Two harvests have past since I executed my best friend. Twenty-four Tellings. Twenty-four times I’ve had to walk into the room where Tyrek was dragged from and take the poison that made it possible for my touch to kill him. I’ve killed thirteen traitors, including the men today and Tyrek, in those twenty-four moons. For Lormere. For my people. For my Gods.
For I am Daunen Embodied, the reborn daughter of the Gods …
(The Sin Eater’s Daughter, Melinda Sailsbury, P14.)
Twylla believed she would become the Sin Eater. It would have been her job to decide whether to grant absolution to the dead, by tasting their sins in a mysterious ceremony. Instead she became the living embodiment of Daunen, daughter of the Goddess Naeht and her husband Daeg – Night and Day, dark and light.
As Daunen Embodied, Twylla lives in the castle. Born a peasant, she is now a Goddess. This comes at a price. Once a month, Twylla drinks poison to prove to the population that the Gods can be merciful. Her skin becomes poisonous – she lives her life under guard, not for her own protection, but for the protection of others. After she drinks poison, she executes the Queen’s enemies. As the Gods give life, so they take it. The people of Lormere live in obedient hope and fear.
People are afraid to come near Twylla, afraid one touch will kill them. This is a metaphor for the state of the court – people tiptoe around the Queen, afraid they will upset her and be sentenced to death. The book is full of clever imagery – the Queen’s Grandmother, for example, reintroduced execution by hunting dogs. After her death, the dogs turned on her and savaged her body. Like Twylla, the dogs were weapons with minds of their own. Another interesting example is how Twylla would rather embroider wildflowers than the sun and moon of religious imagery.
Royals in Lormere usually marry their siblings, a fact complicated by the death of the Queen’s daughter. Twylla has been engaged to Prince Marek since she took on the role of Daunen Embodied, but now she is more interested in Lief, the guard who sees past her role to the girl she might otherwise be. Marek is an interesting character – used to having what he wants, he wants to marry Twylla regardless of her feelings. He is also interested in the science and politics of Tregellian – the country where Lief was born, whose alchemic secrets the Queen would like to know …
Most people who have reviewed the book love Twylla, and pity her for the role she must perform. I thought she was brilliantly constructed, and like her as a character. Her thoughts about every aspect of the story develop and change, and her backstory is worked in so the reader understands how she came to be in this situation and why she makes certain choices. As a person, however, I found her self-centred and frustrating. At one point, she realises how her behaviour impacts on other people, then says she deserves to marry the person she likes less, as if her self-pity is still her only consideration. I am interested to see how she develops across the series, and whether my feelings towards her change.
There are some fascinating themes, including what happens when religion is used for political gain, and the importance of making our own choices. I also like the echoes of folklore throughout the narrative. The significance of trees is one example. If a soul is not granted absolution, it is said to drift to the West Woods. Trees are commonly seen in folk tales as gateways to other worlds. There is also a strange tale from Tregellian, about a Prince who has slept for five hundred years, who can only be woken in specific circumstances. The narrative is rooted in tradition, but brought up to date with themes relevant to the current climate. This is what I like best about it, and I look forward to seeing how the series develops.