Review: Kiss of Deception by Mary E Pearson

Kiss of Deception
Mary E Pearson

Henry Holt
I received an ARC from the publisher.
Released July 8, 2014
492 pages
YA / Fantasy

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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.

One of the worst things about my impromptu blogging hiatus was not only could I not use a computer to write reviews, but writing by hand prevented my arm from healing correctly too. I wish I had those original thoughts after finishing Kiss of Deception still in my head, but thankfully the book was so enjoyable that the characters and main plot points still live in my brain over a month later. This is a really fun start to a not-so-traditional fantasy series that grabs tropes and twists them into pretzels.

Princess Lia is a modern girl living in a medieval society. She has been forced to live her life by the rules of father, rules that have gotten progressively stricter the older she gets. When she faces marrying a stranger to strengthen military ties, she does what any headstrong modern woman would do in a situation you couldn’t otherwise get out of – she leaves. With only a bag, a horse and her handmaiden with her, she flees her father and the castle where her entire life is.

Lia is headstrong and hates tradition. She hates tradition so much that often she’ll be contrarian for the sake of going against tradition and gender norms even if it’s not something she necessarily wants to do. Once she flees to an anonymous life, she refuses to take nonsense from anyone and becomes an independent woman, who still has enough sense to fear what feels like the inevitability of being found and the guilt of letting her kingdom down, possibly putting it into danger.

Because this is YA, there are two guys. That’s just expected. One is an assassin from the “savage lands” Lia’s father has been at war with since forever and the other is the prince she was to marry. Both take on secret identities of normal farm boys and merchants to sneak a closer look at Lia. Of course, because how else will you have funny awkward moments, both men meet each other and become reluctant buddies before they ever set eyes on Lia and once they do, they both fall madly in love with her. Thankfully Lia has a good head on her shoulders and does fall for insta-love, instead playing a goofy flirty love game that just frustrates all involved, but in a hilarious manner.

I honestly don’t know who I like more, the prince or the assassin. For the first part of the book, they’re a bit difficult to tell apart unless a chapter is told from their perspective, but as the narrative grows, they become distinct characters. The assassin more or less born to the life with ghosts chasing him makes a good foil to the privileged prince who was recently jilted and now must prove something. Once they become distinct personalities, the love triangle becomes enjoyable (something I don’t often say) with some fun moments and the inevitable explosion as people’s true roles start leaking out. I think I found this love triangle acceptable is because it didn’t exist for the sake of only creating drama. Lia is becoming friends with both of these strangers with a the hint of a possible relationship with each, but other than a few scenes of silly boys showing off, there isn’t any “Woe is me! Who will I choose?!” and that’s made me happy.

Kiss of Deception is told primarily through first person narration of Lia, but it also throws in a chapter here and there from both the assassin and prince’s point of views, normally of a similar event to see the rivalry growing between the two. Those chapters are told in completely different tones than Lia, which gave the narrative flow a nice break every now and again. Pearson’s writing style reads quickly, but is incredibly engaging. Before I knew it, I was 200 pages in and three hours had past yet I still didn’t want to put the book down!

While this review might make it sound like this book is all romance from beginning to end, it’s not. It’s very much Lia’s journey to becoming her own person instead of a puppet of her parents, bending to expectations rather than to what she wants for her life. The high fantasy realm is more of a backdrop that a framework for the story because it’s a pretty modern story. There are a few hints of mysticism because of Lia’s status as a First Daughter and the supposed powers that are supposed to come with that, but any magic or supernatural powers are left for sequels if there will be any. The mythology/religion of these people sounds like a take on a post-apocalyptic creation myth with a savior of their people, which left this nagging doubt that this was really Earth after some massive world-wide natural disaster and now society is having to go through the process of evolving technology again. But that’s probably just my sci-fi brain going in the background.

Kiss of Deception was not quite what I expected it to be, but yet it was so much more. It’s fun, fast-paced and emotionally affecting while setting up a world that is oddly familiar yet all its own. Lia is a great leading lady with her own agency even when she might not exactly be free and an independent streak that I greatly appreciate. I didn’t want this book to end and I’m eagerly anticipating the next volume.