The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson is a book I looked forward to with much anticipation. I will always read a political intrigue fantasy story, even if many times they leave me dissatisfied. As I began to read, I thought this might be one of those. I almost DNFed it. In the end I'm glad I didn't because once stuff started happening, it got really good.
In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.
On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.
I loved the opening chapters of the book. I was entranced by the cadence of the words, the world-building, and Lia herself. I thought the build-up to Lia's flight and the carefully given glimpses into her life to explain it were truly well done. Then the narrator introduces the prince and the assassin in two chapters each form their point of view. And then a great deal doesn't happen but romantic angst for about 150 pages. This is where the author almost lost me. There isn't so much political intrigue as romantic intrigue. It is possible to do this well, but it felt a little forced here, like the author was trying so hard to be coy, she lost what could have been a lot of great character and plot development as a result. It didn't help that Lia mentions that there is a lot banter exchanged between her and Rafe (and she enjoys this), but we as readers are not privy to this banter. Hello! I love good banter. I crave good banter. If you are going to spend so much time developing a romance, DEVELOP IT. Don't just tell me about it. I feel like this middle part could be much shorter and it would do the book a world of good. Eventually something happens that moves the plot forward and things get amazing from then on.
The latter third of the book is where Lia's character begins to turn into a person I will follow and cheer from now until the end of the trilogy. She comes across as spoiled (or at least she did to me at first). Not because she wants fine things and is unwilling to work, but because she abandoned her family and her people at a time they truly needed her. Running away from your father the king may seem brave but when it risks a war that will costs innocent lives, you are the one that is in the wrong. Lia's naiveté about the world and the way it works starts to melt away as she is forced to confront some harsh realities. The Lia that is present at the end of the book is very different from the one at the beginning and I like her so much better, but it was interesting to watch her get there. That change happening as it did was what was needed to make her the hero she will need to be for what is coming next.
Speaking of....this book has what could be called a cliffhanger ending except it really kind of just ends. It's not like we got to the climax and were left hanging. There is no climax. This feels like all rising action, which, I suppose, one could argue is fine in the first part of a trilogy. I personally just like each of my installments in a series or trilogy to have its own distinct plot arc. The writing is engaging though, and now I'm hooked. There is no way I'm going to let this trilogy go unfinished. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in book two.
One other concern I had going in was that there was going to be a love triangle, and while what manifested here vaguely resembles one, I feel like Pearson dealt with that well. I can only hope that continues because I will be unhappy if Lia actually waffles at all between these two. I don't want to spoil anyone so I will just say this about the boys: one of them is amazing, one of them is so not. (Like getting drunk and assaulting her so not.)
Overall this one is enjoyable, though I think the pacing could have been much better. The end really saved it for me and I'm glad I kept reading.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Henry Holt, via NetGalley. The Kiss of Deception goes on sale July 8.