Consider me officially in love.
This series is everything I was looking for to get back into fantasy. The adventure, the world-building, the characters, the romance, the humor… everything!
Funny story concerning me reading these: I saw The Traitor’s Ruin on NetGalley and thought I’d give it a try because the cover is beautiful and the story sounded interesting. Fast-forward a few weeks and I’m starting to read the book. I felt so confused and definitely felt like I was missing a big piece of the puzzle; either that or the author really didn’t want to expand much on her characters or setting. Frustrated, I turn to my trusty Goodreads app and find out that I was reading BOOK TWO of a series!! Well, it’s no wonder why I felt like I was missing something. I quickly went on my library’s app to find where the closest copy of book one was and went there the next day. Needless to say, I finished these books in about 3 days.
The Traitor’s Kiss
I’m so in love with this cover
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.
Unfortunately, since I began with book 2 (but thankfully only for a few chapters), one of the major plot twists in this book was ultimately spoiled for me. That being said, however, I still really loved how the author wrote the twist. We didn’t know what was happening and it seemed like none of the characters did either.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The characters: I really loved Sage. She’s hesitant to let people close to her, she is insanely smart, stubborn, and impulsive, and she doesn’t back down from a challenge. Our male lead is pretty similar: not letting people close, extremely stubborn, but also really charming and funny when he feels like it. Their personalities both clash and balance each other out, which I thought made their interactions very comical, aggravating, plot-moving, and fun. I love how the author chose to how to write these characters individually and how she made them interact and learn from each other.
The setting: The setting is really cool! It’s an interesting blend of historical and fantasy. Sage loves history, and we learn a bit of the world through her, like that the time is roughly 512 (if I remember correctly) as well as some of the history of the kingdoms, wars, and customs. There is definitely a fantasy theme in the book even though there aren’t magic, dragons, or any supernatural themes. The blend makes for a very compelling read that sucks you in to this realistic fantasyland.
The plot: I really enjoyed the plot’s pace. I thought it allowed for a lot of character development and world-building while keeping us on the edges of our seats. There was always something driving the plot along, whether it was the character’s thoughts and decisions or external forces. I liked both the fast-paced action scenes and the calmer riding scenes where we got to learn more about the characters and what drives them. The blend of combat, spying, and personal time really made me keep reading.
In addition the the three main components above, I loved a lot of smaller things with the book. First off, the chapters are pretty small, probably ranging between 2-6 pages on average. This made the pace seem faster and I found myself turning pages quickly and getting sucked into the book. Another perk of having smaller chapters was the ability to move the POV around some. The book is told in third person, but there are different chapters that focus on different characters, which further helped move the plot along. It makes the reader more knowledgeable about the overall plot as well as some of the character’s motivations.
Since I really loved this book, I was wondering why it only has 3.85 stars on Goodreads. SOme of the main issues readers seemed to have was it having discriminate world-building, encouraging girls-hating-girls, lack of empathetic characters, and anti-feminist writing. I really didn’t see the book this way when I was reading it, so I wanted to address each of these.
Yes, there are points in the book where some characters describe other characters as being “darker” than themselves. However, I don’t remember a time in the book where this was a point of discrimination from one character to another; rather, it was simply used to show where the individual came from. For example, Sage is more fair-skinned because she came from a more northern lineage whereas our male lead was described as having darker skin due to his mother’s lineage elsewhere.
One reader on Goodreads pointed out that an antagonist is described as having very dark skin, thus promoting the “dark-skinned aggressor trope” as she called it. I can see where this reader is coming from based solely off the first book, but the author expands on this in the second book and I am assuming she will continue to do so in the third book. The specific character the reader on Goodreads used to highlight this trope is expanded on more in the second book, and the epilogue implies that he and his home will be expanded on a lot more in the third book.
I read in some Goodreads reviews of the second book that this is an issue the author consciously decided to address and expand on in the second book. So, while I didn’t pick up on this issue, it doesn’t mean it isn’t present and isn’t offensive to some readers. I personally didn’t the authors descriptions or intentions as hateful, but I can see how the vague use of “darker” can be insulting and perceived as lazy writing.
It is clear that some characters in the book value lighter skin, like when people comment that Sage’s “ugly” freckles should be covered because men will find her suntanned skin unattractive. But writing characters with discriminatory values and actually discriminating against are two different things, and I think that is something to keep in mind while reading this.
Anti-feminism and girls-hating-girls
Sage is described sort of like a tomboy for her time. Instead of wearing makeup and dresses, she prefers to wear trousers and loose shirts. Instead of waiting to be matched, she spends her time learning and teaching others. Sage is described as having a very fiery personality while most other girls seem drab and snobby in comparison. I didn’t think this was negatively directed from Sage to other girls, necessarily.
Sage was raised by her commoner father, an upbringing that certainly differs from the noble girls Sage associated with in her later years. So to me, it wasn’t that Sage hated makeup and dresses exactly; rather, she disliked how those upscale items distanced herself from her father and the values he taught her. We don’t really get to know a lot about other common girls, just the noble girls being matched in the Concordium. From Sage’s point of view, everything that distances herself from her father is seen as disrespecting and forgetting him.
So, though some people commented that disliking these things meant Sage hated all things feminine. I disagree with this. I think that avoiding these items is just due to the fact that she wasn’t raised with them and wasn’t taught that they had any more value than not wearing makeup and wearing trousers instead of dresses.
There is a part in the book where Sage’s aunt applies heavy makeup on her and, when asked what she thinks, Sage says disdainfully that she knows why her mother ran away. This girl didn’t grow up wearing makeup, so of course she wouldn’t like it on her the first time she really wears it, especially since it is for an event she is firmly against and is being forced into! How is it anti-feminist for Sage to dislike being forced by a society she wasn’t even born into to value matchmaking and other feminine traits when she doesn’t personally value it and just wants to do her own thing? I feel like choosing your own path is feminist in nature, not anti-feminist.
I also disagree with the claim that Sage hates other girls. Yes, she doesn’t like the Concordium brides, and the superficial reasons are because they wear heavy perfume, outrageous dresses, and layers of makeup. But again, Sage wasn’t raised to value matchmaking and the efforts these girls go through to be matched. Sage is initially against the institution of matchmaking, so it makes sense that she looks down at the brides. It also doesn’t help that most of them are rude to Sage. Sage’s attitude towards some of these girls changes throughout the book, and in the second book we see her respecting and being friends with many girls and women.
I don’t see Sage’s behavior as anti-feminist or hateful towards girls. I see it as her clinging to her father and believing that matches should be self-made from love rather than made by another. Maybe she could have given some of the girls more of an in-depth look rather than superficially believing that they are snobby because they are wearing makeup. After all, they were raised believing in matchmaking and that they needed to marry the best they could. But nobody is perfect, and that is where character development comes in.
If you read this book and didn’t like Sage for these reasons or because she seems to lack empathy, read book two. Sage was only 16 when this first book took place. Not only does she still have a lot to learn about herself, but she has a lot to learn about society and being open-minded by challenging the way things have been (hello, feminism!), and the author does a great job throughout the second book (and in the first book) to help Sage learn these things.
Despite the issues that other readers brought up, I really loved The Traitor’s Kiss. It was a super emotional read for me, and I stayed up pretty late into the morning to finish it. My sister got multiple texts at 1 AM from me during the last few chapters when there was a lot happening (but I won’t say what because spoilers!) and I just couldn’t cope. So long story short, I loved this book and you should definitely give it a shot!
The Traitor’s Ruin
*Big thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the digital ARC in exchange for an honest review!
**This summary and review contain spoilers! If you haven’t read the first book, do that and then come back! 🙂
After proving her worth in book one as a deft spy and strategic matchmaker, Sage Fowler is now comfortably positioned in high society as the royal tutor. When she’s called upon to teach his majesty’s soldiers how to read and write, she jumps at the chance to serve her kingdom of Demora—and to be reunited with her fiancé, Captain Alex Quinn.
During a skirmish, Sage and Alex are separated. She watches him die before he can deliver important military intel—or so she thinks. She escapes from the enemy and makes an unlikely alliance with a mysterious soldier from a third nation. As Sage tries to rally their support against a common foe, the important political alliance is plagued by secrets and betrayal.
Can Sage complete Alex’s mission and save her kingdom once more?
Considering I really hated the first few chapters the first time I read it (see above), I really loved this book! I was worried that, like with most trilogies, I would like each consecutive book less than the one before it (*cough* Divergent trilogy *cough*). There was a lot of development in this book and I really like what the series seems to be working towards.
But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The characters: I still really love our characters. And I really love them together. Sage and Alex easily became one of my favorite YA relationships. Their unconventional backstory adds a lot of humor to their relationship, and their personalities add to that. As with most YA romances, there has to be drama, and theirs comes from their lack of communication. Yes, it can be annoying, but it all builds up toward something. And while I would love for them to be able to just be happy, that wouldn’t make for as compelling of a story. We get to learn a lot more about the characters in this book, and not just the main characters. I loved learning more about Cass and Clare, as well as some newly-introduced characters and an old enemy. Sidenote: I loved the few interactions between Sage and Nicholas.
The plot: The plot really took some turns! It was a bit lacking at first from Alex’s initial mission, but things quickly picked up. The plot was really driven by Sage, and though this sometimes gets in between her and Alex, it introduces a whole new layer to the world the author has created. The epilogue really leaves you anticipating the next book and the events that are sure to happen.
I really admired Sage in this book. I find her language-learning skills to be amazing, and her stubbornness, which I relate to, really shines in this book. The characters that were introduced in this book are really interesting. The author places a lot of emphasis on their culture and how Sage interacts with them, which addresses the point I made earlier about her discriminatory world-building. I really liked how Sage stepped up and sacrificed her own happiness for the lives of others. I also like that the author didn’t give everyone a happy ending, much as I wish they could have all lived happily ever after, while still keeping everything reasonable and realistic.
This review is much shorter than what I wrote for The Traitor’s Kiss, but I didn’t want to give anything away more than I needed to. Everything I loved in the first book was just expanded on in the second book, and everything new in the second book I loved. If you have read this and want to talk about it, leave a comment or send me a message! I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂
The Traitor’s Kiss, Erin Beaty. Imprint. ISBN: 9781250117946.
The Traitor’s Ruin, Erin Beaty. Imprint. ISBN: 9781250142252.