Mary E. Pearson’s The Kiss of Deception has been heralded as one of the must-read fantasy books of the year. I began reading with high hopes that were nearly dashed by my first impressions, based on this beginning:
As First Daughter of the House of Morrighan, Princess Lia must wed a man she’s never met so that her country can form a much-needed alliance with the kingdom of Dalbreck against the Vendian raiders. Infuriated that she can’t marry for love, she flees on the day of her wedding with her maid Pauline to the distant reaches of the land. Unfortunately, her new existence as a tavern maid is quickly disrupted by the arrival of two handsome men, one her jilted fiancee and the other a barbarian assassin.
If you can’t tell from this description, Lia is a selfish twit. While I like her strong-mindnessness (unfortunately with a side of big-mouth syndrome as is common in YA heroines these days), I’m dismayed that she feels such scorn for duty and responsibility that she leaves her family and country in grave danger simply for her own happiness. Additionally, she has no information on the prince she is to marry, instead just making assumptions on his looks and age, which seem to be her only considerations in finding a good match. Nevermind that he may be intelligent or a wise ruler or anything.
And don’t even get me started on the love triangle. I loathe love triangles, and this is one of the most nauseating I’ve experienced. By the time both the prince and the assassin arrive at the village Lia is hiding in, their preconceived notions of the princess fly out the door once they see her pretty face. The next 200 pages ensue with them trying to out-man each other for her affections while Lia giggles and dithers and flirts.
In a creative twist, both suitors are occasionally given narrative chapters under their titles of “the prince” or “the assassin” or their assumed names, “Rafe” and “Kaden.” The idea is to throw the reader off as to who is the true villain of the piece (hint: neither really – it’s a YA love triangle!). I don’t know if this method holds up as I recall some chapters making little sense in retrospect, but that may be because I’m a bit bitter that I guessed incorrectly.
One of my biggest peeves with first books in trilogies is that, while I understand and accept that there has to be slow build-up to the subsequent plots, I’m frequently frustrated by how the author’s attempts to stretch the mystery result in incohesive world-building. This is true for this book. In a vaguely medieval world, I still know very little about the history and culture of the realms, or whatever governing system exists. Nor is much revealed about Lia’s family and their supposedly-corrupt court, the conflict with the Vendians, or even how the Dalbreck fit in.
It’s hinted from the beginning that as First Daughter, Lia should inherit the gift of Sight, an ability to know the future that her mother possessed strongly. Unfortunately, the magic is ill-explained, leaving me anxious to learn more since it seems like such a pivotal plot point. Related, the bits of prophecies and myths interspersed seemed like it could lead somewhere good, but the hints were so broad that I’m either entirely sure what will happen or it will be a complete surprise.
Yet the final third or so gives me so much hope! (Mild spoilers ahead)
The repercussions of Lia’s actions finally catch up with her and she begins to mature, gaining further self-awareness and insight from her experiences. After a series of brutal events, she becomes cold-blooded and a little crazy – and this Lia is such an improvement! I was chilled and thrilled with the turns the last few chapters followed, and consequently furious when it ended because I had just become intrigued about where the plot is going.
Can I rate the beginning and end separately? If so, it would be 2 and 4 – I guess an average is fair enough, though it belies my interest in reading the sequel The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2), which will hopefully improve on this book.