The Kiss of Deception
Mary E. Pearson
Spoiler Rating: Moderate
Hello, most favorite Lizzy!
A week ago I came across a new fantasy series by the author who wrote The Adoration of Jenna Fox (which, Katie, you need to read asap); it’s The Remnant Chronicles, beginning with The Kiss of Deception.
Honestly, this book is a mess–but oh my goodness I must get my hands on the sequel. Because even though this book was slow and silly and infuriating by turns, something(s) within it finally clicked into place and dragged me off the floor (where I’d curled into a fetal position of rage) and murmured, There, there. Everything will unravel into darkness, and you’ll love it. Keep reading.
So I kept reading, and thank everything I did. Because the book got better, and–as promised–I loved it.
Which is why I’m going to tiptoe around spoilers in this letter, in case you decide Yeah, the majority of the book sounds awful, but I can handle awful if it gets me to something good.
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.
We aren’t told what Lia looks like, but everyone else on the entire continent who’s afforded a physical description appears to be white. It’s not hugely likely that this one ruling family are the only people of color. No racial diversity points for this book.
Also, no LGBTQIA points, either.
Conflict and Tension and Stakes for the First 60%
Oh, Lizzy. The first 60% of this book was such a slog. The pacing was slow, and a ridiculous amount of time is spent just watching Kaden and Rafe (the sexy guys) compete with each other for Lia’s…attention, I guess?
This is a problem because both guys already know they can’t have her; they just want to pretend for a few minutes that “things were different” (i.e. she and the prince had married after all; that the assassin was just a regular guy, and therefore not tasked with killing her). They know their time with her is limited. I as the reader know their time with her is limited.
Yet apparently I’m supposed to be enthralled by their dumb little macho-man competition. Am I really supposed to be on the edge of my seat, watching these two guys challenge each other to a several-pages-long wrestling match?
There were no other noteworthy conflicts aside from this dumb little rivalry between the guys for the momentary attention of a girl neither one could have a Happily Ever After with.
Character Development and Character Arcs for the First 60%
Kaden and Rafe both came off as fairly flat. One’s more brooding and one’s more personable, but neither of them were fleshed out enough to make me sit up and take notice.
Lia’s better rounded than the guys: she’s earnest and hard-working and wants to do what’s best for her friends; she’s quick-tempered and strong-willed and has dreams of independence; she makes dumb mistakes and takes risks and sometimes I wanted to toss the book across the room because her thoughtless selfishness was so frustrating to read.
But I understood (most of) her thoughtless selfishness, and I would have liked her less if she wasn’t flawed. (Also, this would’ve been a totally different story if she didn’t have that flaw.)
As for her dumb mistakes: they were sometimes too dumb to believe (yeah, of course the runaway princess with the giant freaking temporary tattoo thing on her back that no one but the runaway princess would have would opt to bathe in the totally-open-to-the-public stream on her first day in the village, rather than, oh I don’t know, bathing in the privacy of her room until she’s scrubbed the totally unmistakable pattern off her back) and I hated them.
I guess I’m not lucky enough to be given a heroine who’s both flawed and marginally intelligent.
The Tone for the First 60%
Although there are some pretty serious scenes, a lot of the first 60% feels like filler, and its tone ranges from cartoonish to melodramatic. Take, for example, Rafe’s reaction to Lia’s flirting over holiday dinner (flirting which consists solely of, I should note, an unblinking stare while fellating her fingers–because that’s totally consistent with her character up to that point, uh huh):
When I described this scene to Andrew, he thought I was joking. I assured him I wasn’t, and we shared a moment of silence.
Messages About Love in the First 60%
Lia’s preoccupied with the notion of love, and asks her brother Walther how he figured out he was in love
“Oh, you’ll know you’ve met your One True Love the moment you see him” is not a good answer. It is in fact a terrible answer.
(I say this as someone who, upon first laying eyes on their husband, immediately went all English Pointer–you know what I’m talking about–and thought, “Him, I need to know more about him, he looks good, let’s meet him.” And obviously that Pointer instinct worked out well for me.)
But love involves trust and affection and respect and understanding and a host of things that don’t spring into existence when two people look at each other for the first time. Curiosity-at-first-sight, definitely. Attraction-at-first-sight, yes. Love-at-first-sight, no no no.
Pearson and Her Characters Lied for the First 60%
There’s an identity mystery woven into the book, and I totally guessed the wrong answer.
So I went back and skimmed carefully through everything to see how I’d arrived at the incorrect conclusion. What did I discover? That yes, hints toward the correct conclusion had been scattered here and there. But I also discovered that the hints I had fallen for–the big, misleading things–were all authorial tricks. She lied; she made the characters lie in order to trick me.
I don’t want to give the mystery away, so let me give you a dumb analogy instead: pretend I’m writing a story about Tamika, and Tamika has a pet named Pochi. Pochi’s a recalcitrant cat, but I want the reader to think he’s a goofy dog so that when he’s revealed as a cat, the reader will think No way, seriously? I was so wrong!
Now pretend that I have Tamika take Pochi to the park to play fetch, and later teach Pochi how to shake hands.
Sure, my reader will be tricked into thinking Pochi is a dog. But I’m lying to my reader, because Pochi the cat would never go to a park, would never play fetch, and would sooner maul you than learn to shake your hand. I’m lying to my reader, and I made both Tamika and Pochi lie by behaving in ways contrary to their natures–ways orchestrated solely to trick the reader.
I’m okay with being wrong. I’m not okay with the author making me think an evil cat was a nice dog by taking the cat to a dog park and making it shake hands.
Thank the lord, once that 60% mark hits, this becomes a completely different book. Unrecognizable. As if at the last minute the editor realized the book wouldn’t sell unless things started happening, and Pearson only had time to revise the last third of the book before the deadline.
Conflict and Tension and Stakes in the Last 40%
Is the primary active conflict two dudes trying to out-dude each other? Nope!
It’s genuine tension and increasingly dire stakes. It’s complex and evolving and involves multiple people with multiple goals–and people in conflict with themselves as their own conflicting goals threaten to make a mess of things. It’s life and death and horrifying revelations and Lia slowly shattering into fragments then struggling to piece herself together again.
Character Development and Character Arcs in the Last 40%
It’s Lia’s internal shattering and reconstruction that has me clawing for this book’s sequel, but hers isn’t the only character arc to make headway in the final act. Both Kaden and Rafe are plopped into sticky situations that help fill out my perception of their personalities, and gives them freedom to start moving from Character Point A toward Character Point B.
The Tone in the Last 40%
I won’t say this book ever got as dark as The Kingdom of Little Wounds, but it was straining in that direction. Lia’s arc is a serious one, and the book takes it seriously–thank goodness.
Messages About Love in the Last 40%
The last 40% of the book has fewer dumb messages about love, perhaps in part because it turns its focus more toward the love and responsibility one feels for one’s family than the Ideal Romantic Love that Lia had been pining after.
Overall, we’re given a much healthier view of love that involves empathy and self-sacrifice and honesty. Hurray for that.
Some Great Writing
Pearson’s writing style makes for a pretty quick and easy read, but there are a few bits here and there that I slowed down to enjoy. Such as this one:
I’m kind of in love with this book’s themes, and how they’re reflected in all three of the main characters; the most prominent of them are truth/deception, identity, and the battle between tradition/duty and independence.
Let me ramble about that last one.
Lia’s princess of a kingdom that’s not so much steeped in tradition as it is boiled-then-burned-to-ashes in tradition. Lia, on the other hand, is not a traditions kind of girl.
She grew up with both a sharp tongue and the knowledge that traditions sometimes acted contrary to the good of the people–a combination that (I’m surmising) gave her parents terrible frown-lines, and (also surmising) their advisers chronic ulcers. So obviously she’s going to run away the morning of her wedding, ditching the fiance she’s never met and destroying the tremulous (but crucial) alliance between her kingdom and his.
The idea of tradition and duty being (in Lia’s opinion) at odds with personal independence is pretty omnipresent. It begins on the second page, when Lia’s lying face-down and naked on a table while the finest artisans of the kingdom are scraping an elaborate pattern into her back with dull knives.
It’s a marking that’s supposed to fade over the course of a couple weeks, but no matter how often and brutally she scrubs, Lia can’t remove it entirely; a portion of it clings vivid and insistent to her shoulder. Hmmm.
But Lia’s not the only tradition- and duty-bound person! Her shunned prince had been willing to go through with the loveless marriage (with the assurance by his father that no one would blame him for taking a mistress), but felt a conflicting sense of relief and envy and anger at Lia’s “courageous” act of desertion. The assassin sent after Lia takes no joy in killing, but accepts it as a necessary duty–until he realizes that hey, Lia’s actually a pretty neat person, and he begins rationalizing reasons not to kill her just yet.
I’m kind of in love with the struggle between useless traditions and necessary duties and the personal desire for freedom from both. Am I looking forward to seeing how these conflicts resolve for these three characters over the rest of the series?
In short: this book has so much going wrong. It also ends with some things going really, really well.
Please let the sequel be good. That’s all I’m asking.
Yours as always,