Held captive in an enemy land, a princess ricochets among an assassin, a prince, and a barbaric ruler.
As The Kiss of Deception (2014) ended, Princess Lia entered Venda as a prisoner of Kaden, who’d been sent to assassinate her but instead brought her to Venda’s dictator, the Komizar. Whether locked in her room, sneaking through hidden catacombs, or being paraded outdoors by the Komizar, Lia’s never safe. She knows that her beloved Prince Rafe is imprisoned here too, in disguise, and could be killed anytime; the chance Lia will be killed lessens when the Komizar starts using her as a political symbol, but she’s still in danger. Pearson’s plot flows well despite some flowery prose and overexplanations. Themes of bloodshed, hunger, war, and manipulation simmer through several first-person perspectives, and an event near the end packs a wallop. However, for a story emphasizing vengeance, betrayal, and deception, the reveals are lukewarm, unlike the stunningly satisfying ones in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm series, while Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy makes meatier fodder of mis/trust, power, manipulation, and enormous stakes. There’s little new here: Lia’s critical role becomes as much about destiny as agency, and stereotypical Romany-esque “vagabonds” teach her about her magical gift.
Despite flaws, solid and absorbing high fantasy, with a sudden breathless hook to the next installment. (Fantasy. 14-17)