Book Reviews 2016 · Fantasy Books · Young Adult Book Reviews

‘The Kiss of Deception’ by Mary E. Pearson

A princess must find her place in a reborn world.
She flees on her wedding day.
She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor’s secret collection.
She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.
She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can’t abide. Like having to marry someone she’s never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.

4.5 stars, rounded to 5.

If you read my list ‘Ten Books I WILL Read This Year’, you’d have noticed that ‘The Kiss of Deception’ was one of that list. I have owned the book for a while, and I was desperate to read it when I first got my hands on it given how much others seemed to enjoy it, but for some inexplicable reason I just never got around to doing so. Now, I have finally completed the novel, and I am glad to say that I really did enjoy it, and I hope to continue further with this trilogy.

*WARNING! The first portion of this review will be SPOILER-FREE. Later on, I will have a portion of the review with SPOILERS in. At that point, I will indicate that the review is no longer spoiler-free. The biggest appeal of the novel is the uncertainty, and you would definitely ruin it for yourself if you read the spoilers section of this review before the book!*

I was definitely in need of a light fantasy before picking this up. That is the first point to make: despite being a fantasy novel, this one is not very heavy on the fantasy elements, rather being an almost-typical YA romance set against a fantasy backdrop. Normally, that kind of book is either a massive hit or a monumental miss where I am concerned, depending on my mood. This time around, it was just what I wanted. The dramatic snippet on the back of my dust-jacket, wherein the protagonist, Lia, is held at knife-point, is a tad misleading as to the tone of the vast majority of the novel: that scene is the only true action scene in the first two-thirds of the novel. The action does pick up later on, but the majority of this book is world-building and establishing characters and relations for the rest of the trilogy. I anticipate the fantasy elements coming to the forefront in the rest of the trilogy, however this book does have a much lighter tone than I first expected.

Our protagonist is Lia, a princess on the run to avoid an arranged marriage to the prince of a neighbouring region whom she has never met. As a character, Lia is bearable, in fact even decent. She has a certain charm to her; her attitude, whilst at times a touch gobby, tends to come across as more amusing than insufferable, whilst her bravery is an admirable feature. She is, of course, fickle when it comes to romance, but no more than the majority of female YA protagonists. She makes a believable 17-year-old when alongside her best friend Pauline, especially at the beginning as the pair flee from their home of Civica. Talking of Pauline, she is a very sweet character. I’m looking forwards to her progression in later books. In fact, all the female characters, including the minor characters of Berdi and Gwyneth, were good characters, as were most of the male ones. That brings us to our prince and our assassin (in no particular order,) Kaden and Rafe. Keeping it brief for the sake of being spoiler-free (I’ll discuss the pair in more detail in my spoiler review further down) I thought both were very well characterised, even if I did not strictly like them both. When it came to guessing who was the prince and who was the assassin, there are both clues and red herrings that kept me slightly uncertain even when I thought I knew (I ultimately didn’t!). Touching lightly on the romance, there is (obviously) a love triangle in this novel, however I will say that it is never a truly even playing field between the two; it is less ‘who will she choose?’ and more ‘will she get the opportunity to be with the one she prefers?’ and I do not see the love triangle sincerely continuing throughout the rest of the trilogy.

I enjoy the changing perspectives a lot. Written in first person, the majority of chapters are from Lia’s point of view, however there were many times we slipped into the perspective of Rafe or Kaden, which helped speed up the pace and gave a welcome break from Lia’s view; I love it when first-person novels have multiple perspectives, as I enjoy seeing the world through different eyes. The chapters headed purely ‘The Assassin’ and ‘The Prince’ were fun, as I was forever trying to match their tones with that of Kaden and Rafe, with little success. There was a late chapter from Pauline’s point of view which was intriguing, and I would love to see more from her in the next novel, and perhaps from Gwyneth too.

The plot is not necessarily slow, but it is laid-back. There is the sense that the first 300 pages of the novel are character-led rather than plot-led. However, there was enough of a plot to interest me throughout. In fact, it was only towards the end, at which point the novel had shifted to be plot-led, that I thought it began to slack. While the concept and certain other elements are not unique, Pearson does execute them well, and as you know if you’ve read my reviews for a while, I would much rather see a cookie-cutter idea done well than an original idea executed poorly.

*From this point on, this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS. If you have not read this book, I DO NOT RECOMMEND reading the rest of this review.*

Before reading the book, I was primarily drawn to the idea that the novel features a prince and an assassin, and while reading the story you are unaware as to which of the two central male characters, Kaden and Rafe, is the prince, and which is the assassin. I am a sucker for a whodunnit, trying to piece together clues to work out the secret, so including that element in this novel was a massive turn on for me. I scrutinised Kaden and Rafe’s chapters, and those anonymously titled ‘The Prince’ and ‘The Assassin’, seeing if I could work out which was which myself. I will hold my hands up; despite usually getting this kind of thing right, I was wrong this time! I did guess that the assassin would still betray Lia despite falling for her, however I thought that Rafe would be the assassin – he fell for her much harder than Kaden did, and it would have been more shocking if he had been the assassin. There was a clue that made me think that Rafe was the prince, meanwhile Kaden’s cool and sweet attitude lends itself to that of the assassin, yet despite these hints, I wrongly stuck to my original call that Rafe was the assassin and Kaden the prince. Before I started, I thought I would be more drawn to the assassin than the prince – I am never too keen on princes. Turns out it was the prince I preferred! Ultimately, the guessing game was very gripping, and I really enjoyed scouring for clues. I only wish that it had lasted longer than 300 pages; Kaden revealed himself to be the assassin far too early for me, as after he and his gang had captured Lia and the action began to kick in, I started to feel less interested: maybe it is as Kaden and Lia is a dynamic that just does not work for me.

On the topic of love triangles, I feel that ultimately there is no contest. It is evident from the beginning that Lia and Rafe have fallen hard for each other, with Lia’s thoughts turning to Rafe above Kaden, and him rushing with his men to save her once Kaden had taken her. I think the biggest question for the next book is not ‘will Lia choose Rafe over Kaden?’ but ‘how quickly will she forgive Rafe for not revealing his identity?’ While Kaden protests to be in love with Lia, the fact that he betrayed her (though he had few choices, he definitely did not have to hand her over and pretend it was in her best interests), the scene where he watches through the window whilst thinking about slitting her throat, and his confession that he only decided not to kill her while he watched over her sleeping form with a knife don’t exactly cry out ‘I’m in love with you’. Equally, Lia never seems invested in Kaden. She flirts with him when Rafe is distancing himself from her, and after kissing Kaden, she deeply regrets it afterwards. She may ask ‘what if things were different?’ but it is clear that, given the circumstances, her affection for Kaden ends at a mild fancy, and does not extend to love. I know there are a lot of fans out there who ship Lia with Kaden (undoubtedly as they prefer a bad boy) but I have to say that I liken that to the situation in my head regarding ‘Shadow and Bone’ by Leigh Bardugo: as I read that, it was evident that Alina and Mal are intended to be the main ship, but people force her with The Darkling as they prefer a bad boy to a good one (disclaimer: I have not read the rest of that trilogy so cannot account for how it finishes, and whether Alina ends up with either men). There is no doubt in my head that from the end of this book onwards, Lia and Rafe are the primary couple. If Pearson ends up matching Lia and Kaden, I would consider that an implausible U-turn done solely for fan interest and the sense of having a love triangle, nor would I be satisfied with Lia ending up with Kaden as a second-best should Rafe die, in a ‘Infernal Devices’-style cop-out of a love triangle.

None of this is to say I dislike Kaden as a character. While I adore Rafe – who is undoubtedly my favourite character of the book – Kaden is probably a more intriguing character, and I cannot wait to learn more about him. I just do not believe in the sincerity of his ‘love’ for Lia, and do not see his feelings reciprocated. I would actually like to see Kaden with Pauline if he redeems himself from his behaviour, but we’ll see! I do think Kaden was exposed as the assassin too early, 300 pages through the 500-page book. After discovering which was which, I did not lose interest in the pair as I as worried I would, although I did begin to lose interest in the plot overall. Kaden revealing his identity felt like a false climax; we had tension and drama as he kidnapped Lia, and all of that atmosphere tailed off swiftly, leaving 150 pages where the tension and drama had waned in place of boring scenes in the wastelands. While the arrival of Rafe at the end was sweet, it was not tense, and ultimately not as much of a climax or as good a place to leave the book as the reveal would’ve been. I’d have liked to have left it on Kaden taking Lia and Rafe giving chase: the last 150 pages had nothing wrong with them but would’ve worked better as a beginning to the second book than the end of the first.

There are many unanswered questions sticking in my head that make me want to read on: the stories of the books and the name Jezelia; what is to become of Pauline and her baby, especially with her back in Civica where the (very much alive) Mikael is; whether we see more of Lia’s living brothers; how will Lia react to Rafe now she knows he is the prince she was meant to marry; Gwyneth’s life as a spy and her mysterious background… there were many story threads that keep me excited to read further as soon as I can afford the sequel. Now the pace has sped up, I would like to see it maintained, albeit with less of the trekking-through-the-wastelands.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book. It did everything I wanted it to: it kept me guessing, had appealing characters and a nice backdrop which can be used well in later instalments, and left me eager to read more from Pearson. I will definitely continue with this one, and will be recommending it to a friend.

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