Okay. I have been putting off writing this review for an age, worried partly that I wouldn’t do this amazing book justice, and partly that this review will look pants by comparison to my review of State of Sorrow is which is one of the best reviews I have written. It is time. Let me start with the highlights: book excellent, ending perfect, author wonderful, and so many feelings happened.
Just like our main girl Sorrow, the cover has grown up a bit. There are some seriously dark vibes going on there with the creepy vines (oh gods those vines are haunting me).
At the end of State of Sorrow, Sorrow won her campaign and became the official chancellor of Rhannon. She’s sick of being congratulated, torn between being thrilled that she won, and feeling like a fraud. She feels guilty. Facing up to the fact that she is not the real Sorrow Ventaxis and that her whole life is a lie is not easy. She’s scared her secret will be revealed. She’s cross that her father-figure Charon knew the truth about her birth and didn’t see fit to tell her. She’s missing Luvian (who isn’t?), and she’s being a dick to Irris (she knows she is, but she can’t seem to stop). Sorrow is a hot mess at the start of this book, and she is having more emotions than my poor dead heart is equipped to deal with.
Sorrow is doing her best to be the chancellor her people deserve. She genuinely cares for them and believes they have lived in darkness and mourning for long enough. I love that Sorrow isn’t trying to rule like the men before her have: she is embracing her femininity and using it as a strength. She is touring the country to meet her people, showing them compassion, enjoying their arts, and using her dress choices (a different colour of the rainbow for every stop) to fill her Chancellorship with colour. She wants to heal Rhannon, to bring a new kind of politics, a world of joy and colour to heal the hurt that her father left behind. Our real life politicians could stand to take some tips from Sorrow Ventaxis.
But, her new role isn’t as simple as restoring joy to the people, and it bothers her that she cannot be the leader she really wants to be. Sorrow’s court is filled with older men who still see her as nothing more than a child. She has to assert herself in a way that her father never did just to get the slightest hint of respect from them. It’s exhausting. She feels like a puppet. She might be the Chancellor, but she is struggling to exercise any real power with the men around her telling her what she should do and how she should do it.
The worst of all of these men (and one of the worst men to ever appear on the page) is Vespus Corrigan. For most of this book, I wanted to see his severed head served up on a platter; for the rest, I wanted to set him on fire. There is nothing at all about this man that I can find to like. He knows the secrets that Sorrow is hiding and, being the vile specimen that he is, he is using that to get what he wants. He blames her for the way that he treats her, arguing that if she were only more amenable (more pliant, more subservient, more the kind of woman he can control), then he wouldn’t have to do the things he does. He treats her as a child who doesn’t understand politics; but Sorrow understands the political situation well enough, she just wants a different kind of politics. The more Sorrow tries to push back, the more Vespus asserts his control. He threatens the lives of those Sorrow cares about. He will drag anyone and anything into this situation to get his own way, at one point even dragging his own son into the situation.
Enter his wife, Tassas. Tassas is something else. Not only did she marry Vespus (why would anyone do that?) she also has one of the most terrifying gifts of all the Rhyllan gifts we encounter in this duology. Through this couple, we see the idea of these powers explored in more detail, and we find that even the gifts that seem the kindest can be used viciously in the hands of those who want to cause harm. Vespus’s power is a prime example of this: he can cultivate plants, and harness the beauty of nature, but nature can also be savage and it is this harsher aspect that Vespus chooses to harness.
Irris, ever Sorrow’s best friend, doesn’t understand why Sorrow won’t just get rid of Vespus. After all, she’s the Chancellor now and she should be able to get rid of those who don’t serve her and the new Rhannon. But Irris doesn’t know Sorrow’s secret, and Sorrow isn’t letting her in. Worse than that, she pushes Irris away, sending her far from the palace in a bid to keep her safe. This only leaves her more alone and more vulnerable.
“Irris’s absence was everywhere; the space where she ought to have sat, the gap by Sorrow’s side … The lack of her presence swallowed her whole”
There are others that Sorrow pushes away, including her brother/ not-brother Mael, the poor sweet little bean, who was not only defeated in his bid to be Chancellor, but finds himself without the thing he wants most of all: a family. Vespus has used him and discarded him without a second thought. Sorrow was awful to him in State of Sorrow, and now she is realising that all he wanted the whole time was to find his people: a feeling Sorrow herself is very familiar with, but she still pushes him away, and no-one else knows that she is trying to protect him too.
One person who is not afraid to confront Sorrow when needed is Luvian. He is such a joy in this book. I adore him. We get to meet his whole family, and they are just as wonderful. His mum, Beata, especially. She is terrifying, but only wants to protect her boys. She does not care for power or taking control so long as she and her brood are left in peace and treated kindly. There is so much I want to say about Luvian Fen and his family, but there would be spoilers for miles if I did. Suffice it to say, he is brilliant and if you don’t love him, I don’t think we can be friends.
As always, Mel’s twists are exquisite. There are terrifying moments when people you love are in danger, when people you love are in love, where friendship is everything, and when you want to scream at characters for the decisions they’re making. There is a brilliant relationship in this novel; I especially loved the way that consent was addressed and the fact that in this situation it was a female character who had more experience but there was no judgement of her past, it just was what it was and everyone was happy. There need to be more relationships like this in books.
Song of Sorrow is filled with secrets, politics, and some harsh truths for our girl. Things are far from easy, but Sorrow finds solace and joy in the people she allows to be close to her, and ultimately discovers that found family can be more than the family you’re born into, and this message is everything.
At the end of State of Sorrow, I said that Mel had ripped out my heart, stamped on it, and handed it back wrapped in ribbon for book two. Song of Sorrow gave my fragile heart some new tears for sure, but it also helped to heal it. Song of Sorrow is emotional in the very best way, and I could not have wished for a better or more perfect ending to this duology. All Hail Queen Mel: she’s done it again.