In 2003, my sister came home with a handful of books for me. Among them was The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. I was in love within seconds of opening it, for the story followed a tiny, sickly mouse with unusually large ears, born with his eyes wide open. He was the only of his litter to be born alive, and no one thought he would survive.
“I will name this mouse Despereaux,” his mother announces,
“for all the sadness, for the many despairs in this place.”
For those of you that haven’t read it, if you hadn’t already guessed, Despereaux lives. He grows up as a lonely odd ball, eventually having to take fate into his own hands and rely on his wits and courage far bigger than himself to do what he needs to do.
Loving such a book growing up, there’s no wonder why, after reading the prologue, I had high hopes for State of Sorrow. A Chancellor’s pride kills his infant son. Days later his wife goes into early labour and gives birth to a girl before dying herself. Seventeen years pass, and the entire country is stuck in a state of grief: no smiling, no laughing, no light, no art or music. Nothing that could possibly bring even the smallest hint of joy.
“Sorrow,” her mother names the baby before she dies, “for that is all she brings us.”
Like Despereaux, I immediately took a liking to Sorrow. You feel for her from the outset. Everything a child ought to be given – a hug, a kind word, love – is all stolen from her for something that was completely out of her control. Because of it, she’s also an incredibly flawed character, trying to find comfort where she knows she shouldn’t, battling with what she wants and what others need, dealing with conflicting feelings…
Usually, this is the part of the review where I tell you the basic plot for the novel. This is when Character A goes through down Road 1 and ends up meeting Character B and forced down Road 2 and slips and falls to Road 3 where she meets Character C, who is actually the love of her life. State of Sorrow simply cannot be explained this way. It’s a novel that needs to be experienced. To tell you the backbone storyline would be to divulge what is, essentially, one of the many brilliant plot twists.
What’s brilliant about State of Sorrow is that it keeps you guessing. It takes you from revelation to revelation, are thrown back to plots that first went over your head because you thought it was useless ‘filler’ information, and end up being no closer to the answers at the end of the novel than you were when cracking open the book. I read State of Sorrow under the assumption that it was a stand-alone novel. The ending fast became my favourite part; the fact that it didn’t tie up all loose ends with a neat little bow is actually what I loved most about it. It gave me the chance to feel sorrow yourself and chiselled my investment into the stone of the Palace walls. I now know that it is in fact the start of the Sorrow series and that gives me mixed feelings. A very big part of me wishes that Melinda Salisbury would leave it as a stand-alone, but the part of me that is so deeply invested in the protagonist wants to see her have a happily-ever-after.
What I can say, without doubt, is that Salisbury’s writing is beautiful and unique. The pace changes depending on what is happening in the story, pulling you further into the narrative. The romance storylines don’t overwhelm the intrigue of the rest of the story. It really sends you through a whirlwind of emotions. I hadn’t read any of Salisbury’s other books before this, but I’ll definitely be picking up The Sin Eater’s Daughter series when I see it in a bookshop!
And you never know, I may pick up a copy of State of Sorrow’s sequel when it hits the shelves – curiosity may just get the better of me!