Book Review: “The Sin Eater’s Daughter” by Melinda Salisbury

The Sin Eater’s Daughter is the delicious first book in a new YA high fantasy series, first released last year. Set in the pseudo-medieval surroundings of Lormere castle, we have politics, intrigue, danger, and an obedient and naive seventeen year old who’s about to make the rocky transition to adulthood.

Twylla is a young woman with a gift. Chosen by the gods at thirteen, she has spent four years fulfilling her role as Daunen Embodied, the daughter of the gods made flesh again. She has a place in the Royal household, a destiny within the kingdom as the prince’s future wife. She is special, set apart, and she knows her place. She is the court executioner.

This chilling fairytale is about the way adults – parents, guardians, mentors – feed their wards lies and half-truths to keep them in line. Those logical fallacies that fall apart under close examination, but which as children – unless we’re unusually questioning or rebellious – we just accept. The book deals well with both the gradual realisation of truth, and the guilt at having been coerced into regrettable behaviour. There is a strong element of romance as well as the dark strands, and we watch Twylla grow up and begin to make adult choices and have a hand in her own destiny.

I saw Melinda Salisbury speak at a literature festival a couple of months ago and she mentioned that in Twylla she had wanted to create a ‘real’ central character, with signs of cowardice and weakness instead of the stereotypical strong, heroic type who’s equal to any challenge. It’s the vulnerability that makes Twylla so appealing and, sadly, recognisable to so many readers. It also makes her desperation for friendship and affection so believable.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter is a lot more complex than its fairytale setting makes it seem at first – you think you’re going on a familiar journey (well written, with characters you care deeply about, but still you think you know where it’s heading) and then it twists into something darker and really ramps up the tension. I read the whole novel incredibly quickly, desperate to find out what happened. The descriptions are vivid, and the history and mythology of Lormere form a well-created world in which to immerse yourself.

I must confess that I’m not a Young Adult aficionado, I’ve borrowed a couple of urban fantasy novels from the library this year and been completely baffled by contemporary references (the onset of middle age, unfortunately!). I was put off by simplistic language then realised the books were marketed as YA fiction, which made me somewhat wary of the label. However, hearing the author talking about her series piqued my interest and once I’d read the first few pages of the ebook as a preview online I was impressed enough to buy it. I suspect the high fantasy setting helps avoid the ‘this is written for hip teenagers’ trap.

Book 2 in the series (The Sleeping Prince) has recently come out in paperback and seems to be going down well, judging by the ratings on Goodreads and Amazon. Melinda Salisbury is definitely one to watch.