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A teenage assassin kills with a single kiss until she is ordered to kill the one boy she loves. This commercial YA fantasy is romantic and addictive—like a poison kiss—and will thrill fans of Sarah J. Maas and Victoria Aveyard.
Marinda has kissed dozens of boys. They all die afterward. It’s a miserable life, but being a visha kanya—a poison maiden—is what she was created to do. Marinda serves the Raja by dispatching his enemies with only her lips as a weapon.
Until now, the men she was ordered to kiss have been strangers, enemies of the kingdom. Then she receives orders to kiss Deven, a boy she knows too well to be convinced he needs to die. She begins to question who she’s really working for. And that is a thread that, once pulled, will unravel more than she can afford to lose.
This rich, surprising, and accessible debut is based in Indian folklore and delivers a story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.
About the Author
Breeana Shields has a BA in English from Brigham Young University and is an active member of SCBWI. When she’s not writing, Breeana loves reading, traveling, and spending time with her husband, her three children, and an extremely spoiled miniature poodle. Visit her online at breeanashields.com or follow her on Twitter at @BreeanaShields.
Read an Excerpt
I’m not a bad person.
At least that’s what I tell myself over and over as I wend my way through the marketplace, past the vendors selling spiced meats and bright fabric, incense and rare birds. Not a bad person. Not a bad person. It’s a mantra I’m hoping will loosen the knot of dread that has been twisting in my stomach all afternoon.
It’s not working.
I lift my hair off the back of my neck and yearn for a breeze that fails to materialize. It’s hot today; far too hot for my waist-length mane, but Gopal took one look at my hair this morning coiled in a tight knot at the back of my skull and groaned. “No, Marinda,” he said. “The boy will favor the hair down.” His sudden concern about the preferences of any boyespecially this boystruck me as laughably ironic, but I didn’t argue. I just took out the pins and let my hair tumble around my shoulders. “Better, rajakumari,” he said. “Much better.”
The meeting is supposed to happen near the fruit vendor on the other side of the market. The streets are thick with peoplewomen balancing baskets of laundry atop their heads, men pulling heavy carts loaded with bags of rice and tea, children chasing each other between vendors.
I feel a tug on my skirt and whirl around. A fortune-teller sits on a bright blue carpet surrounded by cards. Her hair is braided in intricate coils, and gold hoops dangle from her ears. She shows me her teethit’s meant to be a smile, but it looks more like a challenge. “Let me read your future,” she says, her fingers still clasped around a fistful of my sari.
“No, thank you,” I tell her, and I have to take a step back before she lets go. Gita says that most fortune-tellers are frauds and a waste of good money. Even if she’s wrong, it doesn’t matter. I have no interest in knowing anything about my future.
I continue pressing through the crowd and I start to think about the boy I’ll find waiting for me at the fruit stand. It’s a bad habit, one I’m trying to break. I hope I don’t like him. It will make it so much easier to walk away without feeling guilty. And I’m always the one to do boththe walking away and the feeling guilty. I wonder what he’s been told about our meeting today. What does he expect from me? What does he know?
A quick glance at the sky tells me I’m early. I’ve been walking faster than I realized. I slow in front of the spice merchant to admire the neat rows of pails overflowing with the rich colors of the earthspices in hues of deep brown, clay red and golden yellow. A woman with lime-green fingernails scoops the spices into brown paper bags and balances them against a small stone on a copper scale. It reminds me of the ancients who believed we get ten tries at life and then, after our final death, our hearts are measured to determine our worthinessweighed on a giant scale, balanced against a feather. If the heart is as light as a feather, the person can enter the afterlife. If not, the heart is fed to a wild beast.
My heart will sink quickly even against a brick.
I move to the next vendor to reach for a colorful scarf and I notice my hands are trembling. I need to stop thinking. If I’m nervous, I will ruin everything. I clasp my hands behind my back and teach them to be still while I study the tapestry hanging at the back of the booth. It depicts the Raksakathe kingdom of Sundari’s four guardiansbird, tiger, crocodile and snake. The giant bird, Garuda, hovers in the sky above the others, her jewel-toned wings spread across the entire length of the tapestry. The tiger and the crocodile face off in the center, each of them looking ready for battle. The snake is coiled at the bottom, and no matter which way I tilt my head, his beady eyes seem to follow me. A shiver prickles at the base of my neck, but my hands are steady now and so I release them back to my sides and move on.
I arrive across the street from the fruit vendor with a few minutes to spare, so I duck into the shade of the stone archway and watch for the boy. Gopal said I would find him near the mangoes, but I don’t know how I’ll ever spot him in the throng. The fruit stand is crowdedboys, girls, men, women, children, dogs. But I shouldn’t have worried. He turns up, and he sticks out like a fly in a bowl of soup. He is dressed too formally for a market day, and he shifts his weight from foot to foot without moving anywhere. He is lingering near the mangoes, picking them up, sniffing them, putting them down. All the while his gaze darts from side to side.
He’s looking for me.
I walk casually toward the fruit stand and stop a pace or two from him. I pick up a green mango with a hint of blush on its cheek and hold it under my nose. The sweet fragrance stands in sharp relief against the smell of meat, incense and sweat that permeates the rest of the market. I press my thumb against the fruit and it yields slightly. That’s how you know something is ready to be devoured, when it gives just a little under pressure. It’s the same with people.
I can feel the boy staring at me, but I keep my face toward the fruit bin and watch him from the corner of my eye. I have to be sure. Finally I glance up and our eyes lock.
“Do you have something for me?” he asks.
I open my mouth to answer, when a small girl presses against his leg. Her clothes are little more than rags and her face is pinched with hunger. She holds out her grime-covered hands cupped in front of her. “Please?” she says in a scratchy voice. He looks down at her like she’s something he’s just scraped from the bottom of his shoe.
“Go away,” he says. The knot in my stomach loosens and I am flooded with relief. I don’t have to feel guilty for walking away. I turn my attention to the little girl, who has backed off, her expression a mixture of fear and disappointment.
“Come, janu,” I tell her. She takes a step toward me, and I drop three fat coins into her palm along with a mango I have plucked from the top of the heap. Her face lights up in a smile.
I turn back toward the boy, his lip still curled in disgust. “I do have something for you,” I tell him. And then I do what I came for.
I kiss him.
He tenses up at firstthey always dobut then he relaxes into me, his lips soft and welcoming. Ripe. And that’s when I put my hands on his shoulders and push him away. It was a brief kiss, but a fatal one. His eyes are wide and he puts two fingers to his mouth as if he’s not sure what just happened.
“Did you have something for me?” he asks again.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t.”
His face twists in confusion and his gaze sweeps across the market. “Oh,” he says. “I guess you’re not who I thought you were.”
No, I’m not. I’m not who he thought I was at all.
I turn and walk away, and though it takes all the self-restraint I have, I don’t look back.
It won’t happen right away. The poison will take some time to absorb into his skin where my lips brushed against his, to find its way into his bloodstream. To destroy him.
In one hour, his skin will heat. I can picture him taking off his black jacket, tugging at his yellow shirt, fanning himself with a newspaper. In two hours his nose will begin to run and his stomach will roil. In three hours his chest will tighten, his pupils will constrict, he will feel like he is being squeezed in the jaws of a giant snake. He won’t be entirely wrong. In four hours he will have lost control of most of his bodily functions. He will drool. He will soil himself. He will lose his dignity. In five hours he will stop breathing.
I hope whatever he did to deserve this fate was truly horrible. Because in six hours my guilt will be almost too much to bear.
When I return to the flat, I knock on the doorthree sharp raps, which means I am safe and alone. Two knocks means I might have been followed. Four tells Gita she should open the door with a weapon in her hand.
The door swings wide and Gita’s face is drawn, worried.
“Marinda,” she says with a catch in her voice, “you’re late.” She’s holding a dish towel that her hands have shaped into a rope. The gray at her temples seems more pronounced tonight, as if she has aged in the waiting.
“Am I?” I ask, though I know it’s true. The walk back always feels heavy, like a chore.
I move past her and step inside. Our flat is small, just one room with beds on one side and something that passes for a kitchen on the other. A tiny bathroom is tucked in the corner with only a faded yellow curtain for a door. It isn’t grand, but at least I don’t have to live at the home with Gopal and the other girls.
Mani is curled up on one of the beds, already asleep, though the sun isn’t fully set. His small body is curved around Smudge, who lifts her head to look at me, licks a paw and then presses her face against Mani’s chest.
“How long has he been out?” I sit on the side of the bed and smooth the hair from Mani’s forehead. His face is warm and the bitter-smelling vapors of his breathing treatments cling to his clothing.
“Not long,” Gita says. She stops tormenting the dish towel, uncurls it and smooths it with her palms. “He had more energy today.” I can hear the effort in her voice and I know she’s stretching the truth. He is less exhausted some days than others, but he never has energy.
She yanks on a chair, its legs scraping loudly against the wood floor as she drags it toward me. She plunks it down beside the bed and sits. Mani doesn’t stir.
I lean down and kiss the crown of Mani’s headfar away from his eyes or mouth and separated from my lips by a dark mop of messy curls. It’s the most I dare, and for a moment I am angry that I am deprived of even this small privilege, to be able to kiss my tiny brother on his sticky forehead. Gita must see the flash of emotion on my face, because she clears her throat.
“I gave him his medicine earlier this evening,” she says. “So he should be all set for a few days.” It didn’t need to be saidthe acrid smell clings to the inside of my nostrils. I can practically taste it. So I take the statement for the reminder it is: Mani’s medicine for my work today. One life for another.
I pull the blanket up around his chin. “Thank you,” I say, though the words cut like glass as they leave my throat.
“So how did it go?” Gita asks, and the question makes me hate her a little. I know it is part of her job to find out, to report back to Gopal, to keep the operation running smoothly. But sometimes she stays for dinner before she reminds me that I’m just a task on her list.
And really, how does she think it went? I just killed someone based on nothing more than the fact that Gopal told me to. But it isn’t her burden to bear and so she never feels its weight. “It went fine,” I tell her. “No problems.”
“Good,” she says, nodding. “Good. And was he alone?”
My mind flashes to the boy shifting nervously on the balls of his feet, and my stomach clenches. “Yes,” I say, “he was all alone.” I want to ask her more, want her to tell me why he had to die, but I don’t say anything. Questions are against tradecraft. But I know I won’t sleep tonight, that I will see that boy over and over and wonder what he did, wonder what I did, and wonder which is worse.
Gita leaves then, promising to check in on me tomorrow. When she closes the door behind her, Smudge leaps over Mani and bumps my hand with her head. A not-so-subtle demand and I obey without thinking. She purrs softly as I rub the spot between her ears and worry that my only talent is compliance. But will I be talented enough to save Mani?
The next morning I wake to Mani perched on the edge of my bed, giggling. I rub my eyes with the heel of my hand. “What’s so funny?”
He grins at me and points to my middle. “Your tummy sounds like a creaky door.” I look down as if there were something to see. It’s true, though. My stomach is making horrendous noises, and I realize I haven’t eaten since the day before yesterday. I learned a long time ago never to eat on the day of a kill. I can’t keep anything down anyway, and so my body runs on adrenaline and guilt instead of food.
Besides, I work better when I’m hollow inside.
I sit up and rumple Mani’s hair. “Maybe we need to stop for pastries before we go to the bookshop today.”
His eyes light up and he bounces a little. “I forgot it was a bookshop day,” he says, and the excitement in his voice touches something raw inside me. He is so easily pleased. Life never gives him a full meal, but he is always so grateful for the table scraps. I wish I could be like that.
I help Mani get dressed and then I sit on the floor to braid my hair while he plays with Smudge. He waves a piece of yarn just out of her reach, and she flies through the air like a furry gymnast, sending Mani into a fit of giggles. They play until Smudge grows bored and saunters away.
Mani moves to the edge of the bed and begins swinging his legs, kicking the bed frame. The sound is grating; it thumps in time with the pounding in my head, but I don’t tell him to stop. I spent most of last night staring at the ceiling, and I didn’t fall asleep until pink light had already started seeping through the curtains, so I couldn’t have slept long. I feel that weird detached feeling that comes from too little sleep and not enough food. Or maybe from killing a man.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Buddy read this with the wonderful Rendz @ Reading with Rendz (check her out here: http://readingwithrendz.wordpress.com)! I discovered this book quite a bit ago, and I was so excited that I did. Inspired by haunting Indian folklore? A kiss of death assassin and creepy snakes? I was so in, and I was so obsessed with that cover. I was determined to buy it when it first came out, but then well, book life happened, and I totally forgot about it. I picked it up sometime in June, and I was dragging my feet with it...until the wonderful Rendz showed up and we came up with a plan to knock it off our TBRs together - classic buddy read style. Thank gosh we did, because this was so much fun and totally helped me figure out just what my messy thoughts on this. Good parts: I was intrigued even in the messiest of parts. I found myself continuing to read even though I wasn't connecting to anything. It was a nice, easy breezy read. I also adored Mani. He was so adorable - even though I totally thought he got confused on what age he was supposed to be - and I did really enjoy Marinda's relationship with him. It was so nice. Rendz and I found that the world building was confusing as well. Rendz pointed out that there were very few descriptions of the world and what it was supposed to be. We didn't even get the simplest of descriptions, so we had to go into our vault of Disney knowledge to think of marketplaces and street descriptions. The mythology and world knowledge was also confusing as well. Things were changed as well. I was confused on what could exist and what couldn't. First, there were multiple visha kanyas - then there was one. Then there was whatever Ka...I forgot her name - but I'm not even sure what she was. And then the snake king. Was he an actual person or a snake? I had no idea what to expect because I couldn't figure out the magic and folklore system that was created. And the writing also fell apart in different areas for me as well. The tone and writing are kind of really annoying me. It seems like she is trying too hard to sound like pretty writing and beautiful descriptions, but it's not working. Like, some of the descriptions are so weird. Like, something was hectic in her stomach? There are just some super weird things. Rendz pointed out that there was so odd phrasing as well. Deven calls Mani a "pal" and there are "high-fives" and "hey, guys"? I thought this was supposed to be taking place back quite a few years ago in a fantasy world. The tone and phrasing did not fit with the setting it was supposed to be. Another issueeeeeeeeeeeee: instalove. I never got a good feeling for Deven - he was just kind of there - so the whole relationship was a dud for me. And it happened so fast. Marinda lied to him for a good deal of time; then he hated her; and then next thing, she's falling in love with him. Rendz and I were feeling the stranger danger there (although we were both living for that tattoo). Marinda was ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. That's all I got for her. The plot? A lot of things were convenient. Especiallllllllllllllllllllly at the end. There were so many things that just happened to work out, and I was rolling my eyes so well. A few twists did come out that I was intrigued about but then it fell back into ehhhhhhhhhhhhh. I really was not feeling this book, but it kind of wasn't totally terrible?
Fun, fast-paced book with an interesting concept of a girl who kills via her kiss.
This was a read-in-one-sitting kind of book. I picked it up, devoured it, and then thought about it afterwards. Marinda has experienced so much to become a (reluctant) assassin, and the work she does tortures her, although she wants to serve the Raja. Her conflicted emotions are so natural and understandable, and they're complicated by her desire to protect her sickly brother at all costs. Throw in the handsome suitor who sees through her carefully constructed front, and you get all sorts of intrigue, nail-biting, and swooning. I loved Poison's Kiss and can't wait for the next installment
Shields is definitely an up-and-coming voice in YA fantasy. POISON'S KISS is a genius debut based on Indian folklore. I devoured it in record time and can't wait to read more of Mirinda's story in the 2018 sequel.
"A teenage assassin kills with a single kiss.... Until she is ordered to kill the one boy she loves." The first thing that drew my attention to this book was the gorgeous and seductive cover art of Poison's Kiss. WOW...That cover is AMAZING! and then I read the synopsis and KNEW I had to have this one....and it did not disappoint. I was mesmerized from the first page to the last and cannot wait to read the conclusion!! The main character, Marinda, is a visha kanya also known as a poison maiden. She was raised and trained to be a lethal weapon against her enemies and her kiss is lethal and kills the victim within minutes. Marinda has served the Raja for as long as she can remember and killing is all she has ever known. In return for working for the Raja, Marinda is paid with medicine that treats her younger brother, Mani, and keeps him alive. Marinda has never doubted her job nor has she ever been given a reason to question her orders.....until she meets Deven. Shortly after Marinda begins to build a friendship with Deven...she is told he is her next assignment. She must kill Deven or risk defying the Raja and her brother no longer receiving treatment for his deathly illness. What choice will she make? Defy the Raja? Save Deven? or continue to be the killer she was trained to be.... "But Deven makes me feel reckless. And just for one day I want to know what it feels like to be the girl he thinks I am." I literally loved everything about this book. Poison's Kiss is full of romance, suspense, action, and unforgivable betrayal. There are so many secrets that have been kept from Marinda and she is faced with so much emotional turmoil while still trying to save the ones she loves. I also loved the Indian folklore that is intertwined within the story and even enjoyed reading how the author, Breeana Shields, researched and learned all the different myths and legends that she used as references within Poison's Kiss. Poison's Kiss is addictive, riveting, and beautifully written. It is pages full of mystery and suspense and I couldn't wait to turn the page to find out what happened next. "Love Is Lethal"
This is a must-read! Based on Indian folklore, the book tells the story of Marinda, a visha kanya -- a poison maiden. Trained from birth to serve the Raja, Marinda can kill the Raja's enemies with a single kiss. Although she hates what she does, she does it to protect her brother -- that is, until she is ordered to kiss a boy she knows -- a boy she believes can't possibly have done anything wrong except befriend her brother. You will love the plot. The twists and turns will come as a total surprise. You will think about the story long after you've finished the book. An excellent debut for this author. I can't wait to read more of her.
Set in a fantasy world similar to India, this book is a delight. I loved being immersed in this unique world and following the story of Marinda, an assassin who can kill with just a kiss. Marinda was such an interesting character. She fiercely loves her younger brother, and believes she is serving the raja, even if she doesn't always feel right about what she does. Her story was so complicated, and I felt conflicted right along with her. As the story progressed, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to find out what would happen. A thrilling fantasy that will keep you up late at night, wondering what will happen.
I’ve been staring at this screen for an hour now, trying to think of a few words that would accurately summarise what I feel for Poison’s Kiss, but all I feel is a tangled mess of… everything. *attempts disentangling emotions* I feel a certain kinship with the characters, after getting thoroughly invested in their lives in just a few chapters. I feel sad that I finished the book so quickly, and that I will have to wait over a year for the sequel. I feel HAPPY that I finally found a WELL WRITTEN book about Indian Mythology that didn’t overdo it as well. I’m slightly annoyed that this book name dropped Red Queen and Throne Of Glass in the blurb because while Marinda was a LOVELY character, I couldn’t quite compare her to Aelin or Mare – they’re just different people. And books. And, of course, I’m feeling ALL THE FEELS at this beautifully written, plot twist inducing piece of art that I would DEFINITELY recommend you pick up. If you saw Marinda on the streets, you’d think she was your everyday girl. She works at a bookstore and takes care of her sickly little brother. Except, Marinda is as assassin, killing enemies of the country with a single kiss. She’s a poison maiden – a visha kanya – and nothing about her is normal. Inside, Marinda wallows in guilt for the things she does and the lives she takes, but she knows she doesn’t have a choice. Due to her brother’s weak lungs, he needs the medicine her handler gives her to survive, and so she stays, using the poison in her to kill at someone else’s every demand. Except for when she is commanded to kill a boy who clearly can’t be a threat to the country she lives in. He gives her brother piggyback rides and catches her when she trips on herself, but most of all, he notices the real Marinda and killing him seems like an unforgivable crime. One thing I LOVED about the book was the relationship between Marinda and Mani. It was a gorgeous example of a brother – sister relationship, not unlike the ones I have with my too smart younger cousins, and it made me smile ALL THE TIME. I also loved all the PLOT TWISTS that I simply did NOT SEE COMING. The book went from simple to complicated, from something good to something GREAT and I loved every second of it. I loved how each of the characters had a good side and a bad side, their own intentions and dreams and ever changing sides in the war between good and evil, which made them seem so much more REAL. The only reason this is a four star book, and not a whole five stars is because of Marinda. When all the plot twists were being revealed, I couldn’t BELIEVE she hadn’t asked these questions before, or somehow hadn’t found out answers or TRIED. She was simply TOO TRUSTING for an Assassin, and it was a little strange. A lush, exotic book filled with complex characters and wondrous writing that will keep you captivated from start to finish.
Beautiful writing, riveting plot, engaging characters - Breeana Shields manages to combine all three in her engaging debut. Shields captures your attention from page one - with gorgeous description and an empathetic character. She carries it through the twists and turns of this page-turner, as Marinda struggles with her duty, her self, and her fate. A story of deceit, betrayal, friendship, and ultimately love, Poison's Kiss will stay with you long after you finish the book and leave you longing for the sequel.