I received a digital download of this book for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received. All opinions expressed are honest and my own. Post contains affiliate links.
– – –
From the opening lines of Melinda Salisbury’s debut novel, The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I felt swept forward into a world of uncertainty and tension. After the first paragraph alone, I wanted to ask a half-dozen questions.
Rather than frustrate me – which it could have easily done – I found myself engaged and excited at being a few steps behind the narrator, anxious and ready to understand unfamiliar words and their meanings, and get a handle on the complex world of the author’s creation.
Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she’s engaged to the prince, Twylla isn’t exactly a member of the court.
She’s the executioner.
As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month, she’s taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla’s fatal touch, avoids her company.
But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he’s able to look past Twylla’s executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla’s been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen.
My willingness to keep up with the swift pace of The Sin Eater’s Daughter is due in no small part to the wonderful, luscious quality of Salisbury’s writing, and the steady, able perspective of Twylla, her main character and narrator. Every detail is eventually explained, more in context than exposition, and I felt rewarded for paying close attention to the story.
There is a twisted vein in this book, moments of madness and real villainy. But despite a heavy dose of darkness, Salisbury manages to inject the novel with fragments of dreamy lightness, a magic more enchantment than sorcery. I truly enjoyed the balance.
The world Salisbury has built is not altogether foreign – there are enough familiar notes to keep things relatable. But I did enjoy being carried away into the novel’s inventive customs, especially Sin Eating. I loved the way Twylla describes her mother’s dedication to the role of Sin Eater, and the precise ritual of feasting on specific foods – one for each type of sin – upon the coffin at a funeral.
I also enjoyed how Salisbury pays each character their due in this book. From the courtiers who shy away from Twylla and openly fear their queen, to Twylla’s own sister, seen only in memory – every player is intentional, no one feels used as page filler.
I’ve seen the term “romance” used often in marketing and reviewing this book, and it’s true – there is significant page time dedicated to romance, and if not the emotional tether (Twylla is honest about this), then at least the formal construct of a love triangle between Twylla and Prince Merek and Lief, her new guard. I need to say how much I appreciated that the romantic scenes were written with subtlety and class. They were certainly blush- and swoon-worthy, but nothing that made me want to hide the book from my younger kids.
I rushed into the final act of the book intent on giving it 5 stars when finished, but a few things unraveled for me at the end.
What had previously felt like such a tight, intentional story came a bit loose, and there were just too many “shocking” revelations all at once. I was also a little confused at how Salisbury deconstructs one myth and legend to provide the biggest twist in the novel, while introducing a different, apparently legitimate myth to forward the book into a sequel. I’m not sure how to explain it without giving spoilers. I just felt like the reader was being told “now this is completely implausible, but that other thing that seems just as implausible? that’s for real.” I also, upon reflection after finishing the book, can see more clearly how some things were just too good to be true.
But if the final act took some shine off things, the Epilogue polished it right back up. I love how the novels ends with the same uncertainty and tension as it starts with. I’m a new fan of Melinda Salisbury’s and am super excited about following the journey of The Sin Eater’s Daughter.