Stolen Songbird, a young adult fantasy, is Danielle L. Jensen’s debut and the first book in The Malediction Trilogy. The next book, Hidden Huntress, was scheduled for release in March 2015, but since its publisher was recently discontinued that date may no longer apply—although the author has stated that the sequel will be published one way or another. This is a great relief since Stolen Songbird is a wonderful story, and it would be terrible not to be able to read the rest of the series!
On her seventeenth birthday, Cécile is preparing to leave her father’s farm behind to join her mother Genevieve, a famous singer, in the city. A few years ago, Genevieve made a rare visit to the village and requested that Cécile sing for her. After discovering her daughter also had talent, Genevieve decided to provide singing lessons from tutors of her choice until Cécile turned seventeen. At that point, she would accompany her mother to begin her own career as a singer, and Genevieve promised her, “When you stand on stage and sing, the whole world will love you” (pp. 10).
Unfortunately, their plans are not meant to be and Cécile is captured by Luc, a man from her village, on the way to her going away party. He brings her under the mountain, claiming that he has discovered the lost city of Trollus. The trolls want Cécile and offered to pay him her weight in gold in return for delivering her to them. Before they reach their destination, Cécile and Luc are nearly eaten by one of the giant slug-like creatures that live in the tunnels, but their survival is small comfort to Cécile, who has heard tales of humans eaten by trolls.
It turns out the trolls do not intend to dine on Cécile but rather wed her to their prince, Tristan. Five hundred years ago, a witch broke the mountain and cast a spell preventing the trolls from leaving, and it had been foretold that this union would break the curse they have endured for centuries. Cécile is brought to the troll prince, an exquisitely handsome man who reminds her of Prince Charming—until he opens his mouth and shatters any illusion of resemblance to this romantic figure. The two are bonded under the full moon, and as a result, Cécile can feel Tristan’s emotions and vice versa. Cécile is puzzled to sense relief from Tristan when the curse is not broken after their marriage, and the more time she spends in Trollus the more she wonders what he is hiding—and how she might be able to help the people of Trollus who are treated unfairly by those who believe themselves to be superior.
Stolen Songbird is an engaging book that is difficult to put down since it is entertaining and well-paced. I did think it was too quickly paced at the beginning since there is not much time spent on background or characterization before Cécile’s kidnapping. While I appreciated that there was no meandering at the start and that the book quickly got to the point, I am the type of reader who enjoys some details about the setting and characters and I was wondering how much I would like the book at first since non-stop action does not tend to work for me. Fortunately, once Cécile got to the troll kingdom it contained more of the elements I like: some background on the fairy-tale-like history of the kingdom of Trollus, some mystery about characters and their motivations, and some insight into the world as Cécile discovers the magic and culture of Trollus.
This is a book I consider to be fairly predictable and full of tropes, but it is also one I consider to be an example of familiar elements done well. Of course, there is a romance between Cécile and Tristan, and their emotional connection through the bond adds some tension since they know enough to have a general idea of what the other is feeling but do not know why. While both characters are narrators, Cécile narrates most events in the story and she’s an open book from the beginning. Tristan is more mysterious, and his motivations and true feelings remain murky to Cécile after the reader has gotten a handle on his character, which is fun. I loved Tristan from the moment he was introduced with his properly spoken but amusing conversational style, and I did love how their romance unfolded without seeming too sudden. Their conversations and chemistry kept this part of the story engaging even if many of the situations that drove them toward or away from each other seemed typical and orchestrated at times.
The most unusual aspect of this book was the trolls, who are different from the norm. Some of them are unique in appearance while others are similar to humans but usually with an unearthly beauty (I did find it quite convenient that Cécile’s new husband was one of the unbelievably handsome ones). They also have magic and a power structure based on these abilities, especially since this strength is important to keeping their kingdom from collapsing under the weight of the rock; those who have weak magic, such as the ones who have a significant amount of human blood, are not treated very well. The pieces that are revealed about their origins and the witch’s curse gives the story a fairy tale flavor, and I’m interested in finding out more about the mythology in subsequent books.
Many of the characters did not have a lot of depth, but despite that, I was pleasantly surprised by some of them. In particular, there was one character who could be seen as Cécile’s rival yet she did not seem villainous or despicable. In fact, I found her quite a sympathetic and admirable character by the end. Cécile herself isn’t particularly three dimensional, but she is likable due to her determination and resilience. If she saw an opportunity to make her situation better, she’d take advantage of it, and I loved her strong will and refusal to give up. Her own journey of self-discovery is another predictable element of the story since chapter one hints at her own nature, but this is another case of tropes utilized in a fashion that makes them riveting rather than dull. The most intriguing character is Tristan due to his aforementioned mysterious nature and delightful conversational style. He and Cécile are opposites since she tends to seize the moment and he tends to plan in advance, and it’s a delight to read about the two of them together.
There are some aspects of this story that some may find difficult to read about, such as Cécile being kidnapped and forced to not only marry but bond with someone against her will. The unsavory parts of the book are portrayed accordingly, and I didn’t feel like Tristan and Cécile’s bonding was romanticized even if their marriage did lead to a love story.
Other than the troll mythology, Stolen Songbird is not a book that is terribly unique but it is one that shows why familiar elements are often used in a story: when utilized well with the right combination of characters and storytelling, they can add suspense and excitement to the journey. Despite often knowing what would happen or feeling like certain parts followed a familiar pattern, it was a truly enjoyable book that kept me riveted and made me wish there was more once I was done with it.
My Rating: 8/10
Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.
Read “The Songbird’s Overture” (a short story set 4 years before the novel)