An elite soldier and the head of an unacknowledged dynasty fall in love while telling each other lie after lie.
Six years after the war described in The Beauty of Darkness (2016), the queen of Venda sends three top soldiers to hunt down a war criminal. One soldier is 17-year-old Kazi, formerly “an invisible street rat” of Venda, who honed her consummate thieving skills after her mother was kidnapped into (probable) sex slavery. The war criminal may be hiding at Tor’s Watch, where the ancient Ballenger Dynasty is newly led by 19-year-old Jase Ballenger. Tor’s Watch is politically unrecognized by the other kingdoms, and although the Ballengers refuse to demarcate their borders, they’re fiercely territorial. There are ongoing, possibly rogue, threats to their home, city, and trade arena. Kazi and Jase’s meet-cute is a meet-slam (her knife at his throat), and, of course, while chained together by kidnappers and deceiving each other incessantly, they fall in love. The action and reveals have strong content but little punch, and the romance is overwritten (“I was dancing with fire and hoping not to get burned”). However, Pearson’s plotting is solid, and the last section picks up steam, ending on a cryptic cliffhanger that begs the sequel to hurry. Kazi and Jase seem white by default; a few characters are noted as brown-skinned.
Questions of trust, trauma, loyalty, and territory, for readers who enjoy lie-infused romance. (Fantasy/romance. 14-17)