My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The phrasing annoyed Sage. As long as she was pretty and in a good mood, her husband would love her? People needed love most when they weren’t at their best.
You might be wondering why in the world did I give this book 4 stars. After all, many people have given it 1 star because it supposedly reinforces girl hate and racism. Basically, the majority of the YA community claims that The Traitor’s Kiss is a sexist and whitewashed retelling of Mulan. I generally respect the opinions of my fellow readers, but I think that the hate surrounding this book is predominantly subjective. Hopefully, my review will encourage others to be open-minded and give this book a chance.
The Traitor’s Kiss is less like Mulan and more like a Jane Austen novel, such as Pride and Prejudice. Like the latter, this book features an empowered female protagonist who lives in a patriarchal world where marriage makes the world go round. Unlike her peers, Sage is not eager to be a mere political pawn. Deemed unfit for marriage because of her “lack of femininity,” she becomes a spy for the most sought after matchmaker in the kingdom. Sage’s story becomes more intriguing when an enigmatic soldier named Quinn asks her to help him eradicate a political conspiracy.
I was able to read this book rather quickly because I was engrossed by the plot. For me, there was hardly any dull moment, even at the beginning of the novel. The perfect balance between romance and political intrigue piqued my interest. I normally read two to five books alternately, so I was quite surprised that this book monopolized my attention. The climax of the book was particularly intense and well-executed. A lot of things were happening to many characters, but the author managed to connect them in such as way that was delightfully comprehensible.
I’ve always been fond of empowered females, so Sage was easy to like. As her name implies, Sage was a very wise/erudite character. She loved reading, gathering information, and sharing her knowledge with others. Her keen intuition definitely made her a force to be reckoned with. It even came to a point that no one could keep secrets from her. At least not for a long time. xD
As I’ve mentioned earlier, many readers have expressed their indignation for the girl hate in this book, which apparently depicts femininity in a negative way. With that in mind, it is true that Sage and her peers said mean things about each other. However, I believe that this could be viewed as a depiction of society in general, specifically of the struggle between the upper and lower classes. Throughout the novel, both men and women looked down on Sage because of her status as a commoner. In other words, the mean girls in this book weren’t naturally mean because of their sex. Furthermore, like the male population of our own world, not all females are inherently or totally good. I myself have met my fair share of mean girls (and boys). Thus, please don’t judge the author for adding a touch of reality to her book. For heaven’s sake, you don’t have to take things personally!
The next aspect of this book I enjoyed was the absence of instalove. Sage and her love interest had an “organic,” slow-building relationship. I loved that there weren’t any cheesy sparks or internal monologues about fate, meeting their other half, or whatever overrated concept. This is going to sound vague, but I also liked their relationship because it was reminiscent of The Kiss of Deception. It’s no wonder Mary E. Pearson (one of my favorites authors) blurbed this book. That plot twist messed with my mind for more than an hour!
Finally, although this book is infamous for being racist, I actually appreciated its diversity. I honestly couldn’t understand why people described it as whitewashed when many of the characters (both protagonists and antagonists) were people of color. The Kimisar, the secondary antagonists, were indeed “dark-skinned.” However, it is important to note that the main antagonist was “light-skinned.” In other words, both “dark-skinned” and “light-skinned” people were depicted as capable of doing evil. Hence, “equality” was achieved, and you don’t have to be so triggered. :l
Nevertheless, the haters were right about one thing: skin tone was unnecessarily (and sometimes ridiculously) described in this book. Here are some examples:
1. Kimisar were even darker than Demorans from Aristel, and this close he almost faded into the shadows.
2. He had the darker skin of an Aristelan as well as the nearly black hair. She’d never be able to match his color even if she stayed outdoors all summer.
As you can see, the word choice sounds mocking, if not condescending. I would have given this book a higher rating if the colored characters had other distinguishing characteristics worth mentioning. Whether we like it or not, political correctness is imperative nowadays. Sadly, it wasn’t consistently shown in this novel. I wasn’t personally triggered, but I was bothered by how the descriptions made me want to laugh. :3
Overall, I encourage you to read The Traitor’s Kiss with an open mind. It does fall short in regards to its emphasis on skin tone, but it really doesn’t deserve to be hated. Gleaning upon the strengths I mentioned, I can honestly say that Erin Beaty is a promising author. I look forward to reading her future works. 🙂