The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury (Take 2)

Take II – review by Katy Haye

Official blurb:

I am the perfect weapon.
I kill with a single touch.

Twylla is blessed. The Gods have chosen her to marry a prince, and rule the kingdom. But the favour of the Gods has its price. A deadly poison infuses her skin. Those who anger the queen must die under Twylla’s fatal touch.

Only Lief, an outspoken new guard, can see past Twylla’s chilling role to the girls she truly is.

Yet in a court as dangerous and the queen’s, some truths should not be told…


Review by Katy Haye:

On the surface, this should have been just my kind of book: fantasy, a deadly heroine with a crucial destiny, and a power-mad queen. What’s not to like, right? Except I’m really sorry to say I struggled to find anything I did like about The Sin Eater’s Daughter.

If it sounds like your kind of book, for heaven’s sake, read Claire Watt’s review of it, because she enjoyed it. I, on the other hand, am going to sound like Mrs Grumpy Grumblepants, because I was really disappointed.

My best advice (other than to find something else to read) is to start at page 123, because that’s where things actually start happening and the narrative picks up a bit. Before that, all you really need to know is that our heroine, Twylla (who can kill with a single touch), is the royal executioner and doesn’t like the role much (understandable), but she doesn’t dislike it enough to do anything about it (much less comprehensible). The rest of the start is dull backstory (Twylla doesn’t like anything much and is a drearily introspective, self-obsessed wimp), dull geography lessons about our fantasy world, and implausibly dramatic reactions to the Prince’s merest glance.

It picks up even more, and was fairly readable, after page 179 but I was already set against it by then. Mostly, it was just very unconvincing. None of the characters seemed to like, or even respect each other, which made it difficult to empathise with any of them. And I rather thought the fictional world hadn’t been thought through well enough. The Prince was supposedly the result of “centuries” of brother-sister marriages (to keep “the blood” pure, natch), and yet we’re told he’s handsome and strong and a gifted fighter and good dancer. Really? Centuries of inbreeding doesn’t produce physical perfection. I understand we have to work with the fictional demands of heroes here, but I thought Melinda Salisbury could have given her Prince a club foot or a squint without destroying his appeal entirely (and provided a yay for diversity and heroes who don’t fit the “tall, dark and handsome” mould). Furthermore, the country has a single sin eater (Twylla’s mother) who is called on for the funerals of everyone who can afford her services… but she spends most of her time at home. The place must be singularly sparsely-populated if you only get one or two deaths per week.

Then we got to the Sleeping Prince thread. This was, actually, excellent. Breadcrumbs were carefully laid and there were twists and drama. Fabulous. BUT it didn’t work in this book. The whole point of The Sin Eater’s Daughter relies on debunking religion and folklore and replacing it with hard science. So to then ask us to believe in a Prince who’s been sleeping for 500 years, sustained only by the heart of a maiden ingested once a century just wasn’t credible. The Prince wasn’t sleeping, he was clearly stone dead – killed by a deadly dose of implausibility.

The epilogue was entirely unnecessary and should have been cut – which brings me to my final point. Editing. I sometimes feel like I’m the only person who notices any more, but poor editing ruins a story. Self-publishers may claim poverty or ignorance (although they shouldn’t), but why Scholastic couldn’t provide someone competent is beyond me. The Prince at one point mentions something that happened “yesterday” – except the events were earlier the same day. And (unless grammatical conventions have widened between US and UK English) any copy editor should have spotted and corrected “So it’s just you and I then” (should be “you and me” – guidance is to take out the second person and it should still read correctly) and similar niggles. Because misplaced apostrophes make me twitch, I actually changed the one in the blurb above (which was cut and pasted from Goodreads) where it read “it’s price” which should OF COURSE be “its.” I’ve left in the “girls” that should be “girl” and the “and” which should be “as” to demonstrate my point. Three errors in nine promotional sentences. I wonder what it is that publishers do these days… Oh yes, they get you on the central tables in Waterstones and on the shortlist of prestigious prizes. Silly me.

Clearly, I don’t share much reading taste in common with the shortlisting panel of the YA Book Prize because I’m afraid I was scratching my head as to why this book reached shortlist stage.

Katy Haye writes fast-paced fantasy for YA readers. Both The Last Gatekeeper and The Last Dreamseer went through two rounds of editing before being let loose on an unsuspecting public.

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