Back in 2021 I was on the blog tour for Malice, the first book in a sapphic duology retelling Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of the villain – well, the second half of the series is here, and it’s a fantastic and surprising end to the story!
Book: Misrule by Heather Walter
Publication date: 10th May 2022
Ownership: Proof and finished copy sent free of charge by Del Rey Books. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: violence, injury, and death; some mild gore; death of family members (in past) and grief; mention of child/baby death; toxic relationship dynamics; oppression of magical races.
The Dark Grace is dead.
Feared and despised for the sinister power in her veins, Alyce wreaks her revenge on the kingdom that made her an outcast. Once a realm of decadence and beauty, Briar is now wholly Alyce’s wicked domain. And no one will escape the consequences of her wrath. Not even the one person who holds her heart.
Princess Aurora saw through Alyce’s thorny facade, earning a love that promised the dawn of a new age. But it is a love that came with a heavy price: Aurora now sleeps under a curse that even Alyce’s vast power cannot seem to break. And the dream of the world they would have built together is nothing but ash.
Alyce vows to do anything to wake the woman she loves, even if it means turning into the monster Briar believes her to be. But could Aurora love the villain Alyce has become?
Or is true love only for fairy tales?
My standard sequel disclaimer applies particularly strongly here: it will be impossible to discuss this book without spoiling at least some of the events of Malice. So if you haven’t yet read the first book, you’ll probably want to wait and come back to this review later. You can always scroll back up to my link above and go and read my spoiler-free review of Malice to tempt you! I’ll do my best to keep specifics vague here, but I will need to discuss book one a little bit as the two are deeply linked. You have been warned!
So, it took me a little while to get into Misrule, I will admit. Apart from a brief prologue, which picks up almost immediately after the end of Malice, the story skips ahead 100 years between the two books. It makes sense, from a Sleeping Beauty point of view, but it does mean that Alyce has had 100 years of off-page character development – and she’s given in to her evil side. The Alyce we reconnect with is now Nimara, Mistress of the Dark Court, and while there are glimmers of her former personality in there, for the most part she’s a ruthless, violent, and melodramatic lead. She’s far more villainous than she was in book one, and for me it was rather startling to find myself disliking her so much when she was so relatable before. The Dark Court is very atmospheric – think the creepy parts of the animated Disney Sleeping Beauty with her creepy minions – and while it’s a very fun setting, I felt a little bit lost to begin with. Alyce has destroyed all the institutions that made the first book so fun for me (the court setting, the Graces, the monarchy itself) and with Aurora still asleep, there’s not much recognisable at first. It’s very fun to see her give in to her dark side, but definitely not what I was expecting!
That being said, cracks swiftly begin to appear in Alyce’s perfect villain facade, and by the 100 page mark I was hooked back in. The tone of this book in general is much darker than Malice, and feels more adult in both its violence and its depiction of messy, toxic relationships. It’s a fascinating road to lead the story down – it would be so tempting to just have let Alyce and Aurora have their happy ending, but wow, Misrule makes them work for it. I can’t say too much, but I really appreciated the progress their relationship made towards the end of the book – it’s not an entirely perfect, Disney-fied way to go, but it made so much sense for the two of them and the way they communicated. The love story here is tied up with all sorts of political and personal themes, all coming back to the central idea of choices; ultimately, the original fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty leaves little room for choice or agency, and I adored the way that this flipped that on its head.
I can’t say too much more about the plot, but if you’d have asked me before going in where I thought this book would go, I can safely say I would never have guessed – the story manages to break free from its retelling roots and flesh the world out in a very interesting way. Misrule is a very different book from Malice, and yet the two halves feel like very satisfying parts of one whole. I’m very interested to see what Heather Walter writes next – four out of five cats!