Author: Mary E. Pearson
Rating: 2 Stars
Release Date: July 8th, 2014
The Kiss of Deception is a bundle of contradictions, both on and off the page. It has a love triangle, it doesn't have a love triangle; it tells a tale of deceit, it doesn't truly hide any deception from the reader; its protagonist is a strong female, its protagonist is weak-willed. While I wasn't too keen on picking up this installment--at least not until the entire series had played out--the reviews left me in deep confusion. After combing through GoodReads far longer than I should have, I finally decided to pick up my ARC and simply dive in. Even if I didn't enjoy the romance, the reviews guaranteed that the second-half of this novel was a significant improvement and the political plot threads would certainly keep me satisfied.
As I mentioned, The Kiss of Deception is a novel of contrasts; in certain sections of the book, certain tropes seem far more evident than in others. Thus, I hope you will forgive me for taking the liberty to spread open this volume and critique it from its first-quarter, to its second, to the last half. I promise, this review is spoiler-free. (Not bitter-free, though, be warned!)
The First Quarter (A.K.A. The Set Up)
The Kiss of Deception begins with Lia, the princess of the realm, fleeing her arranged marriage with the prince of Dalbreck. Lia ascends from a long line of princesses with power--known as the First Daughter--and, for that reason, they are prized above all else. For Lia, this means that her abilities will join her to a man she has never met all for the safety of the kingdom. What's more, Lia doesn't truly possess any magic--her gift never blossomed and it seems it never will. Thus, to escape the sham that her life is about to become, she escapes her wedding and decided to strike out on her own.
Following Lia's escape, the prince of Dalbreck makes his way after her, determined to meet the woman who dared flee her wedding alter, and, what's more, an assassin troops after her as well. During this first quarter of the novel, the tale is told from the perspective of Lia, the Prince, and the Assassin. Lia finds a job as a tavern maid and her attention becomes sought after by two men, Rafe and Kade, only both Lia and the reader don't know which one of these two is the Prince and which one is the Assassin. I found this portion to be reminiscent of typical fantasy works as Lia trekked across the country alongside her friend, Pauline, and their evolving friendship is so realistically portrayed throughout the narrative. I further appreciated Lia's willingness to embrace a new lifestyle and the format in which this part of the novel was written worked exceedingly well as I found myself trying to guess just who was who.
Unfortunately, there are trickles of a full-blown love triangle in the beginning quarter of this novel as well. As a princess, Lia has never experienced intimacy with a man because of the fear her older brothers and father have inspired in any potential suitors. Thus, as a tavern maid she is given infinitely more freedom in every regard, including this one. I understood her as her thoughts strayed towards comparing and contrasting these two men, but it became irritating too. I wanted Lia to lose her naivety quickly and I also wanted the pace of the novel to pick up. It just felt too slow, this beginning, with so much being set up and the characters lacking true personalities. The Prince and the Assassin, especially, read far too similar during this portion of the novel to stand out and I didn't want Lia to fall for either of them.
The Second Quarter (A.K.A. Who Will Lia Pick?)
I'm not sure if it's a positive or a negative that Lia finally sets her sights on one of her two potential suitors in this section. Of course, the love triangle theme continues on during this last half of the first half, but once Lia sets her sights on one man, it was certainly a relief. Yet, what really shines in this aspect of the novel is the perspective of the prince. As he gets to know Lia, he also finds out why she fled her wedding and the accusations she holds against him are ones he uses to grow, change, and become a better individual. (The prince finds out about Lia's feelings through eavesdropping--she never reveals that she is a former princess.)
Yet, what truly annoyed me about this section is the fact that both the men in question, the prince and the assassin, begin to love Lia. Granted, Lia only loves one of them, but she still holds the other in high regard and the very fact that two men love the same woman constitutes a love triangle label, in my opinion. Now that the set-up is over, you'd think there would be more action but, instead, this section continues at a languid pace, outlying the normalcy of Lia's life. As we near the half-way mark of the novel, circumstances become evident to Lia and she recognizes that escaping from her wedding had many unforeseen and negative consequences on the kingdom as a whole. Thus, Lia prepares to head home--and we finally get our first glimpse of some action!
The Third Quarter (A.K.A. Action! ...Sorta)
With Lia heading back to reclaim her throne, tensions run high since the assassin has yet to make his move and the prince, who hasn't claimed his royal position either, must make a decision about the future. Before Lia can reach her palace--or even near it--however, she is kidnapped. I won't be giving away any more details because of spoilers, but I'll say that she was kidnapped by The One She Didn't Choose. What I liked about this part of the novel is that we finally see Lia grow and embrace her destiny. While she began this novel by running away, as the situation turns dire she forces herself to leave behind a life she loves--a life of freedom and love--to return to her home. When this plan is further thwarted, the backbone she grows and the determination she assumes are admirable. I finally began to like Lia at this stage in the novel. Moreover, Lia's relationship with her brother, Walther, is built up over the course of the novel and its continued realism and strength even at this stage of the novel only added to our growing depth of Lia as a character. Of course, the relationships at this stage are at their most complex as Lia is reeling from truths that have finally been revealed and The One She Didn't Choose still cares deeply for her, despite kidnapping her.
Sadly, I continued to feel a classic love triangle vibe as this portion of the story plodded along. It made me anxious throughout reading the narrative and the perspectives of The Guy She Did Choose were so weak in this section that I truly felt as if the romance was, once again, about the overtake the narrative. Due to the fact that Lia was no longer stationary, however, the world-building began to expand in this section and the political set-up at play, here, is certainly interesting to say the least. Unfortunately, with the focus of this novel being entirely on Lia and her relationship with these two guys, any real political situation was neatly prevented from being expanded upon. Instead, in this particular portion of the story, Lia gets to know her captives a bit better and their culture reflects further enhanced the world-building at play.
The Last Quarter (A.K.A. The End)
As I mentioned before, as this story draws to a close the love triangle is only further heightened as it becomes more and more obvious that both the men we met at the beginning of this story are besotted with Lia. Nevertheless, there are plenty of interesting revelations in this last quarter and as Lia undergoes various experiences, she finally transforms into a different kind of heroine, far removed from the naive girl she used to be. While I loved Lia's growth throughout the narrative, though, and found the reveals of "deception" to be well-timed, the ending of this story did little to strengthen my resolve in it.
The Kiss of Deception is a novel centered around the growth of one heroine, which I love, but sadly this growth further stems from a love triangle and various acts of "deception" that never kept the reader shocked, surprised, or entertained. It's a story where little happens and the world-building, though interesting, is not impressive enough to keep me glued on for another installment. Just too little happens in this story and, towards the end, when the tale finally finds its true stride, it ends.
Not only were the characters in this novel rather a-typical, but the desert setting and princess plot line has been done before and in far better instances. As a high-fantasy fanatic, I can claim that The Kiss of Deception is fantasy-lite, at best, if not romantic fantasy outright. It doesn't have a classic love triangle (not for its entire duration, at any rate), but even a situation where two guys are interested in the same girl seems to annoy me. What's more, The Guy Lia Did Choose and Lia have a very small romantic arc to constitute as true love. It needed a great deal of expansion for me and nearly leans towards the insta-love category in some ways. Ultimately, there is too little to recommend this novel forward. When I said that The Kiss of Deception came to an end, I meant my involvement with it came to a close as well. Granted, there are positive points to its narrative--I won't deny that--but this simply was not for me. The Kiss of Deception: here's to hoping I forget about you and your deceptively beautiful cover very, very soon.