Prince of the Sorrow (Rowan Blood Volume One) was an incredible little find for me. Released earlier this year, I stumbled on it during a Barnes & Noble website deep-dive, looking for preorder books that weren't on the big lists. It's a New Adult fantasy, thrusting us into a world where changeling children are dragged across the veil into the Fey lands.
This novel is atmospheric, gorgeously-written, and so well conceptualized that I flew through it in an evening, unable to step away from Saffron and Cylvan.
Saffron is changeling, stolen from the human world twenty-years ago to be raised as a servant in the fey world. As the years pass, most human changelings age-out of the "families" that raised them, sent to work or apprentice at different places under the eye of a new patron, whoever bought their servitude. If they don't get a new patron, some of them have to leave the only home they've ever had and return across to veil to a world they have no concept of.
Saffron is a servant at a high fey university, where the spoiled fey terrorize and taunt the humans for amusement. The humans, crammed into a small outcropping of buildings beside the school, are second-class, not even seen as citizens of this fey world. They work everyday in shifts, trading off beds as one shift comes home and the other goes out to work. They wear veils to make them invisible, faceless, so that they fade into the background. They're punished for the smallest infractions, worked like pack mules, and have their fates decided by fey "patrons" who really serve as their owners, able to lease them out and command them at leisure.
Despite all of this, Saffron is desperate to stay in the fey world with his makeshift human family, but his patron-fey Luvon sends all his changelings back to the human world when they get too old. On the brink of being forced back to a world he's never known and leave behind everyone he knows, Saffron sets out to find a new patron, to earn his place, and prove his worth.
Saffron is in the woods one day, at home among the trees, covered in cheeky piskeys who burrow in his hair, try to steal the buttons from his doublet, cling to his rings, and beg for sweets. He distracts them with treats and digs into the hollows where they hoard all the trinkets they've swiped from the nearby school. He's searching for a charmed ring that will grant him access to the library - the one place humans aren't allowed to enter.
As soon as Saffron escapes the piskeys with a handful of rings, he comes face to face with a daunting, dark-haired high-fey whom demands Saffron help him find something he believes is buried in the piskey hollow. Given no choice, Saffron searches for the fey's ring. As soon as he discovers it, the fey sticks it on Saffron's finger, demanding that Saffron test out its magic.
"Try to compel me," the fey says. Compulsion is normally a fey trick, something they can impose on humans against their will. The fey gives his name, telling Saffron to compel him, to see if the ring allows anyone to use compulsion.
When Saffron successfully commands the fey to cut off his own hair, the creature becomes livid. Before he can act, Saffron compels him to run to the road, to wander in the woods. Saffron makes a break for it, taking the magic ring with him.
The first chapter is the clunkiest of the entire book, but it definitely does not set the tone for the rest. There's so much going on in the first chapter; it's an abrupt start to the story. It feels a little messy and left me wondering if that was the best place/moment to start the novel. Saffron has multiple threads already spinning that could've been explained better, but once you get on board, the story really levels out.
Saffron has no control over his life, at the whims of any and all fey, so he sees the ring as an opportunity to control his future. Aging out of Luvon's patronage, Saffron has been forcing himself to work quietly, to stay out of the way, to earn his place, but the only patronage option open to him is from an entitled, obsessive fey who wants to buy Saffron to keep in his bed.
With the ring giving him the ability to compel fey, Saffron begins plotting. But when the school starts preparing for a new arrival -- Prince Cylvan -- Saffron comes face to face with the fey from the wood. The fey who wants him dead.
Not only did Saffron walk away with the ring and leave the prince in the woods, he walked away with something more dangerous. With Cylvan eager to rip out his tongue so that Saffron can never compel him again, Saffron realizes it was never the ring that enabled the compulsion, it was the prince's true name that gave Saffron the power.
When the plot smooths out after the first chapter, we really get to see the intricacies of all the threads weaving together. Saffron is desperate for a new patron so he can stay, weary of the prince who gave up his true name with no explanation, and eager to finagle a promise out of the prince - no compulsion necessary (or else Cylvan will kill him all together).
These characters were so well-rounded. It starts with a typical human-fey relationship: Saffron has no power, while it seems the prince has every advantage. But as the story unfolds, Saffron is witty, genuine, and has the patience to both survive and charm the prince. Two of them have incredible chemistry in this slow burn romance, and eventually Saffron begins to unveil the true power dynamics at the school.
Saffron learns that the prince understands his plight in ways he never thought possible. The Night Prince is more than the rumors, more than this brooding, cruel boy. He's trapped too, and he wants to be forgiven for all the ways he's just like the people who try to control him, the way the fey control the humans.
There are some strange grammar issues, especially early on in the book. Some sentences run on when they should be split and others are full of dangling modifiers that make you do a quick double-take to figure out who's doing what and reaching where. But after the earlier chapters in the book, I really didn't notice it anymore.
There were some moments that could've been better done. There was a little bit of the miscommunication trope, which I'm not a fan of, but it was partially reasoned away in a way where I can emphasize with the characters (rather than be annoyed with them for not just being up front with one another).
Additionally, there were a few things I thought should've been highlighted more. Particularly with Prince Cylvan. I would've liked to see a bit more angst on his part. When he starts to care for Saffron, there's not much he can do because of the imbalance between them and the society they're in, but it would've been nice to see him somehow stand up for Saffron, to create some sort of haven for him.
I also would've liked to see a little bit of jealousy or longing. Saffron and Cylvan both live daily lives that the other can't be part of. Even though he's the indentured servant, Saffron's life is more full of love and found-family (and camaraderie and friends). I wanted the tension between their lives to come to a head. For Cylvan to be a bit jealous of the people who get to be close to Saffron (especially Saffron's ex/friend), and for Saffron to struggle to be so close to Cylvan's daily life, but forced to toe the edges of it.
I came to the end of this book and realized that it would stick with me for an unbearably long time. The second book isn't out yet and has no set publication date. Prince of the Sorrows left me in a place where I'm desperate to see what happens to Saffron and Cylvan. Even with some of its hiccups, this book is solid, relatively fast-paced, and well-written. There's enough there to challenge the big-name "Fey" writers. It's reminiscent of The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, but manages even to be more atmospheric. The attention to detail is phenomenal, and I found myself loving every mention of Cylvan's intricately carved horns and the little hollows that Saffron sticks flowers in.
Prince of the Sorrows is one of my new favorites, and I'm frustratedly waiting on the second one. Saffron and Cylvan's story isn't even close to being finished, and I'm so ready to see where it goes.