A girl raised as an assassin is sent after a cute boy in Sundari, an Indian-inflected fantasyland.
Marinda is a visha kanya, a poison maiden. She was given to her handler, Gopal, as an infant and dosed with ever stronger snakebites until her kiss itself is toxic. She's now 17, and Gopal regularly sends her out to kiss boys—on the orders of the Raja, he tells her—and though Marinda's plagued with guilt, she has no choice. Her 7-year-old brother, Mani, has a painful disease, and Gopal has the only medicine that helps. When Gopal sends her after dreamboat Deven, whose eyes are “pools of melted chocolate,” Marinda's torn between her unwillingness to hurt Deven and her need to protect Mani. She soon discovers her entire life is a lie and is left reeling, providing a solid setup for the B-movie climax. Decent plotting and romantic tension are strained by confusing worldbuilding. Indian food and creatures inspired by Hindu mythology provide Sundarian flavor: Marinda eats chapati and samosas; she fears the Raksaka and the Nagaraja. The technology level seems arbitrary; characters wear hiking boots and live in modern row houses with showers, but the Raja's palace is lit by torches, and his soldiers are armed with swords and spears.
Avoid this curry-house fantasy and try Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Conch Bearer (2003) or Roshani Chokshi's The Star-Touched Queen (2016) instead. (author’s note) (Fantasy. 12-16)