Monday, September 8, 2014

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

The Kiss of Deception is the first novel in the Remnant Chronicles by the author of the Jenna Fox Chronicles. This novel which is fantasy adventure follows the fate of a young woman destined to be the saviour of her people.

Seventeen year old Princess Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia (Lia), First Daughter of the House of Morrighan, is getting married to the Prince of the House of Dalbreck. Against her will. The novel opens on the morning of her wedding day with the artisans placing the elaborate wedding kavah (a type of tattoo) on her back. Her wedding kavah contains the lion crest of Dalbreck along with elaborate vines.

Lia and Pauline weave a trail of false leads as they travel  from Civica south to Pauline's Aunt Berdi's home in the fishing village of Terravin. The colourful village with its blue, red, yellow and lime homes and shops set near the aquamarine waters of the bay seems like a jewel to Lia. Lia and Pauline tell Berdi what has happened, how Lia fled her forced marriage to the prince of Dalbreck. Berdi offers them a place to stay and in return they will work for her at her inn and tavern. When Lia goes to the river to bathe she hears a melody in the breeze  The urgent tone of the melody seems to suggest someone seeking to find her.  "I will find you... In the farthest corner...."

As Lia and Pauline settle in to Terravin they are unaware that two men are hunting for Princess Lia: the jilted prince of Dalbreck (Prince Rafferty) and an assassin (Kaden) hired by the Komizar of the Kingdom of Venda. The Prince is tracking her because he is furious at having been stood up. Sven, who has trained him since the age of eight, tells him that he is angry because he didn't think of fleeing first. A trained soldier in the Dalbreck army, he is an expert tracker and the only heir to the Dalbreck throne. It takes the prince three weeks to track Lia and Pauline to Terravin. But he's not alone. The assassin from Venda who has been ordered to slit her throat so as to prevent the alliance between Morrighan and Dalbreck, that would result from her marriage has also arrived in Terravin.

Lia meets two newcomers to Terravin at Berdi's tavern where she now works as a barmaid;the dark-haired blue-eyed calculating Rafe who Gwenyth pegs as a fisherman  and the blond-haired brown eyed  brooding Kaden who she believes is a trader. Both Rafe and Kaden end up staying in the barn loft while they separately wait to accomplish their missions. But both men don't count on being captivated by the strong-willed Lia. Lia too is at first captivated by the handsome Kaden and the dark mysterious Rafe.

When Lia goes to Devil's Canyon to pick berries she unexpectedly encounters Rafe who attempts to make peace with Lia. Neither is honest with the other. Rafe tells Lia that he is a farmer from a small town in the southernmost part of Morrighan, a town with no name while Lia tells him that she was a thief. Of course Rafe knows who Lia is but at this point, Lia does not realize Rafe's identity. When Rafe sees the remaining part of Lia's kavah, the lion's claw and vine on her shoulder, he asks her about it. But she tells him it is not a part of tradition but the evidence of a terrible mistake.

Both Rafe and Kaden witness Lia's secret meeting with her brother Walther, although they both believe she is meeting with a lover. Walther is a soldier in their father's army which runs patrols in the Cam Lanteux, a safety zone that exists as a buffer between the kingdoms. The barbarians have been kept back for hundreds of years and not allowed to settle in this area. She learns that Father has posted a reward for her arrest and return. But it appears that her father has other more pressing worries on his mind - marauders have destroyed the bridges in the north. Walther tells Lia that they suspect this is the work of the Vendans  who might be planning to attack Morrighan. The failed alliance with Dalbreck has not helped. We also learn that when Lia left, she took something of great value, several books written in the ancient languages from the Scholar, a man who is the expert on the Morrighan Book of Holy Text and who can translate some of these ancient languages. Lia has absconded with Ve Feray Daclara au Gaudrel and a Vendan text that she cannot read. Walther also tells Lia that his young wife, Greta is with child.

Although Lia initially favoured Kaden, she begins to find herself more strongly attracted to Rafe. Gradually Lia begins to fall in love with Rafe who also develops similar affections for her. He begins to realize that this seventeen year old princess is a complicated young woman. Rafe comes to understand why Lia fled from the arranged marriage to him when he overhears a conversation between Lia and Berdi. Kaden begins to struggle with his mission to assassinate the princess. He too has developed feelings for her and he realizes that he will also to have to kill her friend Pauline. He decides to wait until after the festival to complete his mission. However, Lia and her friends are suspicious of the two men who have stayed on for so long at the inn, without seeming to have any other work.

It is during the Festival of Deliverance to commemorate the deliverance of the Remanent that Lia's love for Rafe begins to truly blossom. This makes Kaden angry and when his fellow Vendans, Griz, Eben, Finch and Malich show up at the festival questioning why he hasn't fulfilled his duties, Kaden tells them to give him another week to do so.

When Walther returns to Terravin badly injured and distraught over the murder of his beloved Greta by a Vendan patrol, Lia decides that she must return home to Civica to help repair the damage she has done by running away. She doesn't know if the alliance between Morrighan and Dalbreck can be saved but she feels that she must live up to her duty as a First Daughter to try to save Walther and her other brothers. When Rafe learns of her decision to leave he asks her to meet him the next day on her way from Terravin, intending to return with her to Morrighan to ensure that she is not harmed by her father, the Chancellor or the Scholar.  However, that meeting never happens because Lia is kidnapped by Kaden and his band of Vendans, who are determined to take Lia to the Komizar.

When Rafe learns of Lia's capture through Pauline, he sets off in pursuit, using his considerable tracking abilities. Meanwhile as they journey across Cam Lanteux, Kaden tells Lia that he is merely trying to keep her alive because he does not want to fulfill his mission which is to kill her. The only way to ensure her survival is to lie to the Komizar and tell him that Lia has the "gift", some unknown ability to foretell the future. When they stop at a vagabond camp of the tribe of Gaudrel, an old woman named Dihara encourages Lia to learn to use her gift, telling her that she has been taught to ignore it when she was growing up and warning her that gifts that are not used shrivel and die. Dihara gives Lia a book that is a primer in Gaudrian used to teach several languages including that of Morrighan and Vendan. This now means that Lia will be able to decipher the Vendan book she stole from the Morrighan Scholar. Meanwhile,  Rafe, who with his men, is unable to catch up to Kaden, decides that they will race towards Venda in the hopes of intercepting Kaden.

Lia makes plans to escape from Kaden but these are thwarted when he suddenly announces they are resuming their journey to Venda. As Lia begins to practice trying to discern her gift, she begins to feel it developing. This leads to one day to become suddenly aware of a great danger approaching. This danger turns out to be a huge herd of bison which cause her to become separated from Kaden and to spend the night in a dark and dangerous forest. It is in this forest that Lia uncovers her true identity and destiny. How that destiny will play out remains to be seen as Lia witnesses the murder of her brother Walther when his patrol has a surprise encounter with the Vendan army. Distraught but not yet despairing, Lia enters Venda preparing to meet the deadly Komizar. Her date with the Komizar however, will be aided by the presence of the very man she now knows she loves, the man she refused only a few months ago.


The Kiss of Deception is well written with numerous plot twists that keep the reader engaged. Pearson tells her story utilizing the three narratives of  Lia, Rafe and Kaden with a short narrative of Pauline's near the novel's end. In an attempt to engage her readers, Pearson does not reveal directly to her readers which of the two men is the assassin and which is the jilted prince. This leads to some confusion and suspense in the first half of the novel. The first chapters are narrated by Prince and Assassin but when they appear in Terravin these narrations change to Kaden and Rafe respectively. This seems to be the pattern throughout the novel; something such as "the festival"  is introduced but not fully explained until many pages later.

While the novel opens with the fascinating hook of Lia having her wedding kavah done, a sort of nonpermanent tattoo, the middle section is slow as Pearson develops the romantic tension between Lia and the two men hunting her,  and as she builds her characters. It is this love triangle that is the basis for most of the conflict in the novel. As Lia comes to know Rafe and Kaden through the summer however, she gradually comes to chose Rafe, although she still believes Kaden to be a kind man. This belief in him continues after she is kidnapped by Kaden and seems unrealistic. He is taking her across the continent to a hostile kingdom whose ruler will likely do what Kaden did not - kill her. And equally unrealistic is that Lia is portrayed as still finding Kaden attractive despite knowing that he has killed many people in his work as an assassin.

All three main characters change during the course of the novel.  Lia becomes less self-centered and more concerned about how her actions might affect her world in a broader sense. At first her only thought is to flee, to reject the traditions and duties of her position as First Daughter in Morrighan. She haughtily rejects her mother's idea that she too is a soldier in her father's army. But by the end of the novel Lia has come to realize that this is a truth she must accept and that traditions and duty are important.

Despite being jilted by her, Rafe, whose true identity is finally revealed to Lia at the end of the novel, finds Lia very different from the princess he imagined her to be. Although headstrong, she is caring but deeply hurt about being treated as a mere bargaining chip by her father. Rafe finds himself willing to forgive Lia for what happened on their wedding day and to see her safely back to Morrighan. Rafe feels he is unworthy to now marry Lia because he has deceived and manipulated her and that she not forgive him.

Kaden whose allegiance is to Venda and his Komizar experiences the greatest conflict in the novel. He owes the Komizar his life and station but the price has been high. He is an accomplished assassin who expected to have murdered Lia quickly and efficiently. Instead, he finds that Lia is not as other royals he has met.

Woven throughout the novel are bits about the past of the world Lia, Rafe and Kaden inhabit. The texts of Morrighan talk about the people before them, known as the Ancients who were demigods controlling the heavens but who had been destroyed by the gods. The remains of their buildings can be found almost everywhere including Terravin. I love that Pearson placed a map in the novel, showing the position of the kingdoms. This is especially helpful during Lia and Kaden's journey to Venda. It helps the reader place the action in the story.

At close to 500 pages, The Kiss of Deception is a long read that might discourage some. However this is a captivating fantasy adventure with a hopeful romantic twist at the end. Readers will be anxious to learn what happens to Lia, Rafe and Kaden, to meet the cruel Komizar and to learn more about the history of what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world. The second novel, The Heart of Betrayal will be published in 2015.

Book Details:
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
New York: Henry Holt and Company     2014
486 pp.

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