Blurb from Amazon:
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. However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla’s problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favour of a doomed love?
After hearing Melinda Salisbury talk at this year’s YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention,) I felt intrigued by TSED’s plot, and bought this book on impulse. I am so glad I did. I loved this book in many ways- I loved its mix of dark political intrigue (a la Game of Thrones,) the strong fairytale elements, the burgeoning sexuality of Twylla, and (SPOILER) the heady, intoxicating love she shares with Lief, her unusually outspoken guard. Salisbury’s worldbuilding was so effective I felt gripped by just a few chapters. The brutality of the Queen and her court within their stifling castle is contrasted well with the untamed beauty of a wild herb garden on its grounds, and the mysterious realm of Tregellan, with its history of alchemy, just on its borders. Lief is smart and funny, and red-haired Twylla is enigmatic and beguiling- with an enchanting singing voice-but also cowed under by guilt at her role as the Queen’s executioner. The poison running through her veins is enough to imbue her with a deadly touch. And then there is the Queen herself- as ruthless, calculating and sadistic as anyone from Westeros. She doesn’t need to touch someone to kill them. (SPOILER) Courtiers are savaged to death by dogs merely for displeasing her. Twylla is split between her present- and presumably future- as an executioner, and her past as the Sin Eater’s daughter, i.e. the daughter of a woman who literally ‘eats’ the sins of the dead; in the sense that food symbolizing certain sins is placed on a person’s coffin, and she is forced to consume it, in a ritualistic order. The paragraphs describing this ritual are dark, sensual, and absolutely gripping. Though this is not the only point of darkness- in the shadows of the court, there lurks the sinister figure of the Sleeping Prince, a figure from a Tregellan fairytale, but also somehow dangerously and intrinsically linked to Twylla and Lief’s future, and to hints of alchemy, magic and murder.
Although having said that, I did feel that TSED was predictable in parts, and that the character of Merek (Twylla’s other love interest, the prince she is betrothed to,) was manipulative, overbearing and frankly, annoying. For me, the atmosphere and tension- especially around Twylla and Lief’s forbidden romance- was so skilfully executed it didn’t even NEED Merek. He felt a bit surplus to requirements, to be honest. Overall though, this was a fascinating and enchanting read, and I look forward to reading ‘The Sleeping Prince.’
Overall rating- 8 out of 10
Image credit: The beautiful mages are from wordsoffictions on Tumblr, here.