Book Review: State of Sorrow

Well, it’s no secret that Ms Melinda Salisbury is a writer at the height of her considerable powers.  A fact she proves irrefutably yet again, with the fabulous STATE OF SORROW which I literally this minute finished and rushed to begin reviewing because… well… just… oh… my… god.

Where do I start?  Political machinations, absent parents, complex family dynamics, prejudices and expectations and old grudges – this book has more intrigue, Shakespearean drama and twisting, turning tapestry of plot than you can shake a stick at.  With several huge mysteries at its core, surprise after surprise, a dastardly villain, and several truly plucky heroines and heroes the pages turn effortlessly (and deep into the night if you’re not careful).

But what I love most about all of Salisbury’s books is that you are just right in there.  You are full-on inhabiting the skin of her characters, living in their world, smelling the smells and seeing the sights and feeling the feels.  That’s what makes it so intoxicating, like a good draft of starwater (that’s a little in-joke for those who’ve already read) – that it is so ‘other’, so unique, so exotic and original and brand new, and yet so much is familiar.  

“How could anyone with kohl-lined eyes, or bright red lips, be thought of as afraid?”

Makeup and clothes as armour.  Whether you’re inhabiting Sorrow’s world or ours, it’s those moments of eternal little truths in Salisbury’s prose that I really love.  I love the richness of these details, from the subtle-yet-undeniable abilities of clothing choices and eyeliner styles to reflect mood and influence outcomes, to the sumptuously rendered menus of food Sorrow enjoys on her travels.  Extra emotional honesty and depth is lent to the whole by the subplots, like Sorrow’s feelings about her friends and her advisors, her reflections on dynamics between the people she knows and the peoples she navigates through, from the repressed Rhannish to the seductive Rhyllians.  And haven’t we all encountered an ex and been surprised by our feelings about it? That particular, sharp longing/loss/desire/guilt hybrid that feels like nothing else is so sensitively evoked here I actually had to re-read those sections to allow for full absorption.

In short, STATE OF SORROW is a genuine thrill, a masterclass in skilful storytelling, a truly feminist adventure, as well as a provocative meditation on the nature of addiction and its effects, an exploration of truth and deception, and a window into a world I’m keen to spend a lot more time in.  I genuinely can’t wait to see what lies in store for Sorrow Ventaxis, for (to misquote oafishly) sorrow certainly isn’t all she brought me.

Book Review: The Scarecrow Queen

I’ve been putting off writing this review.  It’s not just that THE SCARECROW QUEEN was the perfect end to the trilogy, or that it was expertly paced and plotted, or that everything I wanted to happen came to pass and more, or that I devoured it in that obsessive, every-spare-moment way I reserve just for the very special books; it’s also that this is goodbye… and, as with all hard goodbyes, I’m not sure I’m not going to be able to say all the things I should.

THE SCARECROW QUEEN picks up almost exactly where the last book left off, but with a twist – we are now seeing the story through the eyes of Twylla once again.  She is adrift in a war-torn kingdom looking for a way to bring together a disparate band of survivors with the aim of wresting back power from the terrible Aurek.  But this book, in a gorgeous piece of narrative symmetry, is also told through the eyes of Errin, meaning we are also seeing events from inside the court of the deadly new king, within which Errin is a helpless hostage, controlled absolutely and completely through the use of a blood-bonded poppet.  Our fearless heroines are separated, but both are set on rebellion.

So, even if I just stick to the highlights of what I love this is going to be a LONG list: the visceral fear I felt on Twylla’s journey, the terrifying and at the same time sexy (is that just me?) power of Aurek, the arresting beauty of the descriptions of places and people, the pace, the smart plotting, Leif’s arc (shoot me if that’s a spoiler), the imagery of the golems and poppets, the perfect precision of the meaning behind the title, the multi-faceted mythology that ripples out from every page, the nuanced relationships between characters, the tender mortality and strength of the heroines, the many moral messages that resonate beyond the borders of Lormere, the unnerving yet exhilarating uncertainty I felt about how this was all going to end.  This book is going to be a tough act to follow, which explains why I have recently found it harder to fall in love with the books I am reading.  I’m still on the rebound.

What a book.  What a trilogy.  I’m not usually a fantasy fan but I’ve a feeling that is all about to change.  If there are others out there as smart and original and utterly arresting as this – count me in.

Book Review: The Sleeping Prince

Middles of trilogies are funny beasts.  They can so easily miss and end up treading water, while in other cases they are genius – a dark-hearted unfinished symphony which serenades the reader across an ocean of unanswered questions, while also bringing something totally new and unexpected to the overall arc.  The masterfully crafted THE SLEEPING PRINCE definitely falls into the latter category.  

Not picking up directly from its predecessor but rather plunging us into a new and unknown part of Salisbury’s darkly seductive and intoxicating world, we meet Errin, who is living a simple but troubled life as a countryside apothecary following the disappearance of her brother Leif.  When a war tears her world apart, Errin becomes caught up in a series of terrifying events, that bring her closer to the petrifying instigator of the conflict, The Sleeping Prince himself.

As with the first book, I found myself immediately absorbed into this story’s world – the prose is so rich in detail and unusual imagery that reading it is a fully immersive sensory experience.  Despite an initial moment of disorientation and fleeting disappointment at not immediately following on with Twylla’s story, I was soon caught up in the exhilaration of coming at the story from a brand new angle and with a new and distinct narrator.  The moving parts of Salisbury’s mythology, from the alchemists to the golems to the myth/reality of The Sleeping Prince, are so vividly realised; her characters are so textured and well-drawn in all their light and shade.  The love story element lies beneath the narrative like a bassline, or perhaps a beat, handled with subtlety but nonetheless compelling and irresistible.  Is it just me who feels there could be any number of fantastic spin-offs from the characters and world that have been created here?

This perfectly plotted middle installment weaves another layer onto the rich tapestry of this wholly absorbing and chilling epic, priming us perfectly for a finale that will bring together the gilded, deepest crimson, grubby, bloodstained strands and take us who knows where.  A wholehearted five stars, and a serious case of writer’s envy.

Book Review: The Sin Eater’s Daughter

I came to THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER with high expectations – there’s the great reviews, the charismatic author and that simply gorgeous cover of course.  A little part of me wondered if the contents of this book could possibly live up to the frenzy that surrounds it, but – guess what – it did.  

Twylla is a deadly weapon, killing those that betray the crown with a single touch, like an angel of death.  Because of this she is kept locked away at the palace, protected from those who may wish to harm her and from those who may be harmed by her deadly touch.  While her ties to the crown become deeper and more involved, a new guard is the first person unafraid to approach her and she finds herself intoxicated by this closeness, both physical and emotional, the consequences of which can only be extremely dangerous for them both.

From the very first moments of the novel we are plunged into the dark beauty of Salisbury’s utterly complete world, where opulence and savage beauty meet to create a whole new mythology which is utterly spellbinding from the get-go.  Without the need for long explanatory paragraphs or unnecessary backstory, her characters spring to life.  The rules of her world are simple and utterly clear, as well as being richly detailed and complex.  We are welcomed in as somebody already familiar with the way things work here, and indeed somehow that quickly becomes the case.  Truly savage villains, a complex heroine, hints at a mythology and a history that goes far beyond the pages of this novel, sensory detail and description that lift off the page and surround you as you read, THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER is an addictive and spellbinding read.

So, in summary, to misquote Public Enemy:  do believe the hype.  An addictive, darkly beautiful, mesmerising trip into a world that will terrify you, but that you’ll never want to leave.