Kiss of Deception
Mary E Pearson
Square Fish (9781250063151)
Sometimes you’ve had a book on your Goodreads list as a TBR forever. This was one of them for me. I came across it while searching for inspiration on what new books to discover. I put it on there, then never really decided if I actually wanted the book. It seemed like a great premise – a princess in hiding, two men after her. One the spurned prince, the other her assassin, and her not knowing which is which. But I still wasn’t sure. I hadn’t read much YA at the time, prefering fantasy. But ever since I joined Instagram, I kept seeing it, and the third and final volume was about to be released. High time to take the plunge and try this book.
I’m glad I did. It became infinitely more interesting when I realised that the READER doesn’t know who is the prince and who is the assassin either. It is a mostly compelling way to frame a novel. It is one of the first times I can remember to have succesfully prevented myself from reading ahead and stumbling upon unwanted spoilers. I really did not want to know who was who until the book chose to reveal it to me.
There are of course only two possibilities. One is the assassin and one is the prince. You have reasons for believing one to be more likely for a certain role than the other, but you have both considered them extensively. It cannot come as too large a surprise. But this book did keep me on my toes with the guessing game. In the end, I realised which was which because I hoped it to be true on a technical writing level. It would mean Mary E Pearson was good at what she was doing.
Let me explain. And if you don’t want to know, don’t continue reading this paragraph. I won’t tell you outright, but I am making it easy. During the first half of the book where you don’t know yet, there are hints and ways of interpreting their personal chapters. You realise you can read it both ways, but you lean towards the easier explanation. (Maybe I thought so too because of their hair colour… how prejudiced I am.) I came to find that this subtle gut feeling Mary E Pearson was creating was meant to build to the reveal – which flips the boys in the opposite direction.
I thought Mary E Pearson chose well in who Lia falls for when I came to the end of the book. With the assassin you fear it’s only to up the drama, with the prince you fear it’s too easy for the first book. I must say I do not see a love triangle here, even though it is marketed that way. Of course, she finds the other boy attractive too, but she has a clear preference. Things will also happen that will always stand be between her and this other boy (how confusing this review is becoming). I don’t see Lia ever forgiving it. It broke my own heart, so much hope and dreams crushed. But I don’t know what will happen in the next two books: many more unforgivable acts may follow from any one of the characters.
Now that we have gotten the mystery out of the way, I want to discuss the building of plot. I see some small flaws here. It is why I gave it 4 stars instead of 4,5. However interesting and refreshing I find Mary E Pearson’s approach to building mystery for her readers, I think she lingered too long on making her point. It stalls the plot, keeping it where it is to make sure you guess a little longer. It is noticeable because the rest of the book moves at a much quicker pace. At the beginning, Lia bolts almost seconds before her wedding in a mad dash, establishing her personality. It made me admire her too, especially when I read that note she sent the prince. I loved how her relationship with him was already sort of established, even though they had never met.
Her setting up shop in Terravin, going for a simple life blending in as a tavern maid, made sure that Lia was able to get her bearings and enjoy some carefree time before everything would go to hell in a handbasket (because, of course it will). It also gave us the perfect set-up for the boys to vie for her attention too, and for us guessing which was which. But as I said, this is where plot progress was put on hold in favour of the mystery. It even regressed a bit into a girlishness I found to be drama-for-drama, without actually building real interpersonal relationships between the three. It also shed light on some unlikely and outright unbelievable circumstances.
Everyone – and I mean every single person – knows who she is. Maybe not Enzo, but come on, that boy is good for nothing. Walther knows where she is, the assassin from the Royal Scholar knows where she is. Both boys found her. Berdi knows, Gwyneth knows. Even a priest that hasn’t seen her since she was two weeks old knows who she is! And you are telling me she has been able to spend the entire summer “hiding”? Even if the king isn’t looking to hurt his daughter, he is certainly looking to bring her back home, save face and save the kingdom from war.
I felt like the interruption from the second assassin sent by the Royal Scholar was unnecessary. We already knew from her he hates her, and later on we unfurl much of the mystery of the books she stole. The incident has had no further impact on Lia, nor on her relationship with both boys, and she was able to remain in Terravin unnoticed and unharmed. Thus, it could have easily been taken out. When I really started to get into the story again was a bit later. The assassin takes her away to Venda, not able to kill her and instead making her a hostage.
The way Mary E Pearson handles Lia here was a bit annoying to me. One moment she acts like a spoiled royal, trying to escape in stupid ways, while we have already established she can set a false trail and foil trackers with the best of them. She is clearly clever and resourceful, but I did not see it here. And at another moment, she is riding with her band of kidnappers as if she has accepted she can’t do anything, which is also not in her nature. I feel the same about the way her gift is handled before she realises this is the gift. It’s just a bit iffy, undecided. What reason does she have for listening to it, what feeling does she get when she hears the voice, does she trust it and why?
But Mary E Pearson finds Lia’s voice again when they encounter the caravan and, subsequently, Walther. Yes, that is quite late in the book. But I have to say that I immensely injoyed the ending. I thought it was well done, Lia was in fine shape again and I cannot wait for all three of them to arrive in Venda. Lia now knows the prince’s identity and the game has changed again. Lia has undergone a personal transformation within the space of the first volume alone, and I like how it flowed naturally from the events of the second half of the book. I am excited that the innocent tavern girl is irrevocably gone, and I can’t wait to meet the vengeful Lia coming into her own power.
I have already ordered the second book, needless to say. I very much look forward to it. I have high hopes for The Heart of Betrayal, and believe that the imbalance in the first book was mostly because Mary E Pearson was caught up in drawing out her unique way of presenting characters. I can hardly fault her for that, I found it immensely compelling too. Lia was a bit wobbly in character in the middle, but perhaps that was because the author already knew it was a way-station between Lia the princess and Lia the disillusioned and determined captive. It were only minor points, and I stand behind a solid 4/5 rating. I am also very curious about the mystery behind the origin of the kingdoms, the story of Morrighan and Venda.