Writers of books are told over and over again to “show, not tell.” It’s a directive that, if implemented well, makes for a much more vivid, immersive experience for book readers because they are supplied with tactile or visual details of settings or characters’ emotions rather than told how characters feel or where they are. It’s the difference between “my insides cramped at his abrasive words” and “my dad was abusive.” It seems like it would be easy to implement, but it’s really not. Melinda Salisbury, in her book The Sin Eater’s Daughter, shows a mastery of this skill that is, in some ways, unparalleled. Because it’s confined to just the demonstrations of the main character’s emotions, though, and not to her world in general, it makes for an emotional but somewhat confined read.
What The Sin Eater’s Daughter is About
Sixteen-year-old Twylla lives in a castle and is engaged to a prince, but no one speaks to her or even dares look at her because she’s the executioner. As the goddess-embodied, Twylla kills with a single touch. No one will ever love her. Who could care for a girl with murder in her veins? Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to her touch, avoids her.
But then a new guard arrives, a boy who is able to look past Twylla’s executioner robes and see the girl, not the goddess. He helps her discover the real truth of her existence, and she’s tempted to fall in love with him, but she’s scared to death of the queen. The prince’s mother is enacting a complicated and merciless plan to destroy her enemies, of which she has many, and she wants Twylla’s complete loyalty for her son, or her death.
Why The Sin Eater’s Daughter is Emotional But Confined
To become the executioner and the prince’s affianced, Twylla had to forsake her mother and siblings. Making that decision wasn’t hard for Twylla because she didn’t get along with or understand her mother, who was the Sin Eater, a person in their society appointed to eat gastronomic representations of peoples’ sins at their funerals as a means of absolution. Also, taking on those roles ensured that a monthly stipend was sent to her mother for the care of her siblings. Once she got to the castle, she didn’t leave it. She only knew the outside world through the wicked queen’s interpretation. Twylla’s life is confined, thus making the reading confined. All the drama of the book goes into showing her emotions, her reactions to the deaths she causes, to the prince, the queen, and her new guard. The action of the book all takes place “off-stage,” and away from Twylla; thus, most of the plot is advanced only through the ripple effects of certain people telling her certain details and her making certain deductions and acting on them.
So, of course, her emotions have to be strong and dramatic, and they are, but there are a lot of them. Sometimes too much. It gets to be a little Twilight-esque, but mostly at the beginning. Well, then again at the end too; (spoiler alert) the story ends with her not making a decision. I agree with CommonSenseMedia’s assessment that this book is possessive of “strong writing but a weak heroine.”
Who Would Like The Sin Eater’s Daughter
Sin Eater’s Daughter is speculative fiction, so readers of books like Enna Burning by Shannon Hale, The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson, and Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst will like this book too. All of these books involve characters with powers that set them off from other people, that make them feel alone, but that also put them in positions of political pawnship.
Seven out of ten stars. For “nutrition facts label” information, go to CommonSenseMedia.org’s page about this book.
I bought my copy of this book on Audible, and listened to it as an e-book. I highly recommend this version, as it’s read by someone with a British accent and occasional Scottish brogue, which makes it sound very authentic.
Disclosure: I just became a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Obviously, you don’t have to buy it through the link to the book I provided above, but if you did, I wouldn’t complain.