This is the rule of survival: you figure out who and what you’re up against, and then you fight.
Death’s Kiss is the debut novel of Regie Khemvisay which tells the story of a young girl, named Yuri James, and a young boy, Ryoma Evans; two star-crossed lovers who find themselves knee-deep in the machinations of their government.
Death’s Kiss is a dystopian young adult novel set in the country Yliria, in 2093. Yliria is still attempting to get back on its feet after an extremely deadly virus, called Blackjack, swept across the nation and killed majority of the population over 21 years of age. The government, called the Joker System, had to then figure out ways in which to maintain population growth and balance in line with the amount of resources the country had. What occurs is a secret system of selection in which individuals over the age of 20 get randomly selected within the weekly Shuffle – and this selection means death.
Or does it?
The ‘reapers’, so to speak, are a part of a specialised Court department, and your status within this department is dependent on your age. Our two main protagonists have the status of Ace, because of they fact that they are 21 years old. Yuri and Ryoma did not volunteer for this position; in actuality, they were basically sold to the Court department by their parents as both their parents ‘betrayed’ the government and as punishment for treason, Ryoma and Yuri as the children were contracted to serve as governmental assassins.
What follows in the novel is a rollercoaster of action, emotion and conspiracy, that did keep me engaged until the very end.
Before I delve further, I will provide the synopsis for more context and I will be going straight into my analysis. As always, the synopsis is also available on Goodreads:
Life is valuable. Death is a necessity. In Yliria, this is not a contradiction.New Year’s Eve 2054. A virus, later named the BlackJack, struck and killed 3/4 of the world’s population. Only those who were 21 and younger were not infected. Treaties broke off. Countries severed connection to the outside world. And the country of Yliria built its own invisible walls.Thirty-eight years later…Yliria is now at peace. But nothing is gained without sacrifices.Yuri’s life was perfect. Family. School. Career. Then there’s Ryoma. Her one true love. Nothing could go wrong when she has everything planned out. But on the night of their anniversary, it did not end with a kiss. Ripped from their normal lives, both Yuri and Ryoma woke up from a dream to face the real nightmares. As a punishment for their parents’ treason, they must serve the government—the System—as the new Aces of the Court Department, assigned to oversee and maintain the peace and balance during the weekly shuffle.One week. 13 lives. Armed, not with a weapon, but the same virus that destroyed the world. The Aces must escape their new fate. If not, the only path left in their future is the one covered in blood.
Thoughts on the Narrative and Writing
Regie Khemvisay will surely be an author to look out for, especially in her future projects. Death’s Kiss incorporates so many twists and turns that surprise the reader, that even I could not predict them! Khemvisay’s efforts in world-building for this novel didn’t quite hit that level in which I felt fully immersed within it. Though her efforts were solid, I felt that the world-building was superficial at best and needed more time to fully develop organically. Instead, I found that the world-building was orchestrated through ‘information dumps’ through monologues from various characters within the story. I do believe though that this is partly a result of being the debut novel – as Khemvisay grows, so will her writing.
In terms of narrative structure, I found that the first half of Death’s Kiss was less engaging than that of the second half. The pacing was quite irregular but the second half is where everything happens and you can’t seem to catch a breath because the ish hits the fan. I do wish that the plot itself didn’t leave so much of the action aspect to the second half because I would have loved so much more closure on some aspects – but I this is the first novel within a series so I expect that all my questions will be answered!
The writing itself was well crafted overall, but I did find issues with sentence structures and punctuation. There was also random capitalisation of words within a sentence that ultimately confused me, but didn’t detract from my ability to enjoy the story.
Thoughts on the Characters
I felt that Death’s Kiss was slightly more plot-driven than character-driven and the reason why I believe that is because of the fact that I wasn’t able to fully connect with the main characters. Instead, I was rooting for the side characters so hard omg.
ADAM HAS MY HEART OKAY?!
Yuri James, the female main protagonist, was an interesting character who I found was one that focused mostly on how events ultimately effected her. Her actions, at times, seemed quite juvenile or out-of-place which confused me as I felt that it didn’t quite fit in with how her characterisation was leading towards. For instance, there was a scene where Ryoma was sincerely apologising to Yuri for something that I won’t spoil and leaning his forehead against hers to demonstrate his emotional vulnerability and his guilt, Yuri headbutts him. I was lost when she did that. In an attempt to portray Yuri as a fierce strong woman, Yuri instead can sometimes come off as slightly immature who isn’t the most emotionally intelligent. In saying this, concerning Yuri’s character development, I wish we were able to see more of her emotional journey. I felt that her ‘development’ to the decision to make extreme change on the governmental level felt so random as it felt like it wasn’t built up enough because it was such a major plot point. I hope that in the future books we see more of her internal dialogue that explores how she grows as a young woman.
Ryoma Evans as the male protagonist was extremely unique. I quite liked him as a character; I found him to be a young man who knew his own mind and spoke up when he was critical or questioned something. I enjoyed his character much more than Yuri’s because he felt more real and I could relate to his overall characterisation much more.
The one main issue I had with this book was that it was more ‘insta-love’ than I expected. Yuri and Ryoma were classmates in high school when they met – Yuri’s internal dialogue went from ‘I think I like him’ to ‘omg don’t tell me i’m in love with him’ within the same paragraph. This was also the case with the introduction of Adam’s character (acts as a sort-of ‘second’ love interest to create a sort-of love triangle). Within the first day of meeting, Yuri is worried that she fell in love with Adam. This trope is one that I can’t fully get behind because it seems so unrealistic and one of my pet peeves is love-triangles in YA, so that aspect was something that I didn’t enjoy and I felt that it also wasn’t needed for the story to be interesting. By itself, the plot in itself is unique and creative and did not need romantic tropes to add more interest to the narrative.
Overall, I did enjoy Death’s Kiss by Regie Khemvisay and I will be looking forward to her future works. I would rate this novel a 3.5 out of 5 stars and I would recommend this book to those who enjoy a slight creative twist on the usual YA dystopian novels that is filled with political machinations and plot twists. I also highly recommend looking at Regie’s website because it has super amazing art for Death’s Kiss and oh my god they’re beautiful.
I want you guys to also look out for an upcoming post with Regie Khemvisay herself where I will be asking her all sorts of questions about her characters and her writing!
That’s all for today friends! Until next time, happy reading!
All the love,