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I Belong


Review: Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan

Maid of DeceptionTitleMaid of Deception

AuthorJennifer McGowan

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Series: Maids of Honor (Book #2)

Publication Date: August 26, 2014

Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages

ISBN-10: 1442441410 (Simon Teen)

ISBN-13: 978-1442441415 (Simon Teen)

Reviewed by: Kelly

Synopsis:

Beatrice Knowles is a Maid of Honor, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s secret protectors. Known for her uncanny ability to manipulate men’s hearts, Beatrice has proven herself to be a valuable asset in the Queen’s court—or so she thinks. It has been three weeks since the Maids thwarted a plot to overthrow the Queen, and Beatrice is preparing to wed her betrothed, Lord Cavanaugh. However, her plans come to a crashing halt as rumors of a brewing Scottish rebellion spread among the court.

Beatrice’s new assignment is to infiltrate the visiting Scottish delegation using her subtle arts in persuasion. The mission seems simple enough, until the Queen pairs Beatrice with the worst of the lot—Alasdair MacLeod. Beatrice cannot help but think that the Queen is purposefully setting her up for failure. But Alasdair could be the key to unlocking the truth about the rebellion….and her own heart. Caught in a web of ever-more-twisting lies, Beatrice must rise up among the Maids of Honor and prove what she’s known all along: In a court filled with deception and danger, love may be the deadliest weapon of all.

Quick & Dirty: The premise behind the Maids of Honor series intrigued me and I’m happy to say that Maid of Deception far exceeded my expectations for a YA Historical Fiction. I don’t hesitate to recommend this story to high-school aged readers but think older booklovers will enjoy its rich imagery and sweet romantic element as well. McGowan’s characters are not as fully developed as I would’ve liked, yet the story easily kept my interest with its interesting plot and underlying mystery.

Opening Sentence: There would be no tears on my wedding day.

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The Review:

Being one of Queen Elizabeth I’s handpicked spies known as the Maids of Honor is definitely not a privilege for Beatrice Knowles. Her uncanny ability to discover the whispered secrets of the court is a highly valuable skill…and dangerous when one of the secrets belongs to her bitter enemy, the Queen. Forced to do the vindictive Queen’s bidding with a smile on her face to keep her precarious position at Court (and her head), Beatrice’s only hope in escaping a life of servitude is through marriage.

Even though she’s only in her late teens, Beatrice has spent ten years plotting to marry one of the wealthiest families in the Kingdom. Walking down the aisle toward the much older, wealthier and more prominent Lord Cavanaugh is the crowning moment in her young life and no one, especially not the boorish but handsome Scotsman Alasdair MacLeod, will ruin her triumph. No one except the Queen, whose cruelty and spitefulness is apparent as she halts the wedding when Beatrice and Lord Cavanaugh are literally seconds away from being wed. Completely unremorseful for her actions, the Queen reminds Beatrice that her life is forfeit to the whim of the Crown while she serves as a Maid of Honor. And right now, the Crown requires her to appear to be enamored with Alasdair MacLeod to discover the secrets of a possible Scottish alliance against the French in an upcoming war. Beatrice is crushed by the delay even if she viewed her marriage as a beneficial relationship devoid of emotion. She unwillingly throws herself into her work, becoming closer to the Scotsman as her schemes crumble around her amongst the political secrets of the court.

What impressed me most about Maid of Deception was the quality of the writing. Though intended for a younger audience, McGowan doesn’t hold back on the scandals and aristocratic English bigotry common for the timeframe. She delivers a story of political intrigue, spiteful jealousy and forced allegiances typically reserved for the romantic historical fiction pieces marketed to adults – and she does it better than many. Growing up among the Royal Court’s treacherous elite have taught Beatrice that the only things she can hope to find in a marriage are a relative safety from the whims of a vindictive Queen, a secure position of prominence at Court and a wealthy household to call her own. She unabashedly admits she would never look at a man who didn’t possess money and prestige. She also willingly toys with a man’s affection, using her beauty and charm to lure him into giving up whatever secrets the Queen has asked Beatrice to discover. She’s arrogant, petty and an expert manipulator.

McGowan has the writing chops to elicit a sympathetic response for a character with some pretty hefty personality flaws, though. As Beatrice faces each new obstacle, we see there are many layers to her character and not all of them are obnoxious. She may be treated as an adult, but is in reality a very young woman in an incredibly stressful situation with (initially) no obvious support system. She knows how to play the game because it’s the only thing she’s ever been taught. The understanding that she’s never had a real relationship – that she’s been too frightened to show true emotions or unguarded thoughts – certainly made me feel softhearted toward her. Without truly realizing when the change occurred, I began noticing her flaws less and her good traits more. She may still be a scheming liar with more than enough haughty pride, but Beatrice also becomes a courageous young woman with a soft heart.

Which brings me to the roguish Alasdair MacLeod. This is Beatrice’s story, so it’s understandable the focus will be on her. Her interactions with her co-conspirators, the other Maids of Honor, were relatively minor but gave me a basic understanding of these girls. The same can be said for the Queen, as each girl has a different relationship with her. Yet somehow Alasdair never quite developed into more than the template of a brawny rescuer of our spunky heroine. Given that this is a story for a younger audience, I didn’t expect the typical romantic Highlander story. I enjoyed the flirty banter between Beatrice and Alasdair and my heart melted appropriately at the sweet words and chaste interactions. Still, I would’ve enjoyed it even more had there been some substance to the Scottish hunk with respect to the historic relationship between Scotland and England.

In spite of this relatively minor issue, Maid of Deception was overall an incredibly fun story. Rich imagery, a truly original premise and excellent writing all combined to make me a fan and I look forward to reading the other books in the Maids of Honor series.

Notable Scene:

“The Queen, though she has no reason to do so, considers me a sort of lesser rival.” I shrugged. “She thinks to keep her friends close, and her enemies closer.”

He nodded, but his eyes glittered in the half-light. “That is part of it, true enough. She also, however, seeks full domination over you as a woman, not just your Queen. Or have you not noticed how sharp her tone has turned when she addresses you, and how pointed her stare?”

Uneasiness threaded through me. Walshingham could not question me without the Queen’s presence, but that did not mean he could not fill my ears with lies. Or, perhaps worse, truths.

“I am afraid I do not understand your meaning, Sir Francis,” I said as we turned the final corner on the Western corridor. “The Queen has ever treated me with grace.”

“Oh, come now. Now that the Cavanaugh alliance has been broken, she means to stick you in some hole in the middle of nowhere, Lady Beatrice. You know it as well as I do,” Walsingham said. “She merely has yet not found one sufficiently deep.”

Maids of Honor Series:

 0.5 A Thief Before Christmas

1. Maid of Secrets

2. Maid of Deception

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FTC Advisory: Simon & Schuster provided me with a copy of Maid of Deception. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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