Hello everyone, and welcome back to Weekly Reads! Today I broke the rules again and read two YA fantasy novels (that start a series) back to back. I’m surprisingly okay with it! Not overly stoked in a squee way, but I’ll most likely read the sequels to both of these. Let’s get into it!
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Premise: A princess flees from her arranged marriage, only to face a love triangle between her intended husband and assassin, as well as some war and magic.
The Bad: Yes, I’m going about this backwards. So the thing is, this book really cleaves to a lot of stereotypes. Basically everyone who meets this princess is enchanted by her. There’s another hetero love triangle. There’s a bunch of male posturing. There’s a chosen one plot and prophecies. And the characters beyond the main three are barely sketches of people: the naive but loyal best friend, the gruff but kindly and teachery older women, the one particularly horrible barbarian, etc. And there was a secret identity that was secret to basically no one. (Also there’s some Stockholm syndrome realness that almost happens.)
The Good: Despite all that, the book kept me engaged. Part of that was worldbuilding, which grounded itself in daily life and vivid description. Another part of it was that this book does try to trick you regarding a midway reveal, and while I’m sure many people catch the play, I was reading quickly and didn’t, so I realized that however obvious that should have been, the writing was carefully crafted. (I found the reveal slightly disappointing at first, but I’m over it.) Also, Lia was a reasonably compelling heroine; she wasn’t too perfect and she didn’t have herself or her feelings entirely figured out (she also makes some questionable decisions), but that made her feel more real. And her inner strength and deep resolve made her likeable.
Overall: So on one hand, this book has some flaws, like relying on some common narrative crutches heavily and not delving into real character beyond the main three. (Also I have to deduct half a star for participating in that trope thing I am HATING in fantasy where someone attempts to sexually assault the heroine and rather than deal with her feelings or trauma about that in any sort of way, it’s just…a plot event that reveals something about other characters. Stop the madness.) On the other hand, all of that said, the attention to worldbuilding and the structure of myth in this world, as well as the feeling of a slow build towards a larger political narrative, really make me feel pretty positive about this book? It often feels like some fantasy authors drop a map and some names of regions and peoples on us and expect us to care, but The Kiss of Deception is really committed to drawing you in and making you wonder about the world. For that and the sake of Lia, who I generally like, I’ll go with this.
So I promised y’all I would give some authors I didn’t love at first read a second crack at it, and look! I followed through!
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Premise: A Beauty and the Beast retelling where the beast is a shapeshifting faerie with a curse and the beauty is fantasy-Katniss.
The Good: The split faerie-human world and the politics among faeries were very interesting; the worldbuilding in this was by far superior to the worldbuilding in Throne of Glass, by my reckoning, and that book was much longer. Feyre is a capable heroine, but the stakes for her are higher because she’s not absolutely perfect at everything (okay, okay, I’ll stop ragging on Throne of Glass); in fact, in a world of fae, she’s always fighting an uphill battle. Tamlin isn’t the kind of captor who makes you want to blame the couple’s affections on Stockholm syndrome, thank everything. And the final quarter of this book was riveting.
The Bad: The rest of this book was very unevenly paced. At some points, the pace was so glacial that I struggled. Feyre has struggled to survive for most of her life, so given a life a luxury, she…mostly just paints and has ~feelings, and that can get very boring. (I hope she discovers more of an individual sense of purpose in the sequel.) Also, I can only conclude that Tamlin is just a gigantic marshmallow who just gets angry when people hurt others. Which is okay, I guess? I hope he gets to have more of a clear personality now that he’s done hiding his motivations. Most of the characters in this book didn’t really get to be characters because we were in one perspective and most of the people we meet are hiding a lot, so that can be frustrating since we just get Feyre (who, like Katniss, doesn’t really know who she is yet beyond survival and the her previously humble dreams). Rhysand is an exception to that; I’m not usually drawn to his character type, but he’s interesting!
Overall: If I were grading this book on the payoff you get in the last quarter, it’s an easy 4 stars or maybe even 4.5.
But since it took 84 years to get there…like, I can’t emphasize enough to you the pacing problem this author has (from what I’ve read so far). It is like ten pages at a breakneck pace and then 100 of just…hanging out. (I don’t mind the slow moments when Feyre is learning a bit about the faerie world, but it feels like there are a lot of times there are just no stakes in a scene other than to remind us: Feyre is stubborn, Feyre likes painting, Feyre likes Tamlin but doesn’t want to admit it.) Then there’s a rapid-fire ending way more engaging than has any right to hang out with some of those other pages.
Where are my editors at? Seriously, there is an appropriate pacing for enticing a reader with a mystery, not giving an answer right away, but bringing out bits of reveals or full reveals while they still really care about the answer.
Anyway. I preferred this to Throne of Glass and if a competent editor compressed the first many pages and expanded the last 50 to 100, I would’ve really, really liked this book. I’m going to pick up the sequel and hope it surpasses the first as much as reviewers claim.
Starting off at a three is honestly solid coming from me, so it’s likely I’ll try these sequels pretty soon and see if they fall prey to the usual hazard of a series (getting progressively less good) or are the outliers that improve upon themselves (I’m told Sarah J. Maas does this in her two major book series, but I’ll have to find out for myself).
Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll catch you again on Tuesday!