If I had to choose an author whose books I hope mine are one day shelved next to in book stores, it would be Melinda Salisbury. The Sin Eater’s Daughter is one of my all time favourite series, and the style of YA Fantasy that I absolutely aspire to write. It’s been a while since I finished reading The Scarecrow Queen, but I wanted to review the series here for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. (Where have you been?! Get to the library quick sharp!)
Twylla is sixteen, betrothed to a prince, and forced to serve as the court executioner. The human embodiment of a goddess, she has the power to kill with just a touch, her skin imbued with a deadly poison that has no antidote. Only the royal family are immune to it. But that doesn’t stop her supposed fiance from staying as far from her as possible.
When a new guard is assigned to her, she finds his playful smiles and lack of fear a refreshing change, and soon falls for his charms. The controlling and paranoid queen reveals her plan to destroy the enemies she believes are out to threaten her rule, and Twylla must choose between escaping into the night with her lover, or staying to protect the kingdom she is bound to serve.
I adored the first book in this series, it’s full of fairy tale elements and forbidden romance. Twylla’s character doesn’t have much agency in book one, she seems to be pulled along by the actions of everyone around her, but that is a big part of her arc and by the end of the series she’s become much more active than reactive, and the growth and development she undergoes is more believable for being a slow, steady change.
The big revelation towards the end of book one was a complete surprise to me, I did not see it coming at all, and it left me questioning absolutely everything about the world I’d become absorbed in. It’s a very well done twist, adding another layer to the dark, Brothers Grimm style fairy tale.
Ever since her brother left them to work as a guard at the castle, Errin has been struggling to keep both her and their sickly mother alive. Foraging in the forest for ingredients to create her illegal herbal concoctions, selling them to a mysterious stranger who refuses to show her his face, and dodging the authorities who are looking for any reason to throw them both in the makeshift jails that are popping up all over the kingdom. But that all pales in comparison to the threat of the Sleeping Prince, whom the queen has woken from his enchanted sleep, and is now on the war path.
When Errin’s village is evacuated and her mother is taken by soldiers, Errin is forced to travel across a dangerous, war torn kingdom alone. What she discovers along the way could be the key to defeating the Sleeping Prince, but is the danger closer to home than she realises?
Book two follows a completely new character who is mentioned but never appears in book one, which makes it slightly more difficult to get into at the beginning. By the time I was a few chapters in though I was enjoying this book even more than the first – I’d go so far as to say it’s my favourite of the three. Errin is a brave, strong and complicated character, and after Twylla’s quieter, softer persona and her life at the castle, book two is a real change of scenery. Both books are tense, suspenseful and exciting, but instead of court politics, veiled threats and the creeping feeling that something isn’t quite right, book two is full of danger, betrayal and monsters straight out of a nightmare.
The Sleeping Prince begins after the action of book one, and the story lines merge towards the end in a pretty satisfying way. The two protagonists balance each other out nicely, so I would recommend persevering if you didn’t absolutely love Twylla, or if you struggle at first with the change in POV from book one to two.
The Sleeping Prince has taken control of the kingdom with the help of his terrifying golems and has now installed himself at the castle. Twylla and Errin have become separated, Twylla is in the mountains gathering a force against Prince Aurek and Errin is simply trying to save her mother, and herself, from his evil clutches. As the war rages on and time begins to run out for the rebels, allegiances will be broken, friendships betrayed and lives lost before the final battle can be fought.
Book three alternates between the POVs of both Twylla and Errin, following their parallel story arcs to the ultimate conclusion where they converge once more. Whilst I was a little bit disappointed about some of the character arcs and how they ended in The Scarecrow Queen (#JusticeForLief), the conclusion of the series was very satisfying and credible. Twylla was the character who came the furthest in my opinion, as Errin started out a stronger and more independent woman, but Twylla became strong and really developed over the course of the three books. The plot and subplots all tie up nicely at the end, but it still left me hoping for more from this dark and beautiful fairy tale world.
In addition to the trilogy, there’s a novella called The King of Rats which I haven’t actually read, but hopefully one day I will! It’s a prequel detailing the story of Crown Prince Aurek and his sister Aurelia, and how the curse came about, which is one of my favourite parts of the series, I love how Salisbury took fairy tales we all know well, such as the Pied Piper of Hamlet, and twisted them into something completely new and surprising. I’m not sure what inspired the concept of the Sin Eater, I’d love to know if it’s something that truly takes place in some cultures, as I found it fascinating and loved how it was woven into the story.
Final word: if dark YA fantasy and fairy tale retellings are your cup of tea, you’ll absolutely love The Sin Eater’s Daughter trilogy.