… at the bottom, buried as it always is now, is the thing I am looking for: Mama’s huge leather-bound book of tales. The edges of the spine are frayed and worn, the binding peeling away where the spine is separating from the pages. Dark prints stain the leather where our fingers have grabbed for it, the prints of adults and children marking a tapestry of us across the once-pristine cover.
I learned the old stories before I learned to milk a cow, and I take it back to my pallet nest, opening it by instinct the the tale of the Scarlet Vurulv. It’s become a ritual, digging the book out from the bottom of the chest when the moon is full and reading the story version as the real-life beast plots in the next room. The reality of a curse is different from the storybook version, something the whole world is learning now.
Almwyck is a place people go to disappear. After their father died, Lief lead his sister and mother away from their hometown to hide the shame of their new-found poverty. Now Lief is missing, presumed dead in the war on Lormere. Her mother sick with grief, Errin uses her apothecary training to sedate her mother and sell potions to pay the rent. There’s one problem – as she did not finish her training, the potions she sells are not legal. Her landlord will turn a blind eye … for a price Errin is not willing to pay.
The Sleeping Prince is on the rise. Awoken from a 500-year sleep, he has overthrown the royal family in Lormere. He and his army are on a killing-spree, and they are getting closer to Errin’s home. The boundaries between life and fairy tale are becoming ever-thinner.
Alone and afraid, Errin turns to Silas Corby, the hooded man who needs Errin’s potions. Silas procures a potion, an elixir, the like of which Errin has never seen before. It calms her mother’s monthly attacks of rage, when nothing else has done so. Errin knows this is no ordinary potion. It turns out Silas Corby has some secrets of his own, secrets which lead Errin to the heart of the battle against The Sleeping Prince.
It is difficult to discuss the middle book in a trilogy without referencing it to the first. The geography and time-span of the story have expanded. The Sin Eater’s Daughter took place in the castle of Lormere, over a short period of time. Reference was made to events in the past, but we followed the events of a small number of weeks in which the Queen’s reign was challenged.
The start of The Sleeping Prince went slowly. Although Errin faced difficulties in her village, they were not part of the main plot, and months passed in a small number of pages. At that point, it felt very much like a ‘middle’ book. I was concerned its only purpose was to take us from the end of The Sin Eater’s Daughter into a final battle. Then we learnt more about Silas. From that point, I galloped to the ending, and what an ending it was. Not only action, but revelations which grabbed the inside of my stomach and twisted it. An epic conclusion redeemed a slower start.
The origins of alchemy in Tremaye are explored. Building on the revelation at the end of book 1, The Sleeping Prince explores the relationship between true events and fairy-tales. We were also offered a new perspective on ‘civilised’ Tremaye, as the citizens fight off crowds of refugees for fear of being ‘overrun’. This feels like a pertinent comment on the Western world, and I like the way the second book challenges and expands what we learned in book one.
Several motifs from book one recur, including a mysterious potion. As in book one, what the protagonist learns about the potion changes their perceptions of their world, and propels them into adventure. I hope the final book follows the same pattern, as much because I love the potion bottles on the covers.
At the end of book one, I disliked Twylla. Not as a character – she was an interesting character, who developed over the course of the narrative. I found her self-centred, and thought there were times when she failed to act on what she learned. The ending of The Sleeping Prince made me revise that judgement. Twylla has been caught up in something massive from an early age, and left to figure it out for herself. As for Errin … her role in the plot is interesting, but it is Twylla and Marek I want to follow to through the final narrative.