Pearson’s latest, a high fantasy kick-off to a series set in a pseudo-medieval world, is a big departure from her previous novels. She’s mostly known for the futuristic SF Jenna Fox Chronicles and a number of standalone realistic contemporaries. The Kiss of Deception proves her ability to write beautifully in any of these genres, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this series – called the Remnant Chronicles – surpasses her previous titles in popularity and acclaim.
Lia is a princess, the first daughter born to the king and queen of her country, which means she should have the sight (the ability to see or predict future events). She doesn’t. Her parents are sure it will appear, so they arrange a marriage between her and the prince of a neighboring country, based in part on her nonexistent ability. The two countries’ relations are tense, and this marriage would go a long way toward smoothing things over. But Lia knows her parents are manufacturing a deception, and she’s sure it will end in disaster, not to mention the fact she’s never met this man she’s supposed to marry. So she flees, along with her maid and friend Pauline.
They travel to a distant town, where Pauline has a relative who will set them up with jobs at her inn. Lia and Pauline are no longer princess and maid; they’re two common girls working honest jobs. Unbeknownst to Lia, the two young men who show up in the same town soon afterward are not who they appear either – one is the prince whom Lia jilted, and the other is an assassin sent to kill her. Lia must navigate her new life as well as the attentions of these two young men/boys – attentions which may appear friendly or romantic, but are potentially anything but. As a reader, I was right there alongside Lia, knowing just a touch more than her, but having to figure out most of it as she does.
It sounds a bit generic, and that’s a fair claim to make, actually. The basic plot is one you’ve likely read before, if you read much high fantasy at all (princess runs away from home to escape arranged marriage, encounters adventure). But the way the book is crafted – how the story unfolds – is what makes it special. Pearson juggles multiple narrators (Lia, the prince, and the assassin), all of them unreliable to some degree, revealing just enough at certain points to keep us reading further. When readers finally learn a big truth late in the story, it will send them flipping the pages back to spot the clues Pearson dropped for them – and they’re all there.
Writing a book with a “twist” (though I hesitate to call it that here, since it implies trickery) can be tough. Some readers love the feeling of surprise, while others may feel deliberately misled or lied to – manipulated, in other words. I suppose all fiction writing can be called manipulation, but it didn’t feel like that in Kiss of Deception. Rather, I felt that Pearson was challenging my assumptions, both as a reader and simply as a person who regularly interacts with other humans. Specifically, she’s telling her readers not to make assumptions about the people we come across – for good or ill. I also think it equally likely that many readers will not be fooled by the red herrings along the way and will easily see the truth from the outset, which is part of what makes the crafting of the story so good. These readers may even be surprised to learn that others were fooled into thinking something entirely different.
The Kiss of Deception is great not only because of this particular plot point. For much of the story, the pace is slow, leisurely, but it’s far from boring. It’s a bit of a world-building lovers’ dream: we see Lia settling into her life at the inn, learning her job and how to interact with people on their own level rather than as a royal. It’s a cultural shock of sorts, but Lia’s up to it. Sometimes she falters; sometimes she triumphs. She grows and comes into her own as a young woman. It’s interesting and quite literally builds character (just not in the way your mom tells you scrubbing the toilet will). By the time the plot really gets rolling a bit later on, I felt like I knew Lia well and saw things clearly through her eyes.
There’s romance here, and it’s lovely, but this is also a story about friendship. While Lia is clearly the protagonist, Pauline gets quite a lot of page time. She’s the best friend, yes, but she’s also a person in her own right, with her own dreams and disappointments. As her former maid, Pauline’s relationship with Lia could have suffered mightily once they started relating to each other in a different capacity. Instead, their friendship deepens. They continue to trust one another, comfort one another, and help each other past the rocky times, even if they do sometimes disagree. I was so glad Pearson didn’t manufacture jealousy and spite to end their friendship, as I’ve seen done in other similar stories before.
I read a lot of YA that feels a bit unfinished or just not as good as it could have been. Maybe the novel is the author’s debut, or the editing is a bit poor, or ideas are hazy or the writing a bit sloppy. That’s not the case here. It’s a beautifully crafted, sophisticated novel with fully-fleshed characters and an original way of telling the story. It’s perfect for any high fantasy fan, but especially good for those who loved Graceling and other fantasy novels that tackle the idea that your life should be your own to make, not anyone else’s.
Review copy provided by the publisher. The Kiss of Deception will be available July 8.