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.