The girl who kills with a kiss

In­spired by Hindu mythol­ogy, this de­but young adult novel tells the tale of Marinda, a poi­son maiden whose kiss is deadly.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Re­view by TAN SHIOW CHIN star2@thes­

MARINDA is a “visha kanya”, a poi­son maiden who can kill with a sin­gle kiss.

She has been as­sas­si­nat­ing the Raja’s en­e­mies for most of her 17 years of life, although she had no idea her kiss was deadly un­til she was older.

Her par­ents sold her to Gopal when she was a baby, and he took ad­van­tage of her nat­u­ral im­mu­nity to poi­son to slowly make her poi­sonous.

As a way of keep­ing Marinda on a leash, he makes clear that his pro­vi­sion of medicine for her seven-year-old brother Mani’s weak lungs are con­tin­gent on her obe­di­ence.

But one day, Marinda is or­dered to kill a boy she met just a few days prior – Deven, a kind, con­sid­er­ate boy who can­not pos­si­bly be a threat to their king­dom of Sun­dari.

“Not him! Please, not him!” her mind screams when she dis­cov­ers he is her target on page 61.

Nat­u­rally, she can­not bring her­self to kiss him and fails to ac­com­plish her mis­sion.

This, of course, sets off a whole se­ries of events that form the rest of the book, start­ing with Marinda de­cid­ing that she needs to make Deven im­mune to poi­son in case Gopal de­cides to send an­other visha kanya to kill him.

With­out giv­ing too much away, read­ers will dis­cover that Deven is more than he seems, while Marinda’s po­si­tion as visha kanya is more unique than she sup­poses.

It’s not much of a spoiler to share that Deven and Marinda fall for one an­other, es­pe­cially as any alert reader will re­alise that fact by page 18, as il­lus­trated below.

“Deven smiles – a real one with both sides of his mouth – and I stop breath­ing for a mo­ment.

“My face feels hot all over and I’m re­lieved when I feel Mani’s hand on my el­bow.”

To the best of my memory, this is the fastest ever case of in­sta-love I’ve ever come across in my years of read­ing young adult (YA) fic­tion.

Not be­ing a fan of this trope, it was a red flag for me story-wise.

Marinda her­self is a char­ac­ter I have prob­lems with.

To be fair, on the sur­face, she is a fairly av­er­age pro­tag­o­nist of this genre – some­one forced against her will to do bad things, but is es­sen­tially good and tries to do the right thing for love. But delve a lit­tle deeper and Marinda is rather whiny and self­ish, and acts quite stupidly a num­ber of times.

For ex­am­ple, Ilya is her lit­eral part­nerin-crime – she se­duces peo­ple and gath­ers in­for­ma­tion on Marinda’s tar­gets – and child­hood friend, both grow­ing up to­gether un­der Gopal’s cruel hand.

In one scene, Marinda is try­ing to jus­tify sav­ing Deven to Ilya, but Ilya says: “No. You don’t get to do this. You don’t get to mor­al­ize to me. I have known all of them. Ev­ery sin­gle one. And you’ve never asked me what kind of peo­ple they were or if I thought they de­served to die. Then you get cozy with one boy and you sud­denly de­cide you’re in charge of this whole op­er­a­tion? You put all of our lives at risk!”

It con­tin­ues with Marinda re­veal­ing through the book’s first per­son point of view that she al­ways thought she had the big­ger bur­den and the greater guilt, and that she never thought about what it must have been like for Ilya all this time.

Although the story men­tions that Ilya and Marinda have drifted apart over the years, it is still quite a shock when, just a few pages later, Marinda threat­ens to kill Ilya if she hurts Deven.

An ex­am­ple of em­pow­er­ing fe­male friend­ships this is not.

Mov­ing on to the set­ting in­spired by In­dia and Hindu mythol­ogy, this was def­i­nitely the pulling point for me to pick up this book.

Un­for­tu­nately, the world-build­ing is quite su­per­fi­cial and shal­low.

It feels like rather than build­ing a world her story takes place in, author Breeana Shields built her story and then fit­ted the world in around it.

The po­lit­i­cal in­trigue and mythol­ogy that un­der­pins the plot, for ex­am­ple, is just given a few lines of ex­pla­na­tion here and there, and is obviously to­tally sec­ondary to Marinda’s love for Deven.

It also doesn’t help that there are ap­par­ently show­ers and hik­ing boots in this world that oth­er­wise seems to be based on a pre-In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion In­dia.

And for a planned duol­ogy, the story to­tally does not in­di­cate that it is go­ing any­where fur­ther un­til the fourth last page.

To give Shields credit, though, her writ­ing style is easy to read and flows quite smoothly.

Other re­view­ers have said that they think those new to the YA fan­tasy genre might find this book an en­joy­able read, and I’m mostly in­clined to agree with them.

So if the premise sounds in­trigu­ing, I’d rec­om­mend it for younger read­ers who haven’t been ex­posed to a lot of YA fan­tasy yet, just for the nov­elty of the Asian set­ting.

Breeana Shields Ran­dom House, young adult fan­tasy

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