't sure how confused I'd be if I read the series out of order. Since I already owned A Hint of Frost, Book 1 in the series, I figured it couldn't hurt to read that first.
After her mother, the Araneidae clan's leader, is poisoned to death, Lourdes becomes the clan's newest maven. There's no time yet to mourn – the clan has been betrayed by its Theridiidae allies and is still in danger. Lourdes does the only thing she can think of: she contacts Isolde, the Mimetidae maven and her mother's friend, and asks for protection and help finding her mother and father's killer. In exchange, Lourdes agrees to supply the Mimetidae clan with Araneidae armor and to carry out a binding ceremony with whomever Isolde chooses. Isolde's choice turns out to be Rhys, one of her sons.
This book was a little overwhelming at first. There were lots of clan names to remember, and each clan had its own characteristics. The Araneidae could spin silk that was stronger than metal – hence the Mimetidae clan's desire for armor made by them. Members of the Theridiidae clan could produce deadly venom (although I think other clans were sometimes venomous as well, just not as deadly?). The Mimetidae clan's members ate the raw flesh of their enemies after battle in order to gain their strength.
The various clans could interbreed, but I'm still not entirely sure what effect this had on their clan-specific abilities. Lourdes and her siblings were all half Theridiidae, but, ability-wise, they seemed to be wholly Araneidae, so I thought maybe clan abilities were passed on via mothers. However, that didn't seem to hold true for all characters with multi-clan heritage.
World-building confusion wasn't the only problem I had with this book, or even the worst. The worst was probably Lourdes. Lourdes was a combination of stupid, naive, and forgetful. During his investigation of Lourdes' parents' deaths, Rhys found evidence that led Lourdes to suspect that Pascale, her sister, had likely been the murderer's lover. Here were Lourdes' thoughts on how to handle that suspicion:
“I had many questions, but only Pascale knew the answers. Given her toxic reaction to Rhys, I thought it best I keep these suspicions to myself and let him find his own conclusions. We could compare notes and, if necessary, I would approach Pascale and interrogate her alone for answers.” (35)
This was the first bit of evidence they'd found that could help them identify the killer, and Lourdes didn't think it was necessary to immediately talk to her sister, either on her own or with someone else as a witness? Seriously?
Of course, Pascale ran off at the first opportunity. Despite the evidence that she had willingly run off with a Theridiidae lover, Lourdes wanted so badly to believe that Pascale hadn't played a part in their parents' murder that she changed her deal with Rhys and the Mimetidae clan, asking that he help find and bring back Pascale. My estimation of her went down another few notches.
I had problems with the romance as well, in part due to my issues with Lourdes. I was supposed to believe that Lourdes was a little scared of and repulsed by Rhys, because he was part of the Mimetidae clan (violent, raw flesh-eating, etc.). However, from the moment she first laid eyes on him, she was attracted to him. It was blindingly obvious that, at some point, Lourdes would learn that Rhys was Not Like the Other Mimetidae, so that her attraction to him would suddenly be okay. I guessed some of the truth about Rhys fairly early on. Lourdes, of course, did not, because she needed to be jealous of Rhys's possible relationship with a woman from another clan.
I really wanted to like this book. Sadly, I didn't. The world-building was confusing, the writing didn't really work for me, and Lourdes, who should have been awesome considering that she was one of the few people in her clan who'd been trained to fight, was a disappointment.
I'm now worried about reading A Kiss of Venom. On the one hand, it's a little reassuring that the main characters will be different: it stars Armand, one of Lourdes' brothers, and a new female character. On the other hand, I'll still have the confusing world-building to deal with, Armand was not my favorite of Lourdes' brothers (I preferred Henri, the herbalist), and I'm afraid I'll be lost as far as series-level plot developments go. A Hint of Frost ended with the yellow death storyline still unresolved, and the description of A Kiss of Venom mentions that Armand had previously lost “the woman he loved.” Since this woman wasn't mentioned at all in A Hint of Frost, I assume she was introduced, and died, in a later work.
(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)