Deception’s Princess: Review

July 31, 2014 2014, 3 star books, historical, Kim 52 ★★★

Deception’s Princess: ReviewDeception's Princess by Esther Friesner
Series: Deception's Princess #1
Published by Random House on April 22, 2014
Genres: historical
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
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Some lies lead to true adventure. . . .

Maeve, princess of Connacht, was born with her fists clenched. And it's her spirit and courage that make Maeve her father's favorite daughter. But once he becomes the High King, powerful men begin to circle--it's easy to love the girl who brings her husband a kingdom.

Yet Maeve is more than a prize to be won, and she's determined to win the right to decide her own fate. In the court's deadly game of intrigue, she uses her wits to keep her father's friends and enemies close--but not too close. When she strikes up an unlikely friendship with the son of a visiting druid, Maeve faces a brutal decision between her loyalty to her family and to her own heart.

Award-winning author Esther Friesner has a remarkable gift for combining exciting myth and richly researched history. This fiery heroine's fight for independence in first-century Ireland is truly worthy of a bard's tale. Hand Deception's Princess to fans of Tamora Pierce, Shannon Hale, and Malinda Lo

Okay, sure. That cover is just screaming Brave (on purpose I can’t help but think). I can tell you, though, that there really aren’t many similarities between the two. This is straight historical fiction with no more magic in it than a book set in the misty, mythic hills of Iron Age Ireland perhaps cannot help but imbue.

Maeve is the youngest daughter of the High King of Ireland and a valued prize for any of the dozens of ambitious lesser kings. Though, clearly, she is not going to resign herself to such a fate without a fight. Maeve’s characterization was a delight to behold. Witty, courageous, and fierce, but with a tenderness and vulnerability as well. She’s talented and capable yet she makes mistakes. She’s fully drawn and one of the realest characters I’ve encountered this year. I loved her.

The most enjoyable aspect of this book is watching Maeve weave her way around court with her clever mind, good humor, and high spirit. And I have to give the girl credit: when the stakes are high and tough decisions need to be made Maeve is a gal who gets things done. Even if it’s at great cost to her. Even if it breaks her heart.

And I really appreciated that this is not a story that shies away from the more brutal aspects and inherent cruelties of this Iron Age society. There is plenty of illness, deceit, betrayal, and the hard, senseless deaths of beloved characters. And Maeve, darling Maeve, keeps going. She gets through it with shoulders strongly squared. This is a girl living in an awfully misogynistic environment and yet she does what she can at every turn to buck the system and fight back. There’s even a really awesome reversal of the Damsel in Distress trope in here. :D

What kept me from enjoying this book more was the very slow pace. I think perhaps I was expecting there to be, if not a high adventure, then at least a strong political plotline (this book is called Deception’s Princess-I thought there would be a lot more deception). Instead it’s more of a detailed study on 1st Century Irish life. And it’s not to say that this is bad; it’s often fascinating. The book is thoughtful and poignant in its contemplation of the lives and struggles of these people. It just wasn’t what I wanted out of this particular reading experience.

Here’s an example: perhaps fully one third of the book is dedicated to Maeve discovering the the care and keeping of wounded animals with her friend Odran. Maybe if you’re more of an animal lover than I am you would enjoy this more? Ha, perhaps I just have a cold and twisted heart? Heartwarming and touching as it is, I just sort of scratch my head at why it takes up so much room in the plot.

And I get that this is Ireland in the 1st Century CE so there is going to be a strong current of societal misogyny. But at times it seemed to be laid on too thick. We already understand the restrictions and struggles of Maeve’s society. We know that women are considered inferior in almost every way. Once that’s established it’s really not necessary to encounter disparaging comments on nearly every other page.A little more subtlety here, for me, would have gone a long way.

Still, it was an enjoyable read and I recommend it for those who like fully realized gray characters in a very detailed historical setting. There is definitely strong crossover appeal for fans of low fantasy with historic/political undertones in the vein of Half A King as well. And if you just plain love to read stories about young girls who fiercely and wittily battle the tides of an unfortunate fate then this is a story that cannot be missed.


kim teal









52 Responses to “Deception’s Princess: Review”

  1. Faiza

    I love the cover and the title, but I don’t think it a book that I would pick up.

  2. Anya

    I was so excited for this one when I saw the cover because I totally wanted it to be YA Brave, but I’m glad that I didn’t end up getting it for review since straight historical fiction would not have worked for me at all ;-) I hadn’t seen hardly any reviews, so thanks for this and for clearing up that misconception of mine!
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  3. Jessy Jones

    This is a book I would have put back just as quickly as I could pick it up. The cover and title are somewhat intriguing, but the description pretty much tells me it’s just Brave in book form. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but I already know that story. I don’t have time to read a book which pretends to be original when in reality is just a copy-cat of a Disney movie. But after your review, I think I might have to read it sometime. First, you’ve said that it is indeed an original book, and it sounds like it’s worth a read. Second, the part about it including a lot of Irish historical content got me. I love Ireland, and a true historical fiction set there is definitely something I’m interested in reading. But third, and most of all, Mauve sounds like a great, well-written character, and someone who would make the story worth while. To me, that’s what makes this book shine — Mauve.
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    • Kim

      It just delights me to know that you’ve reconsidered this book because of my review! If you like historical fiction, are especially interested in Ireland, and like strong minded, fierce heroines, it sounds like you will definitely enjoy this one! I hope you do!
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    • Kim

      I have to say that I am super intrigued to see what the author’s other series is like. A few people in this thread have mentioned that they’ve enjoyed NOBODY’s PRINCESS but this is the first vote I’ve seen against it. Well, if you do give it a try I hope you like it!
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  4. Mel

    This is one I haven’t heard of. I adore a well-researched piece of Historical Fiction, and being of Irish descent myself, well, I have a tendency. A slow pace makes me a bit nervous, but I will absolutely give it a go; I find that some topics benefit from a slow simmer.

    • Kim

      Yeah, honestly I think a good part of it is just timing. Like, are you in the mood for a slower paced book? I wasn’t. I think just knowing that it’s not this fast paced, fantasy adventure going into it will help a good deal with liking the book for what it actually is. I just had some misconceptions unfortunately! If you do give it a go I hope you like it!
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  5. Debbie

    The cover definitely reminded me of Merida from Brave too! And the fact that she’s a prize for the lesser kings also drew another parallel for me. But I’ll have to read this to find out! Was the slow paceness a huge issue? Because I find it hard to finish a book when the pacing is slow. Thanks!

    • Kim

      Oh yeah. They totally knew what they were doing with that. Unfortunately it’s a bit misleading since this book isn’t even a little bit magical! Oh well. The pacing was only an issue for me because I didn’t realize that it wasn’t going to be a fast paced, twisty turny fantasy-like adventure. Perhaps with proper mood for a slower story in place I would’ve enjoyed it more.
      Kim recently posted…Of Metal and Wishes: Review

  6. Natalie

    Nice review. I love books with court intrigue, but if it has slow pacing, I don’t know. I feel bad, I saw this book and thought it sounded interesting but dismissed it because I wasn’t keen on the cover. I need to get out of this habit. XD

    • Kim

      Oh I do the same thing. I’m sure all of us are guilty of cover judging at some point or another. I very nearly didn’t read STRANGE SWEET SONG by Adi Rule because I thought the cover was awful and what a mistake that would have been! I’m so glad I didn’t. You never do know!
      Kim recently posted…Of Metal and Wishes: Review

    • Kim

      Yeah, it was a bummer there couldn’t be more excitement! I wish I’d read this one when I was more in the mood for a quieter, more intellectual type-journey read. Ah well. They can’t all be favorites!

  7. Lia

    Merida toned down her hair :( I love historical fiction (Ruta Sepetys particularly) and slow-paced books don’t usually bother me (as long as the writing isn’t horrendous) so Deception’s Princess is a go!

    • Kim

      Hooray! So happy to hear it. :) If you’re not bothered by the slow pace and you love historical fiction I have every confidence you’ll love this one!

  8. erinf1

    I might have to save this for a borrow… thanks for the thoughtful review!

  9. Peyton

    I am an animal lover, so I am kind of intrigued about a book where a third of the plot is on the care of wounded animals. I’m not always in the mood for slower books, but sometimes I really do want to read a fantasy that’s basically just an in-depth look at a historical society. But, yeah, the cover distracted me because it looked so much like Merida. Even the dress looked similar. And her name also starts with an ‘M’. Hmm. Definitely want to give this a read!
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    • Kim

      Oh haha you’ll probably love it then! I just have no heart and was basically in “bored now” mode. :\ Eep. And it might have just seemed slow because I wasn’t really prepared for this to be straight historical fiction (damn you, misleading Merida cover!!!). I don’t know. There are fair amount of reviews on GR for people who lovvvvved this book. It’s truly a case where ymmv. Only one way to find out!
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  10. Layla A

    Ooh, I’d kind of like to read this. I hear your point about the misogyny – one of the things I’m always interested in (in historical fiction especially) is less, like, being beaten over the head with “misogyny ahoy!!!” and more information about how women of different positions or whatever navigated that kind of political climate. That is, it’s easy, I think, sometimes to turn to the past and assume that it was uniformly terrible for women in ways that seem very familiar to us from a contemporary setting, and easy to focus on that oppression. And it’s not that those stories don’t need to be told – they do – but as a reader I’m also very interested in stories that show me how women nonetheless negotiated with or fought against their historical situations. (Nicola Griffith’s recent book, Hild, does this very well and very interestingly, I think.) Anyway, from your review, this seems like maybe a thing that this book does, so it’s going on my to-read list!
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    • Kim

      Oh, absolutely. The women in this book, specifically Maeve and her mother, are definitely both doing their best to work within the restrictive frame they’ve been given. Her mother clearly and emphatically raises all of her daughters to be their own persons and not bow down to others. Of course, at the end of the day all of the daughters, except for Maeve b/c she is the youngest and last child, are still married off with no say of their own. But they were raised with the mentality to do as much as they could given their inherent powerlessness. And Maeve’s struggles are very much about being “enough” for her father given he has no sons and also facing down the knowledge that she is essentially a pawn in the political game of the kings. What got to me was just the incessant of use of male characters repeating things like, “And obviously you’re no good since you’re just a woman.” Over and over again. We’ve already established that this is a misogynistic society. We see it in a million ways. There’s no need to beat over the head with “telling, not showing” you know? But ahh! I bought HILD last year when it came out and still need to read it! I’ve heard so many good things and now especially that I know you loved it it’s going to have to move higher up my list!
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  11. Sarah P.

    A grown-up Merida! Sorry I got carried away. Surprisingly, I’m finding myself more and more gravitating towards novels that give focus on character development and the likes and I didn’t really think I’d like that because it means it’d be a slow-paced read. It’s sad that you didn’t enjoy this as much but I do understand that your expectations were different from what the book provided.

    Still, I believe I would fully appreciate this one now that I know where its strengths lie. Merid–er Maeve really seems like a character I would love. Plus, I enjoyed Half A King and I’ve yet to be disappointed by the historical fiction genre so I’m definitely jumping up and down for this novel right now. Lovely review, Kim! :)
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    • Kim

      Ha no apologies necessary! :) Yeah, I think this is one of those books where maybe if I’d read it in a different mood or a different time I would have enjoyed it much more. I still liked it just not as much as I wanted to. If you like the character-oriented books, though, you should definitely check this out! Especially because Maeve is so awesome! If you enjoyed HALF A KING I feel pretty confident you’d like this! And historical fiction is also up your alley? Yeah, get right on this one, girl! I hope you like it. :)

  12. Shannelle C.

    I think you’ve mentioned it and other commenters have mentioned it already, but yes, that cover just evokes all those Merida feels. The hair, the color of the dress, and the style of the dress itself. It should be a GIF with a flashing #BRAVE or something on it, haha.

    And I’m such a sucker for historical fiction, but I hate reading books with slow pacing. And I’m a feminist, and even if there was going to be misogyny to be accurate, I would want it to be done well.
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    • Kim

      It’s pretty ridiculous how Merida-esque she is! And it’s a little misleading considering how not like Brave this book is. Ah well. It really was a shame about the pacing, though. I don’t mind misogyny in books when it’s obvious that misogyny is a bad thing and is an important part of character’s lives and what they have to overcome (just like real life). And it is portrayed that way here but I think a bit more “showing, not telling” would have gone a long way. It just became overbearing for me at some point.

  13. Faye D'Social Potato (@kawaiileena)

    The first thing I thought of when I saw that cover? BRAVE. I mean, seriously, look! The color and manner of the hair, the dress! It’s pretty much oozing Merida haha.

    Oooh, if it’s among the likes of Half a King when it comes to atmosphere and feel, I’d definitely be game to try this one. I wouldn’t mind the slow pace, but yeah, it can feel pretty dragging especially if there is no strong political plotline to go through. Hopefully I’ll have a much better reading experience! Irish life in that era is certainly something I haven’t read before.
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    • Kim

      I know, right? It’s totally Brave. They knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, that doess make it a little misleading since there really aren’t that many similarities to the stories.

      And yeah, it’s a bit like HALF A KING in that it takes place in a gritty, brutal society and there are the political elements. Also the characters are mostly gray and the villains well rounded and complex. I think maybe if there’d been more romance and less animal care taking this would have gotten a higher rating, ha! I did like that it takes place in first century Ireland. Certainly not a time and place we often see!

  14. Larissa

    LOL wow, the cover and summary really does scream brave. I was just waiting for the “I will fight for my own hand!” line to be included in the synopsis [;

    I do love Ireland, and would love to travel there someday. So the fact this story takes place there in a not so much covered in YA time period? Sounds very intriguing.I’m glad that the historical parts of this novel seemed accurate. I personally would have enjoyed seeing the everyday life of the characters in this time period (: Though that example you mentioned does seem a bit overboard O.o Lol I don’t think there’s somebody who is a huge enough animal lover to excuse the fact that something so minor takes over 1/3 of the plot.

    Maeve also seems like a great character (: She’s strong, but still not an emotionless robot. I think it’s great that in YA we’re seeing these strong characters that are still vulnerable.

    Misogyny is something that would be evident in this time period, however I definitely see and agree with were you’re coming from. I think instead of just having constant mentions of how woman are less than man yada yada, they could instead occasionally show how hard life is for these woman. I can definitely see how the constant misogyny could be hard to read and even repetitive in nature.

    Lovely review Kim (:
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    • Kim

      Ahahaha. I was practically expecting it too! But alas it was not to be. :p

      Ireland is beautiful! I hope you get to go someday! I do think this is a sweet little under the radar gem for the right reader. If, like you, you have more interest in the day to day detail I see no reason why this wouldn’t be a higher rated read! To be fair, though, about the animal parts: she is spending a lot of time with her friend (and maybe? possible? love interest) and this is how they mostly bond. But I swear it felt more about the animals than it did them. Perhaps that’s just me, though!

      Maeve is wonderful and I lovvvved her. Definitely not an emotionless robot! She was very emotional. I do hate that awful correlation of emotional=weak. It’s especially problematic in the portrayal of female characters so it was lovely to see that it was not the case here. But with the misogyny…*sigh* Yeah, this definitely where a bit more of “show, don’t tell” would have made the story more effective. Ah well. Still an overall enjoyable read!

  15. Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

    I don’t know about you, but it seems that Maeve and Merida would get along well ;) I love the sound of this book! I don’t usually mind slow pacing if I’m interested enough. I like the fact that it’s historical as well because I love historical books! Great review, Kim!

    Question: this author has another series, right? The cover seems so familiar for some reason.
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    • Kim

      Oh they totally would get along! They have a lot in common for sure. Yeah, I’ve definitely seen enough positive reviews for this book to know that it was just a taste issue for me. Perhaps if Id found the animal parts more interesting? I think mostly I just failed to really connect emotionally with it but that doesn’t seem to have been a problem from other reviews I’ve seen! And yes, she has the Princesses of Myth series featuring historical figures from all around the world. They look really interesting!

  16. Carina Olsen

    HAH. I was going to say that the cover is pretty. Then I read the first line. I didn’t pay enough attention to it at first glance to notice that (A) But then I looked again. And yess. So much Brave/Merida. Hmph. Whom I adore. No magic? Slow pace? Yeah. Not a book for me, lol :D Don’t think I would enjoy it. But I’m glad you did like it a little. <3 Despite not loving it. Great review sweetie. <3
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    • Kim

      Yeah, this is definitely a read only for people who really like this sort of slow, meditative slice of historical life books. It’s good to know your limits! I wish I’d realized there was no magic before I went into it. I probably would’ve enjoyed it more!

    • Kim

      Haha her mom definitely does not turn into a bear. Her mom is really, really awesome, though. I love when there are strong mother characters in books. And it’s actually not even the whole “I belong to no man” thing more than it is “I want the right to choose the right man.” Still, there’s not much romance in this book. It seems like that will change for book 2, though.
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  17. Alise

    I’ve loved Esther Friesner’s other books so I’m really glad you reviewed this! It’s a shame about the pacing, although I have noticed that about with her newest books. Nobody’s Princess and Nobody’s Prize were my favorites. I do like the sound of the main character’s time in court but I’m not sure about the pacing. Love the setting too, though. Great review, Kim!

    • Kim

      I hadn’t heard of her before I saw this book in the library but I saw that she writes a whole series of global princesses. Tis awesome. :) I’ll have to check out Nobody’s Princess/Prize if, like you say, they’re better paced! That’s really the main thing that threw me off here.

    • Kim

      You’re most welcome! I love that this one tackled Iron Age Ireland-we don’t normally see that!

  18. Pili

    The Brave resemblance in the cover is what first made me notice this book but now that I’ve read your review, I know I need to get this book. Mysogyny and slow pacing or not, this is the kind of book I’d love to read because of the setting of it. Ireland, Iron Age? High King of Ireland? Totally sold! Not many books set in that historical time!
    Thanks for the great review and the warnings, Kim!
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    • Kim

      Yeah, I’m sure the resemblance was there to catch your attention exactly this way. It is a really nice piece of historical fiction, though. I just wish I had gone into it knowing that it isn’t fantasy! The setting really was interesting. It’s actually very interesting because there are practically no written primary sources on this time period in Ireland. What we have is mostly oral legends, stories, and poetry. So the author’s research was a very interesting process and she talks about it a bit in an afterward. Real intersting stuff!

    • Kim

      It’s really nice as straight historical fiction. You just need to be prepared, unlike I was, that it’s rather slowly paced. I think if you go into it with this knowledge you’ll definitely end up with a much more enjoyable reading experience than mine!