Review: The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Title: The Heart of Betrayal
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Genre: fantasy, post-apocalyptic, young adult
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #2
Pages: 470
Published: July 7 2015
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4.5/5

Intrigue abounds in this hotly anticipated sequel to The Kiss of Deception!

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save her life, Lia's erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar's interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: there's Rafe, who lied to Lia, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be barbarians. Now that she lives amongst them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country... and her own destiny.

If there's an antidote for Second Book/Sequel Syndrome, Mary E. Pearson has it.  Last year the first book in this post-apocalyptic/fantasy hybrid series was a fun and engaging, if flawed, introduction to the world of Lia and Terravin, but Heart of Betrayal, with the Komizar in Venda, is to Kiss of Deception what Crown of Midnight was to Throne of Glass. In every way, this sequel improves upon its predecessor. It's just as fun but has more depth; there's action, but it's balanced by a more political plot; the familiar characters are further developed and the new ones are just as well rendered. Pearson's story and filled out has grown to fit the imagination shown in the first.

The Heart of Betrayal is much less concerned with the romance this time around... and somehow, that makes the romance-as-a-subplot work a lot better. It helps that the cleverly constructed but still irritating love triangle is resolved (sorry Liaden shippers) but that doesn't mean that it's happily ever after for Rafe and Lia, especially once the Komizar comes into play.

So often YA novels focus on just the importance of starting a relationship between main characters but not dealing with the... shenanigans the preceded it, or the work that goes into maintaining it. That is not so here -- both Lia and Rafe have to come to terms with questions about their relationship and each other. They've both lied, deceived, and manipulated each other -- it's not a perfect pairing. It could be overwrought and overwhelm the real plot, but Pearson handles it pretty well. The forced-apart-for-reasons trope is rarely well-employed but Pearson sells it here by making those "reasons" authentic to the plot and the characters' situations.

Speaking of reasons keeping the love interests apart... let's talk about new characters and places. I loved seeing the new sides of the world with the introduction to Venda thanks to Lia's abduction. The author didn't go into as much worldbuilding detail as I would like to see (especially with the near-canon nod that yes, this was once America [CALLED IT!]) but did a decent job of presenting Venda as a completely different and organic culture. However, since we are two books in, there are some holes in the worldbuilding that need filling and fast, if this trilogy is going to wrap up satisfactorily. We do see more interaction between the countries but there is little else to go on, which bums my fantasy-loving heart. I am so interested in this world that Pearson has envisioned (almost akin to Erika Johansen did with The Queen of the Tearling series) but I need more solid information to really endorse it.

Character-wise, I can always appreciate a good antihero. Pearson walks the line with crafting  the Komizar -- I couldn't quuuuiiiiite get there even with my penchant for loving the antihero --- but she makes him a compelling and intriguing character despite his many faults. There are hints about his past that hopefully are explored further later in the books but he is the focus of the novel as much as Lia for all of his being a latecomer to the series. Lia reacts to him rather than the pattern we are used to from the first book (Lia making decisions and everyone else scrambling to keep up, compete, etc.) and he's a well-drawn antagonist. Calantha remains opaque and unpredictable but has potential for a larger role and more importance with her strategic position and her privileged knowledge.

Lia really comes into her own over the course of The Heart of Betrayal. She was always a likeable but naive character but here, with grief and maturity and determination tempering her, she's becoming quite a clever force to reckon with. Even as a prisoner, or a captive, Lia never gives up or stops playing the mental game.  Outnumbered and out of her depth, she fights back and plans her vengeance but she does so intelligently and with care. Lia is many things, but her intelligence and her empathy are two of my favorite aspects to her characterization. Rafe has less to work with (damn you third person) and less time as a narrator, but he also matures over the course of the book.

The Heart of Betrayal is darker book than I was expecting, given the first novel's plot and tone. It's not a typical fantasy, but Pearson isn't pulling punches. This second book is more serious, more thoughtful, and a damn good read.


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