The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles, #1
Published: 2014, Henry Holt and Company
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
It can take years to mold a dream. It takes only a fraction of a second for it to be shattered.
Princess Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan - called Lia - has no desire to further her country’s political gains through marriage to the prince of Dalbreck. She’s grown up with brothers and has seen each of them take their relationships into their own hands and wants the same for herself. So on the eve of her wedding, Lia and her maid Pauline flee the nation’s capital and settle down in the seaside village of Terravin. There Lia works at an inn and plans to create a life of her own choosing.
But choosing to forsake her own duty as a First Daughter doesn’t mean that others are content to let Lia ruin this potential alliance. Her father’s soldiers are out searching for her, there’s a bounty set for her capture, and two outsiders from very different backgrounds are also seeking out Lia: the jilted prince of Dalbreck wants to see just who Lia is, to think that she could run away from their marriage, and the northern Kingdom of Venda has sent an assassin after Lia, because a potential alliance between Morrighan and Dalbreck is the last thing they want.
The only certainty readers can hope to find within the pages of The Kiss of Deception is that there is very little certainty. Lia wants to make her own choices in life, but she has no concrete idea how to accomplish that. She’s motivated by a fierce independence, while her two main antagonists, the prince of Dalbreck and the assassin, are motivated by perverse curiosity and loyalty, respectively. Lia’s sudden departure has put a wrench in literally everyone’s plans, but not necessarily in expected ways.
The first half of the story is very much an unexpected sort of fantasy story. There’s a slow-building tension present, as Lia and readers navigate between safety and danger, between truth and lies. Readers learn that the assassin and the prince both locate Lia at the same time, and once they enter the inn and become casual acquaintances as they wait for their chances to confront Lia, their identities become jumbled. Which of the two is sent to kill Lia? And what exactly does the prince want with her? Pearson expertly keeps the tension high and descriptions vague so that readers have no clear idea which identity belongs to which character until the reveal, which is just so very fascinating.
Unfortunately, the prince and assassin have their roles trivialized to some degree by both developing crushes on Lia. Now, Lia is a likable, empathetic character by and large. She is far from perfect in her actions and choices, but she’s willing to admit her mistakes and continue trying. At the end of the day, all she wants is a chance to have some authority in her own life.
But must both men fall for her? The love triangle here feels like an awfully convenient way for the first half of the story to drag out, allowing the focus to remain on Lia’s false sense of security, as well as her developing relationships with both the prince and the assassin. Perhaps the assassin’s character gains a bit more sympathy through his developing feelings for Lia, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that either the prince or assassin’s characters are really developed in the first half of the novel, since Pearson keeps their descriptions and thoughts as ambiguous as possible.
The one bright spot of this love triangle is that Lia’s feelings are clear. One of the men she considers as a friend, and one she hopes to become something more. But through the eyes of the two males, Lia almost becomes lesser, and their characterization of her feels a bit trite.
Once the identities of the prince and assassin are revealed, the second half of the story reads much more like traditional fantasy fare, and it’s well done. The story in general is well written and works well as the opening to a large, complex fantasy world. Enough knowledge of that world is given upfront, although readers will hope that the ending means that Pearson will expand the scope of the novel dramatically as the series continues.
Little is resolved in this book, which isn’t surprising given this is the first in an expected trilogy. Those who do not enjoy cliffhanger endings should probably wait for the second - or even third - installment’s release. Those who are willing to look past the cliches present with a love triangle may find there is quite a bit to enjoy in this book as well, and I for one will plan on reading the sequel.
Rating: 3 stars