The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty
Publisher: Imprint- Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
Publication Date: May 9th, 2017
Sage has always been a rebel. Raised to be her own person, she detests the idea of marriage and wishes for a life of freedom as a teacher. Having lost her parents at a young age, she’s at the mercy of her aunt and uncle, who send her to their country’s matchmaker to be matched with a husband. There, Sage receives the surprise of a lifetime. Not only does the matchmaker see her potential as her future apprentice, but she asks Sage to spy on the girls as they make their way to match them with political alliances at the Condordium- a large-scale event that matches girls with their selected marriageable men.
Meanwhile, the soldiers escorting Sage and all of the girls have their own issues to deal with. Political uprising has been brewing for years, and they know that the tipping point to overthrow the royal family is near. Captain Quinn and his men decide to take advantage of their proximity to the woman and gather information about their families in hopes that they will discover information that will help them crush the rebellion. When Sage makes friends with Ash Carter, a handsome sergeant under the orders of Captain Quinn, her curiosity, and her feelings, soon gets the better of her; the more Sage learns about the soldiers and the girls she’s traveling with, the more she realizes that she can truly trust no one.
Erin Beaty is a 2017 debut author and it showed. While I found the first 40% or so of this novel incredible, the pacing soon became way too slow for a spy-fantasy-romance thriller. When we meet Sage and are introduced to her conflict, the novel seems intriguing. We first see her as a hot-headed teen who knows what she wants, and I liked that about her, but I already had some issues with her inconsistency as a character. One minute she’s running away from home, determined to be free, and the next she’s allowing her docile aunt to persuade her to stay and meet the matchmaker to be matched for a marriage (the very opposite of what Sage has decided she wants for her life…). But when the novel jumps to Captain Quinn in the next chapters and introduces the political uprising, the skirmishes with neighboring countries, things finally start to deepen and the plot really begins to open up. I loved that and I was ready to jump in wholeheartedly.
Sadly, halfway into the novel, the characterization started to dull out. Sage’s love interest, Ash Carter, doesn’t have an extremely dynamic personality. Sure, he’s the bastard child of the current king, but that’s really all that there is to him. He’s equally hot-headed and that kind of gets annoying after a while. Characters seem to have prejudices against other characters for no real reason other than a gut feeling, and Sage even women-hates quite a lot in this novel. After a while, I began to feel like she was one of those women who goes around raging, “if you’re feminism doesn’t look and sound exactly like mine, then you MUST be for the patriarchy.” Just because some of the women she’s traveling with enjoy fashion and makeup does not inherently make them vapid and worthless human beings. Why even write those secondary characters into your plot if your protagonist is going to hate on them for no reason? The mean girls in the novel are not even that mean to Sage. She just decides to hate them. That really bothered me. Sage and Ash’s romance got a little cringe-worthy during some points in the plot. It was predictable and not exciting, so when the two of them are suddenly pretending to have sex just to escape suspicion of some household staff, it just comes across as weird and voyeuristic, not exciting like I’m sure the author meant for it to be.
The world-building was underdeveloped for a fantasy novel. The ARC desperately needed a map and I sincerely hope that the final copy will include one because the constant references to people groups and different countries almost gave me whiplash trying to keep track of it in my own head. I soon gave up. This is a spy novel, but you kind of forget that after a while. I felt like the author gave the reader way too much information. Sage is spying for both Darnessa, the matchmaker, AND Captain Quinn of the military escort. All of the information that Sage gathers, the reader knows, plus we have additional information from chapters where Sage is not present. There was no mystery and no guess-work that the reader was required to do, and that was eventually disappointing. Additionally, the author pulls a “big reveal” about 75% into the novel and it fell completely flat because we already had all of the information we needed, and the reveal didn’t make sense. Beaty attempts to pull a Kiss of Deception move, but that entire plot device was honestly unnecessary; I had to re-read that chapter almost five times due to serious confusion.
Without revealing any spoilers, I don’t believe that this novel needs to be expanded into a trilogy. I don’t even know how the author is going to sustain that kind of story. The reader finishes The Traitor’s Kiss without any kind of cliffhanger, and every character’s conflict is resolved. I won’t say more because that will border on spoiler territory, but suffice it to say, I am shocked that this is going to be made into a trilogy. I wish the author luck…
If you enjoy spy-fantasy-thrillers with a side of romance, read The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, or Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin.