Stolen Songbird, by Danielle L. Jensen

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Stolen Songbird

 

Series: The Malediction Trilogy, Book 1 | Genre: Fantasy (YA) | Edition: ARC | Publisher: Strange Chemistry | Publication date: April 1st 2014 | My rating: 5/5

(This book was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the mountain. When Cecile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she realises that the trolls are relying on her to break the curse.

Cecile has only one thing on her mind: escape. But the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time…

But the more time she spends with the trolls, the more she understands their plight. There is a rebellion brewing. And she just might be the one the trolls were looking for…

This year’s getting to be a really great one for strong debuts in SF/F, and Danielle L. Jensen’s first novel is definitely among them.

It does the one thing I love to see most in fantasy novels, by taking elements we’ve seen done before and giving them a twist that brings them to fresh life in the story. In the case of Stolen Songbird, it’s trolls who get the update treatment. In Jensen’s own words in a recent interview here, they are cast in a fairer light rather than a different one, and the result is something very intriguing, something that feels new while still being quite familiar.

Trolls live in dark caves, they hoard massive riches and they steal (and eat?) human children. Technically, all of those things are true here. Trollus is a subterranean city, buried by a collapsed mountain that’s held off of the residents’ heads by the magic and will of their prince, Tristan. They do indeed have a hoard of gold and jewels with which they’ve traded with any humans who have made it to Trollus in one piece.

Yet while Cecile is forced to live in Trollus against her will, and being trapped beneath a mountain did once force those in the city to take desperate measures to survive (see above re: eating humans), the culture of the trolls is a lot closer to human than anyone outside of it realises. There are enough shades of the fey here to please me as well, but it’s that mirroring of cultures that proves more interesting. The King of Trollus is a monstrous creature, both inside and out, but his son and heir is another story…

The tentative yet ever-growing romance between Tristan and Cecile is perhaps one of the ‘present and accounted for’ aspects of the story, but while it might not be anything new, Jensen makes it work with ever-present peril, some convincing chemistry and, at one point, a fairly window-steamifying encounter that more than does the trick of bringing their troubled relationship to believable life.

Beyond the central pair, there are plenty of reasons to like the story where the supporting characters are concerned. Namely, Tristan’s closest friend Marc. His own story might be a sidebar, but it’s one that adds real depth to that friendship and makes Marc an interesting and very sympathetic character in his own right. He’s a perfect example of what I enjoyed most where Jensen’s take on the troll legends is concerned – proof that not everything that is frightening to look at is ugly on the inside, as well. As counterpoints to the king’s bone-deep ‘ugly’ nature go, Marc serves the story wonderfully. I definitely want to see more of him in the following books!

As main characters go I enjoyed the setup of Cecile and Tristan, their development and misadventures, but while the story was enjoyable there was one (relatively minor) aspect of telling it that got under my skin. The story is told via both of their perspectives, and while I enjoyed the dual-storytelling aspect there’s a distinct lack of POV-switch markers. On a few occasions the switches take place mid-chapter, so without those markers it tripped me up more than once. It’s a small thing, but it’s one that can throw a reader off and potentially undo how deeply involved they get while reading (as I found myself doing).

All things considered, though, this IS a small complaint. Overall, I loved the story being told here, from the history of the trolls, through the situational setup to the superbly dramatic ending. Fans of romantic fantasy drama should definitely not miss this book!

 

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