Melinda’s debut, The Sin Eater’s Daughter, was last year’s best selling UKYA debut – a tragic mix of dark fantasy and rich romance that I thoroughly enjoyed. Shot through with a twisted “princess in the tower” idea, but much more sinister, the book hinted at a larger, older and fully fleshed out universe that I was really eager to get more from, always bleeding into the edges of the story but not quiet showing itself. Yeah, well The Sleeping Prince steps it up a gear or five.
Following a new set of characters in a different part of the world, and shortly after the events of the first book, The Sleeping Prince is the story of impoverished apothecary Errin Vastel – the sister of the first book’s character Lief. She lives a meagre life, scraping together potions to sell on the black market to attempt to keep herself fed and with a roof over her head. With her father dead, and her brother away working to try and bring in some extra coin, Errin has to support not only herself, but also her mother, whose rapidly deteriorating mental health is starting to become more and more taxing – and dangerous. War in Lomere, with the mythical Sleeping Prince soon starts to spill across the border and threatens to shatter Errin’s already unstable world, and soon she finds she has no choice but to flee her home with her mother, relying on the help of one of her customers – the mysterious and enigmatic Silas, who she has been selling potions and poisons to. She’s never even seen his face, as he stays constantly cloaked and shrouded in darkness. But who else can she turn to? As the Sleeping Princes army starts to murder and burn its way across Tregellan she must flee, and if the officials found out about her mother’s conditions they’d lock her away in an asylum. Errin can’t lose the only member of family she has left.
If I ever had one thing that I struggled with in TSED, it was a heavy romantic plotline – it’s not my usual thing. The Sleeping Prince moves in a very different direction though, examining the rapidly unravelling threads of a family in complete crisis. Errin is a brilliant lead, resourceful and smart, she’s filled with fear and doubt, but she constantly pushes through with the weary determination of someone who has nowhere else to turn. Her world, and the underhanded desperate measures she takes to survive make her feel a much rougher and more worldly main character than Twylla, filled with shades of grey and a ruthlessness that fills her decisions and actions with a manic sense of drive.
Where the first story is the slow burning tale of political subterfuge, book two is an out and out war novel, and it pulls absolutely no punches. Melinda uses the plot to examine the true horrors of war in a fantasy setting, but she never lets it be viewed through a rose-tinted lens. The horrifically brutal war crimes of the Sleeping Prince are told through hushed, terrified rumour, and the painfully close-to-home treatment of Lomere’s refugees that Errin sees on her travels is a stark echo of current events. The whole book is driven forward with the frantic pace of an invasion, with the swirling out of control sense of being just one person swept up in something so huge and impossible to fight against that the whole book is beautifully chaotic.
The Sleeping Prince was everything that I wanted the next step in this saga to take – it builds on the rich mythology that clearly Salisbury has been developing for years, and it ramps everything up to eleven – the drama is more dramatic, the violence more visceral and animated, and the characters are more ambiguous, cut-throat and determined. This is a world at war, with characters desperate for survival and success, and a story filled with so many twists and dead drops that it’s breathlessly compelling.
Well done, Melinda, you terrible, beautiful Queen.
P.S. You can follow Melinda on Twitter here, and you should because she’s a wonderful human.