Humanity is full of folktales about fairies who steal people away; Poison Kiss by Ana Mardoll is the story of what happens when some of them escape. They emerge back into “earthside” with only the faintest traces of their human memories before fairy captivity, and so cling together in healing, solidarity, and friendship. Two of them, the pink-haired MC, Rose, and her lilac-haired love interest, are bi ladies who escaped together but are afraid to truly be together because the fairies gave the MC a venom she can’t control–the book’s eponymous poison kiss. Their lives are thrown into confusion by the escape of a silver man who the fairies were using as an actual sword (the bored, sadistic fairies like to playact according to human myth and one of them decided to cosplay King Arthur.)
They both like him, and he likes both of them, and the stage seems set for the usual smoothings out of a polyamorous romance, with insecurities needing to be put down, friends smirking affectionately from the sidelines, and plenty of communication. However, the fairy pretending to be King Arthur wants his sword back, so our heroes wind up in tighter and more dangerous predicaments with each new portal that opens up into the land of their former captivity.
I think the main character will appeal to anyone who’s ever vicariously enjoyed the innocence-guilt of the Winter Soldier, but would rather spend time with a pink-haired bi girl instead of Bucky Barnes. Is Rose culpable for the way she was compelled to use her venom when she was a fairy queen’s captive? In my and the other characters’ opinions, not really, but her guilt is completely understandable and watching her work through it is cathartic and moving. Plus, her venom gives her a reason to hold a distance she longs to close, a physical manifestation of the emotional distance some people maintain in their lives when they feel they are too damaged by trauma to love.
Mardoll made some really creative and exciting choices with where to take the SFF aspects of the story, by the way. I applaud the unexpected yet logical twists in the author’s resolution. The characters were basically between a rock and a hard place and I’m thrilled as a reader to be given a way out, a third option, that made so much sense once it was in front of me but that I didn’t think of until it was presented in text, until the characters and I were propelled there by the high point of the plot.
This book actually gives me a really firm foothold on which to argue against that “pandering to diversity” accusation lobbed at so many queer-focused SFF families-of-choice narratives. I’ve always said that real life is full of folks in the LGBTQ+ umbrella clinging together in an often unfriendly or at least alienating cis hetero world, so for a story starring two bi girls to also include a m/m couple, some ace women, nonbinary characters, and a pan lady is not unrealistic at all. However, Poison Kiss’s setup introduces a second very good reason for such a cluster – what if the fairies (and Mardoll never comes out and says this, but it occurred to me in the car) specifically sought us out and took us? What if they took the ones who felt the most alienated, the most isolated, the ones who had the least support?
Anyway, that would certainly explain why so many of the escapees are in the umbrella. (Or, you could go with the alternative theory that the time in fairyland had left the captives inherently LGBTQ+ somehow, but I don’t prefer that theory because I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of this stuff being easily changed by outside influence. I begged the anesthesiologist to reassure me that going under wouldn’t turn me straight, back in 2009. Yes, please laugh at me. I’m laughing at myself. I wasn’t laughing in 2009, though.)
Also, there’s a moment about two-thirds of the way through that basically knocked me over with happy tears. I can’t tell you what it was or it won’t have the same effect on you at all, and it’ll only be meaningful to some of you. But, wow. Damn.
TW for very sci-fi violence including a villain’s severed limb and a lot of references to blood and venom. The triad is happily together and alive at the end and the book overall is very low on death of named characters.