I read and throughly enjoyed Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan a couple weeks ago and immediately checked out Maid of Deception, the second book in the series. I enjoyed this one even more.
Lady Beatrice Knowles has worked hard to reach her wedding day. She serves Elizabeth well even though she doesn't like the queen, and the queen doesn't like her. Beatrice has lived her life playing the games of the court, being a pawn of monarchs, and trying to keep her family's secrets from ruining them. She plotted to become betrothed to the perfect Lord of the realm only to have her wedding day ruined when the queen orders a postponement, and then orders Beatrice to play the flirt with a young Scottish Lord named Alasdair. Caught between the queen's politics and plotting, her family's troubles, her own plans, and her unwanted feelings for Alasdair, Beatrice increasingly feels caught in a game she can't win. And that she may be heading toward a disaster of her own making.
I enjoyed the way McGowan dealt with Beatrice's character in the first book. She is the beautiful, well established, popular, and snotty one. Yet she is never simply a stereotype and she really showed how nuanced she was by the end of Meg's story. And here in her own story she truly shines. I loved how she is so vulnerable and yet projects an image to the world that is unbreakable. She is always outwardly in control even when she is desperately trying to hold together all the strands of her life and keep them from unraveling. The queen, who sees most things, sees this. And she uses it to mess with Beatrice. I really liked the antagonism between Beatrice and Elizabeth. They have a history. Beatrice knows something about Elizabeth the queen wishes she didn't. Beatrice, being quite savvy, went to great lengths to protect herself from Elizabeth doing anything nefarious to silence her. Elizabeth can, and does, strive to make her as miserable as possible though. In the first book the way McGowan showed Elizabeth was historically accurate. She is wise. She is cunning. She is insightful. She is generous. She is dangerous. In this book Elizabeth is seen as all those things still, but also petty, vindictive, and spiteful. There is historical data that backs up both versions of Elizabeth. She was a complicated woman, made out of a combination of great intelligence, a horrific childhood, too little trust in her life, and a desire to maintain her own power. I find it fascinating that McGowan is using the maids' feelings and interactions with her to highlight different aspects of her personality. The Elizabeth Beatrice must contend with is quite different to the one Meg contends with, but she is the same Queen. And despite the way Elizabeth treats her, Beatrice is still fiercely loyal. And it isn't entirely due to fear or the machinations of a mind bent to the most convenient political ally, Beatrice is bravely serving her monarch in the best way she can. I find this truly admirable since she doesn't like her as a person.
The plot of this book isn't as sinister as the last Maid of Secrets. That was a murder mystery complete with all the danger that entails. This is quieter in many ways, full of the politics that go on behind closed doors, the careful dance between serving both your country and yourself, and the wider intrigue of the court in general. Again, I felt that there was a little too much detail and that the book should have been shorter. This aspect is better than in the first, but still needs some work. I also felt that the romance wasn't particularly exciting. I LOVE Alisdair (the same way I loved Rafe), but something is lacking in the development of the relationships to make me that invested. I'm okay with that though because all the other relationships are done so well.
My favorite aspect of the book is the relationship between Beatrice and her father. I just adore Lord Knowles for everything he is. He is a man greatly flawed, but he is also a wonderful person who tries hard to do what right he can given his position and weaknesses. Beatrice is quite dismissive of her father, but as the story unfolds and she begins to see his hand at work-and how it's always been at work-in her life, her perspective changes. Good father/daughter dynamics are not run of the mill inYA literature, so this is a rare treat.
Of course, Beatrice's fellow maids also play a major part in her story. I adore the friendship and camaraderie that has developed between these five and how they have each other's backs no matter what. I absolutely can not wait to get every one of their stories. I think that's likely, though as far as I know Sophia's book (coming out next year) is the only other one yet scheduled. I really hope Anna and Jane get books too because they are my favorites.
In the meantime, there is also a prequel Christmas e-book that looks like a lot of fun.