The Traitor's Kiss by Erin Beaty
Book One of the Traitor's trilogy
Publisher: Imprint (Macmillan)
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Rating: 3 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
An obstinate girl who will not be married.
A soldier desperate to prove himself.
A kingdom on the brink of war.
With a sharp tongue and an unruly temper, Sage Fowler is not what they’d call a lady―which is perfectly fine with her. Deemed unfit for marriage, Sage is apprenticed to a matchmaker and tasked with wrangling other young ladies to be married off for political alliances. She spies on the girls―and on the soldiers escorting them.
As the girls' military escort senses a political uprising, Sage is recruited by a handsome soldier to infiltrate the enemy ranks. The more she discovers as a spy, the less certain she becomes about whom to trust―and Sage becomes caught in a dangerous balancing act that will determine the fate of her kingdom.
What I Liked:
This is probably going to end up ending the most mixed of mixed reviews of all time. I feel both extremes of the spectrum, with this book. On the one hand, there were parts of the story that I really enjoyed. On the other hand, there were parts of the story and the book in general that I abhorred. I recognize some problematic content, but mostly it was the boring quality of the writing and storytelling that dragged my enjoyment - and the rating - straight down.
Sage Fowler was taken in by her uncle, a nobleman, at a young age. Now sixteen, she is not marriageable, and she becomes apprenticed to a matchmaker. Sage detests matchmaking, but Mistress Rodelle - Darnessa - is extremely astute and a master manipulator when it comes to making matches. Sage learns how to be crafty and astute from Darnessa - more than she already was. Sage isn't working for Darnessa for very long before she, Darnessa, and a bevy of eligible noble ladies begin the journey to nation's capital for a large event to see the noblewomen married. Escorting them are highly trained young soldiers, led by Captain Alexander Quinn. Alex has a secret undercover mission to accomplish while escorting the ladies, one that Sage must not know about. But he decides to recruit Sage when he realizes how clever and observant she is. Navigating the web of deceit and scheming that surrounds them proves critical, because they uncover a plot that is on its way to toppling the kingdom.
This book is written in third-person, limited to several POVs. There is Sage's, and Alex's, and several others', though Sage's and Alex's are the most important. The chapters do not alter between characters. I personally really enjoy third-person narratives (most of the time), so this worked for me. Especially with all of the deceit going on (on both Sage and Alex's part, to the world and to each other).
Speaking of deceit, it was cleverly done, by Beaty - this very particular thing that she did that I won't talk about more specifically. She had me fooled for a little, but I figured it out long before the major hints were dropped. Mostly it was hope, and not quite "figuring it out". You'd have to read the book to see what I mean!
I had a hard time caring about Sage (and I'll take about her in the next section), but I did like Alex a lot. Alex is the first son of the General, and he is already a captain, at twenty-one years old. He is young but very mature, intelligent, clever, and selfless. He commands the attention and respect of everyone who meets and knows him, and with good reason. He kind of reminds me of Brigan (from Kristin Cashore's Fire, a.k.a. my favorite book of all time). He's quiet, alert, calculating, and perceptive, and he is brave and selfless and always concerned about protecting and accounting for everyone else. Alex is a good man and a good person, and I am in awe of all of the clever planning and scheming he did throughout this book.
The politics and the scheming were a lot to handle at times, so I commend Beaty on doing a fairly decent job of packing so much of it into a YA book. To be honest, I'm going to complain about how boring this book was in the next section, and that boredom is partly due to the amount of political "stuff" the author has going on (maybe too much). But on the other hand, it was cool that she went so far with everything political.
What else... I guess I liked the romance. No love triangle, and the romance is kind of neat, if you think about it (I won't say too much). I liked how little drama there was - especially since there was potential for A LOT of drama towards the end of the book. Again, no love triangle, and probably no love triangle in the future, though I don't want to speak too quickly. This latest crop of YA debut authors reaaaaaally seem to like introducing love triangles in book two.
The book ends very well, though one could argue that most book ones of a trilogy end really well. It's a good ending, and I liked it! In general, I liked the story, though it's not super original. Once I got past the first one hundred pages or so (maybe one hundred and fifty), I got a little more invested in the story and I wanted to know more. But I also had issues with the book - see below.
What I Did Not Like:
Ohhhhh boy. This might take a while. Or it might not. It's 2:30 AM and this review should have been posted two and a half hours ago, so, this section might be brief in comparison to how much I really want to discuss.
The beginning of this book was incredibly boring. Friends, I usually muscle through anything. I power through boring like nobody's business. Slow start? No problem! I will keep reading because I believe in you and your book and I want to give it a fair shot. Slow starts are the worst (or one of the worst) but they almost never deter me. But, friends. I almost stopped reading this book, after about one hundred pages.
Most of you know me well by now - I don't stopped reading. I don't DNF. I always finish books I start. And yet, I was so close to setting this one aside (and arguably never coming back to it, because who has the time for that). The first one hundred pages are so incredibly boring! My goodness, they are the reason why I am writing this review so late! I didn't care for Sage, or her tragic backstory (which doesn't really add up to me, by the way), or her pity-party in which she doesn't want to get married or be forced to do blah blah blah. I also didn't really care about whatever scouting mission Alex was on, because it was a real snoozefest.
Things started to look up when Alex and his soldiers begin escorting the caravan of ladies to the Concordium in the capital, to hopefully become brides of lords and nobles. Then things start to get a little more interesting - though still boring. I think I was fully invested when they reach a duke's home, because that is when action actually starts to happen.
Is this a slow-burn type of story? Maybe? But it took way too long to get to any type of "good stuff", especially for a YA fantasy novel. Sure, Sage is supposed to be some great intellectual, and Alex is supposed to be a very clever soldier, so you'd expect a lot of mind games and internal action happening. But there was too much thinking and politics and it was incredibly boring.
Keep in mind, I usually love the intellectual mind games and the politics. But in this book? Snooze.
Also, the fact that this book is a YA high fantasy baffled me a little, mostly because I had a hard time grasping the world-building. I could barely keep track of the names of the countries, let alone figure out who was an enemy country and who wasn't. The author did a poor job of conveying the world to readers. I don't even know what nation Alex is from and is serving! Demora? I don't think it's Kimisara because I'm 80% sure Kimisara is the enemy country. Maybe? See!
The author also had me a little lost when it came to the skin tones and physical descriptions. I think she was trying to be purposefully vague AND make sure we knew that she had some diversity going on, in her book. But I was just so confused. So is Alex some sort of golden/tanned-skinned guy? Mixed heritage? Sage is pale? The enemies are "dark"-skinned? It bothered me how often the author used the same word to describe skin tone (dark, dark, dark), though I suppose there isn't anything flagrant about the word.
I didn't really like Sage - well, I liked her sometimes, and other times I didn't. I didn't like her at all, in the beginning. She is incredibly stuck up! She grew up with poor parents who let her run around in the forest and become one with nature (I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea), so when her uncle of genteel birthing takes her in with his wife and small children, Sage is not amenable to the domestic lifestyle and refuses to get married. What's more, she really looks down on the ladies that are sent to the matchmaker to get married. Who are you to judge young ladies who want a matchmaker to help them secure their future? Who are you to judge whether they are frivolous or shallow because they like gorgeous dresses and looking pretty? Sage is such a snob! Look, I have nothing against girls who don't like what are known as typically "girly" things (dresses, hair, giggling about boys, whatever), but I also have nothing against girls who DO like those things. Sage could be a little less judgmental? Read: a lot less.
But she sort of grew on me, as the story went on. She is so nosy and way too intrusive for her own good, but I don't deny that she is smart and occasionally capable, and realistic in many cases. Like, she knows she isn't suddenly an expert in defending herself after having one lesson in fighting.
Originally, this book was pitched as a Mulan retelling. Now I think they're pitching it as some sort of Jane Austen inspired novel. In any case, the Mulan retelling aspect is garbage, and I don't know why the author and publisher were selling this one as that. Helllooooooooo, whitewashing! And I'm really not understanding the Jane Austen pitch (and yes, I've read enough Jane Austen to know).
Tl;dr - the book was boring and not just in the beginning, though mostly in the beginning. There are problematic aspects, there are annoying aspects, and I didn't always like the female protagonist. And I was confused about the world-building.
Would I Recommend It:
I'm going to go ahead and say no, I don't recommend this book. Who even knows what kind of mess the author will make, in book two? There was NO HINT of love triangle in this book, but I'm pretty much going to just brace myself for the introduction of some mysterious hot prince or something, who will fall in love with Sage (and of course she'll return those feelings even though she has found her one and only, in this book). This book wasn't impressive, it wasn't a big hit like I expected, and it's a trilogy written by a debut author. Yeah, I don't recommend it.
2.5 stars. I think I'll round up to 3 stars because there were aspects of this book that I really liked (Alex, the romance, the general story, the amount of insane deception going on). But it really wasn't anything special, and there were enough problems to irritate me. I might read the rest of the series? I might not? I think I need to see the synopsis of book two to make that decision.
Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!