The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson, review by Melissa Fox
Thankfully, Mary E. Pearson is a skilled enough writer to give us both a world and characters that leap off the page. The world is Morrigan, a kingdom with a strict religion and rules for the First Daughters, especially of the royal family. They are given in marriage, with no choice or say in who they end up with. It's an elaborate ritual, one seeped in religion and tradition. The relations with their neighboring countries are tentative at best, violent at worse, which means the marriage of the royal family's First Daughter to the prince of a neighboring kingdom is of grave importance.
Unfortunately, that daughter is Lia: headstrong, opinionated, and not at all willing to go through with the (stupid) traditions of her parents religion. She makes a plan, and runs away on the morning of her wedding with her maid. She figures she can outwit the king's trackers, the assassin that's on her tail, and whoever else is after her, and escape to a seaside village and live happily in disguise.
For me it was Lia that made the book: she was independent, intelligent, and thoroughly confident in her decisions. She was feisty and rash, and managed the transition to acting like a commoner without that royal snobbery so often seen. Additionally, Pearson developed the characters of the men pursuing Lia, her maid, and even the bartender that Lia ends up staying with. There are no stereotypical characters here; everyone has depth and layers.
Sure: you can predict elements of the plot, and how the love triangle will turn out. Yes: Lia gets caught (it wouldn't be much of a story if she didn't). But in Pearson's hands, none of that seemed trite. In fact, the last third -- after Lia's decisions catch up to her -- is brilliant. It does leave you hanging, but the sequel is due out soon, so you won't have to wait.
It was an absolutely delightful read.