The Sleeping Prince by Melinda Salisbury
Published by Scholastic, May 31, 2016. Jacketed hardcover of of 336 pages. Intended for ages 14 and up, Grades 9 and up.
Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.
The cover: A teenage girl is within a gigantic bottle, her red dress a match for the red swirls of liquid that refuse to mix with the yellow liquid. The bottle is corked and is framed in a elaborately designed metal casing, whose chains go to the bottom of the image and disappear into the darkness. A very neat, fanciful image from Jacey and Jamie Gregory, with the jacket designed by Christopher Stengel. Overall grade: A+
The premise: From the inside cover flap: “Ever since her older brother Lief disappeared, Errin’s life has gone from bad to worse. Not only must she care for her sick mother, she has to scrape together rent money by selling illegal herbal cures. But none of that compares to the threat of the vengeful Sleeping Prince, whom the queen just awoke from his enchanted sleep. When her village is evacuated as part of the fight against the Sleeping Prince, Errin is left desperate and homeless. The only person she turn to is the mysterious Silas, a young man who buys deadly poisons from Errin but won’t reveal why he needs them. Silas promises to help her, but when he vanishes, Errin must journey across a kingdom on the brink of war to seek another way to save her mother and herself. Yet what she finds shatters everything she believed about her world, and with the Sleeping Prince drawing nearer, Errin must make a heartbreaking choice that could affect the whole kingdom.” This is a good tease of things to come, but it’s too much. I don’t read the premises until after I’ve finished the book and this spoils the main story line. All that’s missing are the key details. Too much, Scholastic, way too much. Overall grade: B-
The characters: Errin Vastel’s number one priority is take care of her mother, who has a peculiar affliction. Everything and everyone is secondary to her mother. Before the bad times, Errin lived in the shadow of her perfect brother who went off to fight the Sleeping Prince’s army, but has disappeared. With his fate uncertain, his shadow has become practically a legend and one that’s unavoidable. Author Salisbury has really put Errin into a corner: taking care of mom, trying to be as good as her brother, and the unavoidable move she must make. This makes Errin’s scenes where she dares take a moment for herself, whether in thought or considering romance, stronger because any reader can relate to wanting more time for themselves. Silas Kolby is the second most important character of the book. He’s mysterious, he’s always cloaked (she’s never seen his face), and she’s pining for him terribly, and he knows it. He provides both the romance and the impetus for her to journey out on her own, though he doesn’t want her to do so. Chapter 12 is a huge chapter for him, where he reveals all of his history and more, which changes the direction of the book. Taking one chapter to explain everything was a bit much, and it felt as if the author was speaking more than the character on these pages. The first half of the book has a protagonist named Chanse Unwin, which earns Salisbury praise for one of the best names I’ve ever encountered in a fictional novel. He’s not only her and her mother’s landlord, to whom money is naturally owed, but is also the self-appointed Justice of Almwyk, a double whammy of a position to put the screws to the protagonist. How he wants her to pay her debts are as low as one can go and every time he appears in the book his villainy could be smelled. He was great. The main antagonist is the title character, the Sleeping Prince. He only appears in the prologue and the end of the novel, but his presence is felt throughout. The mention of his name causes fear and apprehension. His final appearance has him coming off as the typical fantasy villain because there’s not enough of him in this book to get a good feel for who he really is. There is another key character who appears in the last quarter of the book and this individual was the main character in the book that proceeds this one, The Sin Eater’s Daughter. Having not read that book, this character’s appearance didn’t resonate for me. There are several soldiers that Errin encounters in her travels, but they were nameless and forgettable assistants and obstacles. Overall grade: B-
The settings: The settings of this book started strong but became very generic as it went along. Almwyk is a fantastic environment and this is the location of the first part of the book. It’s a shanty town where all of society’s outcasts live, some to escape false imprisonment, others to avoid justifiable imprisonment. It’s deep in the woods and every building, person, and action that occurs there is absolutely real. Errin’s home is fantastic in its pitiful nature and I wanted her to have something better. Part Two is Errin on the run and she makes her long way through the countryside, encountering strangers, soldiers, and a random meeting with extended family. This entire section fell into the expected territory of a fantasy novel. If Salisbury had spent more time in one location, she most likely could have improved the descriptions and created a better mood for each, but Errin has someone to get to. The final location is in opposition to what it’s owner is used to from the first novel, but having not read that book, again, this had no impact on me. Overall grade: C
The action: There are long passages, even chapters, devoted to Errin pondering her situation. They were so numerous I longed for Errin to do anything and I was ecstatic when someone appeared to interact with her. The book does slow when she’s on her own. The book has an exciting prologue, but the book ends with an actionless reveal and the majority of the book is Errin pondering her choices and then setting out after having been forced to make a decision. Her scenes with Silas are charged with unrequited romance, so there is some terrific tension there, but when Errin achieves her goal at the climax I felt cheated. Overall grade: C-
The conclusion: There isn’t one; the protagonist of this novel meets someone and together the pair are taken into the peril of the upcoming third novel. The climax of the novel is Errin meeting up with the person she’s been looking for and then has her world completely upended by what she’s told; essentially everything you’ve been told is wrong. This wasn’t horrible, but it felt like a cheat. If there had been more hints of this before Errin had met this individual it would have been enjoyable, but with the novel told from Errin’s point of view I don’t know how this would have been possible. It left me extremely dissatisfied and not wanting to continue to read more of the Sin Eater’s Daughter saga. Overall grade: C-
The final line: Liked the characters, but not the journey. The first half of the novel is more enjoyable than the second, and a lack of resolution (and knowledge of a previous character) hurt my enjoyment. Overall grade: C+
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