Kiss of Deception, left off. Princess Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia known as Lia and Rafe are prisoners of Venda's Assassin, Kaden, who is taking them to the barbarian kingdom of Venda. Lia is struggling to cope with her brother Walther's death at the hands of the Vendans who massacred his entire patrol. Kaden has disobeyed his Komizar's orders to kill her and instead is bringing her back alive.
Taken to the seat of power known as Sanctum Hall, Lia meets the Legion of Governors and the Komizar, a man not much older than her brother Walther. Speaking in Lia's native Morrighese, he treats her with derision. Kaden tells the Komizar that he spared Lia's life because she has "the gift" and could be of use to them. To intimidate Lia, the Komizar singles out Wather's baldrick from the spoils collected from Lia's brother's patrol and chooses it for himself.
Lia is placed in a room with Prince Jaxon Tyrus Rafferty, whom Lia knew as a farmer named Rafe in Terravin and whom she fell in love with. When Lia fled from her arranged marriage to Prince Jaxon in Morrighan, he pursued her because she was a political embarrassment to him and because she aroused his curiosity. But now he loves her and she him. Rafe tells Lia that help is on the way in the form of four of his best men. Lia is unconvinced that four men will be able to help them and warns Rafe to guard his words carefully as the Komizar does not miss a thing. Afraid that he has lost her love, Rafe tries to convince Lia that he will redeem himself. "I deceived you. I'm not the farmer I claimed to be, but I hope I can make you fall in love with me again, this time as a prince, one day at a time. We've had a terrible start -- it doesn't mean we can't have a better ending."
Immediately the Komizar sets out to humiliate Lia by having her wear a cloth sack that barely covers her and parades her through the Sanctum. Lia and Rafe are brought to see the Komizar and Kaden in front of the governors and citizens of Venda. The Komizar concedes Lia may have value, but wonders about Rafe. To prevent his execution, Rafe tells the Komizar that he is an Emissary for Prince Jaxon, sent to determine if Lia really fled from her wedding or if it was a planned retaliation. Lia's marriage to Prince Jaxon was to create an alliance between Morrighan and Dalbreck. To ascertain if Rafe is telling the truth, the Komizar calls in Griz who has seen Prince Jaxon and his court in Dalbreck. Griz recognizes Rafe as Prince Jaxon but does not reveal him to the Komizar. Rafe falsely informs the Komizar that the King of Dalbreck will die soon and that the kingship will pass to Prince Jaxon who is seeking an alliance with Venda. Prince Jaxon will allow Venda to have all of Morrighan except for a port. Rafe tells the Komizar that once the King is dead, the Prince Jaxon will meet with him in a neutral area in the Cam Lanteux. The Komizar is skeptical and tells both Lia and Rafe that if Rafe has lied he will be sent back to Morrighan in pieces.
Meanwhile Pauline and Gwyneth are on their way to Civica in Morrighan to see the Viceregent. Pauline hopes the Viceregent will tell the King in a way that will help Lia. However, Gwyneth sends a note without Pauline's knowledge to the Chancellor requesting a meeting. When Pauline learns of this she is furious because the Chancellor hates Lia, but Gwyneth tells her that everything must pass through the Chancellor's office first. If Pauline went straight to the King and he refuses her, they have no other options. When Gwyneth finally meets the Chancellor she tells him that Princess Arabella has been abducted by the Vendans. The Chancellor's response is one of disbelief but he promises to speak with the king and queen. To Gwyneth and Pauline's dismay, Lia's parents, the King and Queen of Morrighan do not intend to rescue her and are now more concerned about Prince Walther who has disappeared. They do not know he has been murdered by Kaden and his Vendan soldiers.
When Lia attempts to drive a wedge between the Komizar and Kaden, he warns her that if she kills him, she will be the next Komizar, just as he did when he was eighteen. He tells her that the bond between him and Kaden has many years as he rescued Kaden who was starving on the street. Calanthra, a one eyed woman who has been assigned to care for Lia, escorts her to the Sanctum Hall for a meal with the Komizar, Rafe and Kaden in attendance along with many others. At this meal the Komizar ridicules Lia who is still wearing the ill-fitting sack. That night the Komizar assigns Lia to Kaden's quarters in an attempt to cause friction between Kaden and Rafe. Concerned for her well being Kaden gives her clothing and a place to sleep but does not touch her. Lia also learns more about the city - that it was built on the ruins of another great city of the Ancients. Kaden reveals that there is a vast underground network of tunnels and caverns and that the bridge Lia entered the city by is the only out.
The next morning Lia is brought her warm boots by a young girl named Aster. Aster reveals that Venda has been killing many patrols and that war booty has been arriving in the city frequently. This becomes very evident to Lia when Kaden takes her to meet the Komizar and she sees wagons of Morrighese wines arriving. The Komizar, who is leaving for Balwood Province in the north, assigns Kaden as the Keep - the person in charge while he is away. He tasks Kaden who is part of the Rahtan, soldiers united in their allegiance to the Komizar, with the execution three young soldiers who ran away during a raid. During the Komizar's absence, Kaden takes Lia to the jehendra to have some clothes made for her on the Komizar's orders. Efferia makes Lia a riding outfit but also a beautiful dress.
Kaden also explains more of Venda's history to Lia: that one of the ruins was once over 600 hundred feet high and that it was a monument to one of the Ancient's leaders. Lia knows that after the devastation, paper records were not preserved but that the scholars of Morrighan were skilled at interpreting the rare documents that did survive.
The next day Lia discovers a secret passage out of Kaden's room that leads to the Sanctum. The passage allows her to visit Rafe where they catch up on what has been happening. She also tells him about stealing documents from the Royal Scholar's library, one an ancient text called the Song of Venda. This text tells about Venda, the wife of the first ruler, who "told stories and sang songs from the walls of the Sanctum to the people below." Lia tells Rafe that the song foretells about a dragon who would rise, one that fed on the tears of mothers" and that someone named Jezelia would challenge the dragon. However, Rafe is unconvinced and worried that the stress of their situation is affecting Lia.
Lia makes an astonishing discovery during her exploration of the tunnels. In a vast cavern beneath the Sanctum, she discovers robed figures who are not Vendan and who are scholars. They indicate they are simply providing knowledge but do not specify exactly what that is. All of the mysterious happenings seem to suggest to Lia that something terrible is about to happen. The kavah that does not fade, her discovery of the Song of Venda and its mention of a woman with her name, the Royal Scholar of Morrighan hiding books and hiring a bounty hunter to kill her are all very strange. Can Lia uncover the mystery of all these events and escape from Venda with Rafe?
Lia has been sitting out on the wall for several days and soon feels compelled to share aloud her "remembrances" or prayers. The crowds soon flock to listen to Lia especially when she is given a dress of the oldest clan of Venda, the Meurasi. While the people love her, the dress serves to inflame the wrath of the Council, especially Malich and the Governors. Kaden warns her to be very careful. At night Lia learns the names of the Governors and the Rahtan. The Komizar returns after having located the new governor of Balwood and sends Kaden out to find the other missing one. However, before he leaves, Kaden reveals his true heritage to Lia; he is the bastard son of a Morrighese lord who abandoned him. When his mother died, Kaden was given to passing beggars.
With Kaden gone, Lia is taken by the Komizar to many hamlets in Venda. In each he tells them that Lia fled Morrighan to join Venda and brings them supplies to help them through the approaching winter. Without Kaden to watch her, Lia along with Aster explore the tunnels and discover a vast room filled with more books than the library in Morrighan. Lia sees men in robes sorting through books, keeping some but discarding most. Aster quickly steals a book for Lia. This book is very different from the ones Lia has seen and she does not recognize the language. Lia now knows that the scholars in the caverns beneath the Sanctum are translating the lost books of the Ancients. The question is why? As Lia struggles to find a way to escape from Venda with Rafe, she comes to know the terrible secret the Komizar is hiding from his people and the possibility that her presence in Venda is no accident.
In The Heart of Betrayal, Pearson weaves an intricate story that involves two kingdoms at odds and the discovery of a betrayal that may destroy one of them. This second novel works its way to a major revelation that the cruel Komizar of Venda is preparing for war with Morrighan. The Morrighan patrols are being destroyed so as to hide something important, something Morrighan would never suspect of the barbaric, backward kingdom of Venda. As Lia unwillingly prepares to become Queen of Venda, she is shown the Komizar's plans to invade Morrighan and destroy it with a massive army. Furthermore this enormous army is very advanced because it has been built on the technology of the Ancients, uncovered by traitorous scholars from Morrighan, from the vaults beneath Sanctum Hall.
Based on what she has read from the Song of Venda, Lia believes the song foretells of a "terrible greatness rolled across the land" and that a woman named Jezelia would confront the dragon. As Lia continues to have visions of Venda in the Sanctum, she begins to realize that the fact that she shares the same name as the woman in the Song of Venda is no coincidence and that maybe she is the one who will have to confront the evil of the Komizar. This further intensifies the conflict between the two main characters, the Komizar of Venda and Princess Arabella (Lia) of Morrighan at the beginning of The Heart of Betrayal. In this novel, the Komizar has the advantage. He has Lia as his hostage and is preparing to force her to marry him. The marriage is a pretense, serving as an aid to him ruling in difficult times as he starves his own people while building a huge war machine and to sow discord in Morrighan when they learn that their Royal First Daughter is a traitor. It also prevents Lia from returning to Morrighan to tell them what she knows. Her only chance to stop the Komizar is to escape with Rafe. With the help of his men, Lia and Rafe manage to do this but at a great cost. Both the Komizar and Lia are seriously wounded. However, novel ends leaving many questions unanswered; the reader does not know whether Kaden has been killed by Malich, whether the Komizar has in fact been killed by Lia, and what has happened to Lia and Rafe. The cliffhanger ending leads perfectly into the next novel which will likely feature the war between Venda and Morrighan and lead to a direct confrontation between the Komizar who is the dragon and Lia who also bears the name of Jezelia.
Pearson has written in a love triangle that involves Lia, Rafe and Kaden. While both Rafe and Kaden love Lia, she loves only Rafe to the point that she is willing to marry the Komizar in order to save Rafe's life. It's a love triangle that does not dominate the story but sees Lia having to play a role that makes her seem interested in Kaden while ignoring Rafe publicly in order to deflect the Komizar's attention. She knows Rafe's playing a role which if discovered will cost him his life. All this makes Lia a strong character, determined, intelligent and self-sacrificing. Surprisingly, Rafe is really a minor character in this novel until the very end. Lia's arch-enemy is the Komizar whose real name is Reginaus. Pearson excels at developing this character as the cruel, manipulative man reminiscent of an evil dictator, a destroyer who stops at nothing to achieve power.
Pearson gives us a hint as to who the Ancients were and where Venda is when Lia and Kaden come across a huge broken temple with "great slabs of white stone" and "the enormous sculpted head and partial shoulders of a man." They find one large slab of stone engraved with the letters F REV R. It's obvious that this is the remains of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and that the story is set in post-apocalyptic America.
The Heart of Betrayal is a very long novel, slow in the middle as it sets up for the stunning revelation near the end and the exciting climax. Pearson knows how to capture her reader's attention and maintain that interest, revealing pieces that fit together nicely. The theme of betrayal is central in the novel. There is the betrayal by the scholars of Morrighan; "He pushed back his hood, and my stomach turned with nausea. He was my tenth-year tutor, Argyris. One by one, the others pushed back their hoods too. These weren't just any scholars from remote regions. These were the elite inner circle, trained by the Royal Scholar himself. The Royal Scholar's second assistant, the lead illuminator, her fifth and eighth year tutors, the library archivist, two of my brother's tutors..." When Lia questions Argyris about his betrayal he states, "We're not exactly traitors, Arabella...We're merely scholars, Princess, doing what we do...What others do with our findings is not our business. We simply uncover the worlds these books hold." It is from Garvin that Lia learns of the Chancellor's role in subverting Morrighan.
Likewise Lia comes to understand the terrible betrayal perpetrated by Kaden. Lia remembers Kaden "holding me as I watched my brother die, saying how sorry he was. Kaden with his steady eyes. His deceptive calm. His devastating betrayal." but now realizes that while he was telling her he was attempting to save her life by bringing her to Venda, he and his Komizar were planning to kill everyone who matter to her. Kaden tells her that they will march on Morrighan and remove those in power. Her sense of betrayal runs deep because she has been used as a pawn in a plan for vengeance against his father. Although he attempts to tell her that he has an agreement with the Komizar, Lia reminds him that such agreements bring little to those who will die in Morrighan.
There is also the betrayal of Lia's parents, the King and Queen of Morrighan who seem not to care about their daughter and who do not believe her friends who insist that she was taken against her will to Venda.
The Heart of Betrayal is even better than Kiss of Deception. Pearson does fantasy well and her third novel in the Remnant Chronicles is eagerly anticipated!
The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson
New York: Henry Holt and Company 2015