A book review of
The Kiss of Deception
By Mary E. Pearson
Publishing by Henry Holt and Company, LLC. on July 15, 2014.
What’s it about?
Unwilling to enter a marriage arranged by her parents to secure a peace treaty with a rival country, Princess Lia, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan, flees her home city of Civica. Lia and her trusted companion Pauline head to the seaside paradise of Terravin to live quiet lives, but things don’t stay quiet for long. Pretty soon two young men show up at the tavern Lia has started working in – one the jilted prince, the other an assassin set on slitting Lia’s throat—and it isn’t long before trouble once again finds her.
First, the not so good (what I liked least about the book):
At times, the writing seems to be trying too hard. There was nothing particularly bad about the writing, but at times it did strike me as trying too hard. Lia’s imperious dialogue, especially, seemed unnatural in the beginning.
There are also some fantasy novel clichés that distracted me in the beginning. For instance, Lia’s name is short for Arabella Celeste Idris Jezelia. That’s quite a mouthful—you can see why she prefers Lia (short for Jezelia). But it’s such an obnoxiously princess–y name.
I also disliked was how there were excerpts from “The Last Testaments of Gaudrel” and “Song of Venda” interspersed throughout. These excerpts are not explained at all; their formatting was really confusing to me and I had a lot of trouble getting into the beginning of the story.
I just kept getting confused by everything, including some of the plot. Which young man is the prince and which is the assassin? You probably won’t have any idea in the beginning—I know I didn’t. This vagueness turns out to be a strategic choice on the part of the author, and it does pay off in the end, but it’s still really hard to comprehend in the beginning. Still, I’d recommend the book and you should keep going, because it is worth it.
What I liked most about the book:
Yes, as mentioned above, I had trouble following some of what was going on in the book in the beginning. The trick, much like reading Catch-22 is to go with the flow (I’m not comparing the writing skill level of Mary E. Pearson to the skills of Joseph Heller, by the way). Just let the story wash over you, and eventually everything will become clear.
The second half of the book, especially, makes the slow build worth it. Mary E. Pearson has done some pretty great world building in this first book. She very easily takes readers through a variety of landscapes – from the oppressive capital Civica, to the beautiful, colorful seaside town of Terravin, through forests and deserts and barren wastelands. You can easily visualize each landscape, each person, through Pearson’s descriptions. But, thankfully, you’ll find no boring, sweeping explanations of the landscapes. You get to experience everything as Lia does, and it really works.
I also loved the fact that Pearson doesn’t shy away from some of the realities of a fantasy world like Lia’s. There is death, there is blood, there is violence. There is also love and, more importantly, friendships. The theme of Trust runs deeply through the book, but it isn’t a heavy-handed, preachy theme. There’re also some implied sexual situations, which younger readers could easily overlook.
Finally, we come to the ending, which is probably one of my favorite parts. While experienced fantasy readers will guess what is coming, I still found myself excited by the revelations at the end of the book – perhaps, again, because of Lia’s experiences and reactions.
I would definitely recommend this book, and may possibly even read it again this summer. The ending has left me anxious to find out what happens in the next installment. While Pearson’s writing seems slightly forced in the beginning, by the end of the book you’ll be racing through the pages wanting to find out what happens next. Recommended for fans of high fantasy with some romantic aspects to it (not quite a love triangle, but close).
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