I received this novella in a BookLikes giveaway run by the author. It's book 3.5 in Edwards' Araneae Nation series, which takes place in a world divided into lands of perpetual winter and lands of perpetual summer. In those lands live various clans, each with specific characteristics that define them.
A Kiss of Venom stars Nicolette. She and Maisy, her musically-gifted young daughter, have traveled to the Araneidae clan, ostensibly so that Maisy can perform at Rhys and Lourdes' first anniversary party. In reality, Nicolette has been hired to kill Pascale, Lourdes' sister (this is directly related to events in A Hint of Frost).
Having been cast out of the Araneidae clan ten years ago because she slept with Armand, Lourdes' brother and the Araneidae heir, Nicolette has little love for the clan. She has since changed her name and appearance. She has also altered Maisy's appearance, so that no one will connect her and Armand's lavender eyes – yes, this is a Secret Baby book.
It took me a while to wrap my brain around the situation and characters. I was confused, because I didn't recall Armand being a jerk in A Hint of Frost, and yet, if Nicolette's side of the story was true, that's what he was. To be honest, I could barely recall anything about him – Henri, his herbalist brother, stood out more. Armand was simply the brother who could increase male thread production the way Lourdes could increase female thread production.
I spent much of the novella wondering what, exactly, had happened ten years ago. I think I eventually got everything sorted out in my head, but it was pretty confusing for a while. On the one hand, Nicolette blamed Armand and his family for her having been cast out of both the Araneidae clan and the Salticidae clan. On the other hand, Armand seemed to think that the girl he'd loved 10 years ago was dead. Had Nicolette spent years blaming him for a situation he hadn't even had full knowledge of?
I did decide, by the end, that Nicolette's anger was justified. I wasn't entirely happy with how Armand and his family dealt with one of the revelations about Maisy – I felt it was a step backward as far as earning back Nicolette's trust went. I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if
Maisy hadn't conveniently turned out to qualify as Armand's heir.
It annoyed me that Armand seemed to assume that he, Nicolette, and Maisy could be a happy family, as though the events of ten years ago had never happened. Thankfully, Nicolette didn't make things quite that easy for him. The story's ending was more HFN (happy for now) than HEA (happily ever after), which fit the situation better.
Although I felt this story was only so-so, I did at least like it more than A Hint of Frost. Nicolette was less naive than Lourdes, and the world-specific details were a little more focused and lightly touched upon, so I didn't spend so much time wondering how it all fit together. Unfortunately, I didn't find Armand to be any more interesting after I finished the story - maybe I'd have connected with him more if some of the story had been told from his perspective?
There is either a formatting error or continuity error near the end. In one paragraph, Nicolette has just stood and is about to go meet Giles to talk about getting a job. In the next, she's in a tub, taking a bubble bath. There is no extra space between the paragraphs to indicate a scene change. It was a little confusing. Otherwise, though, I didn't notice any errors, and I was thrilled that the default font size was larger than Samhain's usual choice [explanation: although I think this novella is self-published, most of the rest of the series is published by Samhain Publishing].
(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)