The Kiss of Deception: The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson; Henry Holt, 496 pages ($17.99). Ages 14 and up.
A Morrighan princess, set to marry the prince of Dalbreck to cement an alliance between two kingdoms, flees on her wedding day in this marvelous, if unfortunately titled, first installment of a new series from the author of the acclaimed Jenna Fox Chronicles. Pearson offers a richly imagined fantasy world and effectively uses alternating narrators (the princess, the assassin) in a way that prolongs the suspense about the identity of the Venda assassin sent to kill the princess. She offers a portrait gallery of memorable characters with interesting back stories, quoting ancient texts of the various kingdoms between chapters to offer a mythic backdrop to her tale. The cliffhanger ending leaves the reader hungry for more. Does the princess have The Sight, the power to foretell events? And what is the significance of an ancient text that it’s worth killing over? The barbarians of the Kingdom of Venda may be most interesting of all: Kaden, with his hideous scars; the child assassin Eben. As in all the best fantasy novels, this one comes with a detailed map. The Remnant Chronicles will appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore’s “Graceling” and “Bitterblue” books.
– Jean Westmoore
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian; Doubleday, 288 pages ($25.95)
Emily Shepard’s famous namesake once wrote that “The Soul selects her own Society – Then – shuts the Door.” Shepard, the runaway Vermont teenager who narrates Chris Bohjalian’s new novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” is just as choosy.
Surprisingly, one of the few companions that Shepard – a cutter, dope smoker and OxyContin popper, and sometimes a reluctant “prositot” for truckers – selects is Emily Dickinson, the Belle of Amherst. Shepard leans on Dickinson’s poetry and life story the way other teens might lean on rap music or the Bible: as a source of inspiration and pleasure, and as a filter for trying to make sense of her own experiences.
If you’ve already formed a mental Polaroid of Shepard based on my description of her, I suggest you tear it up. She’s more complicated than that. “As you have no doubt figured out by now, judgment – and what we call good judgment – is not topmost in my skill set,” she reports near the end of her adventures.
She’s on the run because a nuclear plant in northeast Vermont has melted down catastrophically, killing 19 people and devastating the immediate area. She hears and fears almost immediately that her father, a casualty and one of the plant’s main operators, is being blamed for the disaster. She’s afraid she’ll be forced to testify about her father’s drinking problem, and that public vengeance will descend upon her. As unfair as that may sound, could any of us honestly look into her eyes and say, “Oh, that would never happen”?
After introducing this big what-if premise, Bohjalian (whose many novels include the Oprah favorites “Midwives” and “The Sandcastle Girls”) writes about the nuclear aftermath in a scrupulously realistic way. He doesn’t blow the slightest apocalyptic or dystopian wind on those fuel rods. It’s nonetheless a scary scenario, the frightening flip side of every Homer Simpson mishap that millions of us have laughed at.
“Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands” arrives during some intense – and often wrongheaded – public chatter about adults who read YA literature. “Close Your Eyes” is a novel for adults – I don’t think Emily Shepard has enough control over her own fate to label this book YA.
– Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel