Friday 1 August 2014

#CBR6 Book 80: "The Kiss of Deception" by Mary E. Pearson

Page count. 496 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

I finished this book nearly two weeks ago, and will therefore use the summary from Goodreads to explain the plot. Getting old and senile here, peeps.

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia's life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight - but she doesn't - and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighbouring kingdom - to a prince she has never met. 

On the morning of the wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive - and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets - even as she finds herself falling in love. 

This is the first book in what the publishers are calling "a timeless new trilogy". There is a lot to like in the book, and also quite a few things that had me rolling my eyes or sighing with exasperation. The world building is interesting. It appears to be a sort of late medievalish world, but there are hints that all this came about after some sort of cataclysm, so it could well be that the sequels will reveal that this civilisation is actually post-apocalyptic and that the feudalistic type world they have now came about after modern technology collapsed on us somehow. There are three major countries involved in conflict, Lia is the princess and only daughter in Morrighan. She has several brothers, but because traditionally the first daughter of the royal family are believed to have visions, she is the one who is unable to live life as she chooses. As the king of the neighbouring country, Dalbreck,  is old, she's convinced she's being wed to a middle-aged man. She sent a missive asking him to meet before their wedding day, but received no reply. There are also, apparently, the barbarians of Venda and a number of travelling nomads who seem to be a version of gypsies, complete with caravans.

Refusing to be a political pawn and marrying a stranger, she and her best friend and handmaiden Pauline steal a couple of horses and run away on her wedding day. She also steals the hereditary, jewel-encrusted wedding cloak the women in her family have worn for generations, plus some ancient texts she's planning on translating. Girl isn't actually all that nice. Pauline and Lia run to a coastal village, where the princess quite happily settles down as a barmaid. She refuses to spend much time contemplating the diplomatic repercussions of her actions. Shortly after they have settled in the village, two handsome young men show up. The dark and brooding Rafe and the blond and burly Kaden.

The reader knows that one of the young men is a Vendan assassin sent to kill Lia to start a war, whilst the other is the Dalbreckian prince that Lia jilted. Most of the chapters are from Lia's point of view, but some are given to "the prince" and some to "the assassin". Later Rafe and Kaden get POV chapters, but it's only in the final third of the book that the readers, and Lia, discover which of them is the assassin, and I don't think it's much of a spoiler to reveal that the series' protagonist does NOT get murdered two thirds into the first book of the trilogy. Game of Thrones, this ain't. Lia doesn't realise that the prince came looking for her, and that he follows her once she is abducted by the assassin. Only at the very end does she understand that one of the dashing young men from the tavern is in fact her betrothed.

I like the potential in this series. Each chapter starts with excerpts from one of the ancient texts that Lia has in her possession, hinting at the history of the kingdoms and a prophecy, which Lia is obviously at the centre of. I would have loved more backstory on the various kingdoms, especially Dalbreck and Venda, but suspect that might be revealed in future installments. I really liked the narrative device with the two men, without knowing which was which. The uncertainty of their identities builds the tension nicely.

The first third of the book is rather slow, and Lia is frankly behaving like a spoiled brat in much of it. I get that she's none to happy about being married off to a stranger, but she's lived a life of luxury and wealth, and doesn't have the right to decide that she'd rather be a commoner in a tavern just because Mummy and Daddy didn't show her enough affection or let her meet her fiancee before the wedding.  Not when said decision can create international strife and possibly start a war. However, she's clearly also led a very sheltered life, and matures quite a bit over the course of the book, coming to realise all too clearly what difficulties her actions may have caused.

There is a love triangle, which was one of the things that made me roll my eyes. I wish this trope would stop being a necessity in almost all YA fantasy.  The fact that I didn't actually know whether it was the prince or the assassin she was falling in love with, helped. Both Rafe and Kaden are interesting and rather complex characters and the fact that you don't know which is the more morally compromised one until more than halfway through, is cool. The second part of the book, especially the last third, was a lot more action-packed and fast-paced and this is where I really got sucked into the world. I will absolutely be checking out the next book in the series, and hope it's an even stronger installment than the first.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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