Beginning The Kiss of Deception, I was struck by the similarity between so many other stories where a princess is dreading her arranged marriage to a man she doesn't know and has never met and the ensuing thwarting of her royal parents' plans. There was one small change and that was the princess lying face down and nake while artisans painted what amounts to a mehndi (henna painting) on her back that merged the symbols of two houses: the princess's and the betrothed's. The dress she put on framed the kavah (mehndi) with lace and precious fabrics and the princess was stunned by the beauty of the work, work that she plans to destroy as soon as she can get away from her parents and the guards. Princess Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia, First Daughter of the ruling house of Morrighan, is just such a boring princess and I forced my way through the first two chapters.
It was after the first two chapters that things, and Lia, as her brothers call her and she prefers, flees Morrighan with her best friend and personal maid, Pauline, to Pauline's home before her mother died and she was sent to Civica, the Morrighan capital, to become Lia's maid. What happens next is far more interesting than would at first appear. The Kiss of Deception is far more complex and yet simple in its premise. Lia wants to fall in love and marry a man of her own choosing, a man who values her above her position, her royal blood, and the power of magic that reportedly courses through her, the power of the Sight, which she does not have. She knows the power; her mother has it. Lia does not -- or does she?
Lia is different from most privileged princesses used to dining on fine food, drinking the best wines, and dressing in finery. She wants an uncomplicated life, the life of every free man and woman in her country, a life worth living as her privileged life never was. It makes things interesting that Lia is also an intelligent woman with a sharp, ungoverned tongue who felt more at home with her brothers than with the life she was corralled and groomed to lead, a life of duty to family and country and marriage for the sake of alliance.
Two men, one the prince Lia spurned and an assassin set to kill Lia to keep the two kingdoms from merging with the marriage. Both men follow Lia and Pauline to the village and are entranced by Lia's bold manner and beauty. It does help that the prince discovers the pot boy has seen Lia's kavah. The assassin aligns himself superficially with the prince to keep from being quickly discovered and the games begin.
While Mary E. Pearson's characters are memorable and interesting, she does lavish a great deal of detail on Lia's eccentricities that would otherwise put her at risk if this were anything but a fantasy, specifically a jeweled dagger that no tavern wench would own, Lia's aura of command and privilege, and her tart tongue. Lia may model herself after a saucy tavern wench, but she fails horribly and ends up about as subtle as a holocaust in the middle of the small town square.
Aside from those serious flaws, Lia is an interesting character and the situation between the prince, the assassin, and Lia make for a fascinating read. I raced through the story, which, for me, is a good indicator that I am enjoying the suspension of disbelief, even though suspending disbelief is a little more difficult than usual. The Kiss of Deception is the first book in the Remnant series and a fantastical fantasy worth the read. Many will miss the glaring errors and focus only on Lia's good heart, bravery, smart mouth, and boldness. These are all good qualities that would have pushed Pearson's first novel in the Remnant series into a much higher rating than 3/5 stars. Even so, the book and the characters are worth taking the plunge.