“I think it is our nature to believe evil always has an ugly face,” he said, ignoring my question. “Beauty is supposed to be good and kind, and to discover it otherwise is like a betrayal of trust. A violation of the nature of things.”
Without a doubt, Stolen Songbird is one of the better YA fantasy books I’ve read in a while. The novel follows a well known YA storyline but manages to make it its own, to make it appear fresh. It’s a book full of magic, political intrigue, strange creatures and coupled with Jensen’s lovely writing, I believe it will be a real hit for many fantasy lovers.
The story follows Cécile, a young girl who has grown up on a farm and plans to leave her small village for the city to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a successful opera singer. But her plans are ruined when she is kidnapped on her way home and is brought to Trollus, the mythical troll city lying below a mountain. She learns that the trolls have purchased her to marry off to Tristan, a prince of Trollus and heir to the throne, in order to fulfill an ancient prophesy.
The novel was well-paced and had me at the edge of my seat pretty much throughout. The strong air of imprisonment really added to the story and enforced the sense of danger and suspense.
I loved the setting. Trollus is situated in a cave below a collapsed mountain and the descriptions are glorious. They are never too long and always compliment the story, without ever overpowering it. The author manages to make the city seem both incredibly opulent and desolate at the same time.
The characters in this book were pure awesomeness.
Cécile was the best, I loved her. She is fierce, intelligent, level-headed and brave, while still having a kind and compassionate heart. Best of all, was how she accepted her fate. She is truly and deeply angry for being kidnapped and expresses it too (I didn’t get any sense of Stockholm syndrome), but doesn’t waste her time lying around doing nothing and being helpless. Instead, she decides to seek as much knowledge as she possibly can and overcomes her prejudices in the process. Even though she is such a great person, she also has her flaws. She really messes things up a few times but I could easily forgive her because she admits that she was wrong and learns from her mistakes.
Tristan, oh Tristan. What a swoon-worthy male character he is. When he was first introduced I was ready to roll my eyes. Another brooding, conceited and spoiled prince, I thought. Fortunately, I was wrong to judge so soon. He may seem quite ruthless and selfish at the start but it soon turns out that appearances can deceive. He is in fact very strong-minded and caring and has good reasons why he acts the way he does. He has trust issues and is very hesitant to form a bond with Cécile but soon realizes that in order for them to survive and help others, he must learn to overcome his inner demons. Oh, and he is also very sarcastic and made me laugh many times.
The secondary characters were very enjoyable as well. Marc, the twins, Cécil’s maids, and even Anaïs were all well-developed and endearing.
The moment I realized what bonding meant, I was worried because the risk of insta-love just seemed significantly higher. But rest assured, there is no insta-love, instead you will find a beautiful slow-burning romance (my favorite kind!) that will melt your heart. I appreciated how realistic the relationship between Cécile and Tristan was, full of trust issues and miscommunication that made complete sense in the context. Seeing their feelings gradually grow was wonderful. Also, the romance didn’t overwhelm the rest of the plot; it isn’t romance novel.
A few other things that stood out to me:
– The lack of a love triangle (yes guys, it’s possible, hurray!)
– One of my most hated fantasy book tropes is the phenomenon of “the chosen one”. Cécile is supposed to be the savior of Trollus, the one who will finally free the trolls after decades of imprisonment. Except, she fails, which is a bad for the trolls and awesome for me.
– I liked the French twist. It didn’t really add to the story to be honest, but it was nice to hear some French all the same.
Things I wasn’t sold on (aka why I didn’t give this book 5 teacups):
– The beauty issue: So, I’m feeling very conflicted about this point. On the one hand, making Tristan and the majority of the other trolls beautiful, human-looking creatures with sparkling grey eyes makes sense, because it plays with people’s preconceived notions of trolls and can thus be considered original. How will Cécile know who to trust if they all have such pretty faces, right? BUT, I still didn’t like it very much, because what exactly makes them so different from humans besides magic?
– The fact that singing really wasn’t relevant to the story. It’s not like this is a problem per se, but I just felt like it was a missed opportunity. Was I the only one hoping for a really cool magic system that used song and voice in some way? Or that the curse had something to do with her ability to sing? (Granted, maybe singing will be more of plot point in the second book but if this is the case, there really wasn’t much foreshadowing here.)
– Towards the end, I thought there were certain inconsistencies in the characters and I didn’t completely agree with the choices they made.
– The trolls’ misogynistic world-view didn’t make sense. If a person’s value (or troll’s, I guess) hinges on the amount of magic in their blood and not family or gender, then why are women still seen as inferior?
Overall though, I thought this was an excellent book and I highly recommend it if you are looking for a strong YA fantasy novel!