Friday, 1 April 2016

The Sleeping Prince

Ever since her brother Lief disappeared, Errin's life has gone from bad to worse. Not only must she care for her sick mother, she has to scrape together rent money by selling illegal herbal cures. But none of that compares to the threat of the vengeful Sleeping Prince whom the Queen just awoke from his enchanted sleep.

When her village is evacuated as part of the war against the Sleeping Prince, Errin is left desperate and homeless. The only person she can turn to is the mysterious Silas, a young man who buys deadly poisons from Errin, but won't reveal why he needs them. Silas promises to help her, but when he vanishes, Errin must journey across a kingdom on the brink of war to seek another way to save her mother and herself. But what she finds shatters everything she believed about her world, and with the Sleeping Prince drawing nearer, Errin must make a heartbreaking choice that could affect the whole kingdom. 


The Sleeping Prince is not an easy read, nor is it a particularly pleasant one. So I've decided to lighten the tone of my review with GIFs of Donald Glover as the adorable Troy in Community.

"Some fairy stories should never come true ..."

Melinda Salisbury says on her Twitter bio that she likes making people cry. She is not kidding. I can only imagine her laughing maniacally as she writes, putting her characters through the wringer and sustaining herself with the anguish of her readers. I loved The Sin Eater's Daughter, the first book in this series, but if I wanted fairytales cliches and happily ever afters, I would have been sorely disappointed. It was an incredible book, but one that pulled no punches. But book twos in trilogies are notoriously tricky, so would The Sleeping Prince be a bit more restrained in setting up the grand finale in book three? I was hopefully optimistic.


Oh how naive I was!

Right off the bat, there's a major character death - seriously, page seven! - and the tone is set from there. This time we follow the story of Errin, the sister of Lief and one third of the love triangle in the previous book, as the fallout from The Sin Eater's Daughter ripples across the three kingdoms. The legendary Sleeping Prince has awoken from his enchanted sleep and is bringing death and war to the land in his quest to claim total power. Errin's brother Lief is missing, presumed dead, her mother is a werewolf-esque liability and she's left to fight off the lecherous advances of her landlord while war gathers at the borders of Tregellan.

It's far to say that Melinda Salisbury embraces the darkness of her story, almost making it a character all of its own. It permeates every scene, every character interaction, the shadow of The Sleeping Prince and approaching war hanging heavily over the story. As you can proabably guess, this isn't a particularly cheerful read. The harsh realities of war and what it means for those caught up in its wake are not sugar-coated, and there were times when I just had to put the book down for the unrelenting bleakness of the story. What Melinda Salisbury writes about is not pretty, but her writing is beautiful. It's a strange juxtaposition of talk of torn out hearts and huge, faceless, lumbering monsters mass-murdering their way across the land, with lush, haunting imagery and vivid, almost lyrical description.


Errin's situation goes from bad to worse at every turn, and despite her refusal to give up and fall apart, there's plenty of times when the sheer hopelessness of her situation threatens to swamp the story. She's all but crushed by her existence, lacking Twylla's cautious optimism and hope, and that made this book a much harder read. The first person pov is harder to digest than it was with Twylla in The Sin Eater's Daughter, because Errin's predicament is so much more bleak. There's no escaping her grief, her terrible memories or her thankless toiling. A different character's pov or third person would have given the reader a break from the endless downers. But then, this is probably why we don't get it. Thank goodness for her relationship, such as it is, with Silas. It's unconventional sure, but their meetings are bright spots in what would otherwise be an unbearably bleak story.

"Mysterious boys are not as enjoyable in reality as they are in stories."

I'm glad an author finally acknowledges this! In so many books, the "hero" gets a pass for treating the protagonist like crap in an effort to play up to the brooding, bad-guy-comes-good cliche, so I was glad to see that there's a payoff in that set up here. While it seems unlikely that Errin has never seen Silas' face - how the hell does he see where he's going with a hood over his damn face all the time? - it's not hard to see why she's put up with his lack of answers and at times outright hostility for the faint promise of something more, an escape from the oppression and responsibility of her everyday life.


But as great a pairing as Errin and Silas were, this book fell short of The Sin Eater's Daughter in that respect. Perhaps I'm just bitter that my ship of Twylla and Lief appears to have gone down with all hands on board. The final third of the book ties Errin's story with Twylla's and several characters make a reappearance but, whilst I don't want to say too much for fear of spoilers, suffice to say the reunions were not happy ones.


I said in my review of The Sin Eater's Daughter that I hoped the characters ventured out into the rich world that had been created but only mentioned in passing, but I almost regret saying such a thing! I was torn on how to rate this book, because whilst it's incredibly well written and perfectly plotted and paced, it wasn't an enjoyable read a lot of the time for much of the first half. It's raw, brutal and above all honest in the devastation it portrays - it's quite nice to see a YA fantasy author acknowledge the harsh realities of war rather than just using them as a backdrop to a love triangle - but it makes for a difficult read. Part two of the book is definitely my favourite of the two. After all the doom and gloom of the first half, Errin flees her village and spreads her wings. It's no bright and breezy roadtrip, but I loved reading about the Three Kingdoms and what Errin was capable off once she was cut free from her responsibilities. Her friendship with Twylla was beautifully written and Silas turned from YA cliche to a genuinely lovely character. Part two was such a great read I blasted through it in one go (after taking four or five breaks getting through part one) which quickly swept me up enough to all but forget the issues I'd had with earlier chapters.

But of course, it wouldn't be a Melinda Salibury book without a punch in the face of your feelings ending. All I will say is, I am not ok! My beloved Lief ... plot twists ... poor Silas ... and part three doesn't even have a release date yet!


I'm a glutton for punishment, but I cannot let this series go!


 

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