I have an embarrassing admission to make about Stolen Songbird, Book #1 in the Malediction Trilogy by Danielle L. Jensen. I was offered this novel to read when it was originally published in Spring 2014 but turned it down. At the time I was overflowing with books to read and told myself that I could not add another one without cloning myself. Having now read it in anticipation of the June 2015 publication of Book 2 in the series, Hidden Huntress, I kick myself for not finding some way to squeeze Stolen Songbird in when it was originally published.
So, why did I really and truly turn it down? One word – Trolls. Trolls have to be my least favorite fantasy character and I could not envision how a troll could in any way be the type of character described in the publisher’s note. Well, I was wrong – very, very, very, very, very, very wrong. I’m cooking the crow I’m going to have to eat even as we speak. Review Spoiler: I literally could not put it down.
Of course, if I had accepted Stolen Songbird when it was originally offered, we probably wouldn’t be hosting a multi-book giveaway for it so it’s a definitely win for you guys! Whoot!
Five hundred years ago a witch placed a curse on the trolls, binding them to a city deep within the Forsaken Mountain. They can never leave unless they can find the key that will set them free. Since that time, most humans have forgotten that trolls ever truly existed and stories about their species have sunk into myth and legend, morality tales of the kind used to scare little children into behaving more safely.
The trolls have strict edicts about associating with humans, and avoid them except for trade that will help them survive their mountainous prison. But there is one human they’ve been searching for all these centuries, the one who can set them free. Legend says that there is a woman who, when united in marriage with a troll prince, has the power to release them from their curse. And they think they’ve found her.
Cécile de Troyes is a very gifted vocalist who has long dreamed of leaving the countryside to join her mother in the city, where she could use her amazing musical gifts in singing professionally, maybe in opera or the theater. That day has finally come and her mother has sent for her to come to Trianon. Unfortunately Luc, a bounty hunter, finds her first. Since she matches the description of the woman the trolls have been seeking, he kidnaps her and carries her off to collect his reward from the trolls inside Forsaken Mountain.
Of course, Cécile does not go quietly because she’s no pushover. From the minute she’s kidnapped, there’s only one thing on her mind – how to escape and get back to the life she planned. During their trek through the mountain, she tries to keep track of their route but it’s hard when there are dangers at every turn.
“Terror may have given us wings, but the labyrinth of Forsaken Mountain kept us to a crawl. We wriggled across boulders, boots slipping on the loose rock and ears peeled for the tell-tale swish, swish of the sluag hunting at our heels. If it was fast enough to catch us, it was choosing not to. But whenever I thought we’d escaped, we’d round a corner and the swish, swish of slithering would accost our ears, forcing us to backtrack or take another way – almost as though it was toying with us.”
Trolls, ick, ick, double ick was pretty much her attitude (kind of like mine when I heard about this tale). Once in the mountain city of Trollus, she’s even more determined to escape when she learns that she’s to be forced to marry a troll prince. The troll king has the temperament of an ogre and definite opinions about the inferiority of humans – can you say bigot with absolute power?
She quickly realizes Prince Tristan, who doesn’t look at all the way she’d imagined trolls looked, doesn’t want to marry her any more than she wants to marry him. Hmmm. That’s an interesting development worth exploring in her determination to escape. Let’s just call it loathing at first sight. She knows why she loathes what he represents but she can’t figure out why he seems to loath her. That just doesn’t make sense.
“He [Tristan] crossed his arms, ‘You know, it is exceedingly rude to stare.’
I flinched and began an intent examination of the carpet at my feet. Apparently I could scratch the charming bit as well.
‘Be pleasant, Tristan,’ the Duchess said.
He sniffed. “She’s the rude one, Auntie. First she stares and now she refuses to look at me. I’m quite convinced I have greens or something stuck between my teeth.’
I glanced up, hoping to catch a glimpse of said teeth. He caught me and grinned, ‘Were you expecting them to be pointed?’
My face burned and I fixed my eyes back on the carpet, determined never to look up again…
‘You bit Vincent once,’ Marc said from behind me. ‘So you can’t be entirely opposed to the idea.’
Tristan shot a vitriolic glare in his direction. ‘Curse you for bringing up such vile memories, Marc, and in the presence of a girl. In my defense, lady, I was only three and Vincent was sitting on my head…’
Even if I hadn’t a gag of magic in my mouth, I wouldn’t have dared spoken.
Tristan peered at me as though I were a curious insect. ‘She isn’t mute, is she? That would be dreadful.’ He leaned back against the chair, his strange eyes fixed on me. ‘On second thought, perhaps it wouldn’t be dreadful at all…’”
As Cécile gets to know the residents of Trollus, and learns more about the political climate, she begins to empathize with its “people.” Some pure-bred trolls look down on half-breed trolls, and treat humans as an expedient to get what is needed. Other pure-bred trolls actually have empathy and are good beings. Half-breed trolls (human/troll hybrids) are treated like objects to be used, abused, and literally done away with on a whim or when no longer useful. Cécile is outraged by the prejudice she finds and her heart goes out to those who are being mistreated. At the same time, she’s out of her league in the byzantine political maneuverings she’s landed in. Things are not as they appear on the surface of Trollus by a long shot.
“’You are very flippant for someone in your position, my lady,’ she [Elise] replied wryly. ‘I could hang you upside down from your ankles if I were so inclined.’
‘Be my guest. No one would notice, and my feet feel like raw meat in these blasted shoes.’
‘Oh, they’d notice,’ she muttered. She began to speak very quietly, keeping an eye on our trailing guards, who seemed more interested in the pink-frosted cakes they had purchased than in what we were saying. ‘The Montignys – the royal family,’ she began, ‘they shocked everyone by bonding His Highness to you. Everyone expected them to lock you up in a closet when the bonding failed to break the curse, but instead they have you parading about in front of everyone as though you actually are a princess.’ She chuckled softly. ‘Now they’re all waiting to see how the great houses react – whether they will support your existence or not.’ She gestured discreetly at the passing trolls. ‘They aren’t ignoring you – they are merely waiting to see what side of the table they will sit at.’
‘When will that be?’ I asked, looking over my shoulder at the woman who had just walked by.
‘Soon,’ Elise said, ‘Though you might find yourself wishing they had taken their time…’”
Then there’s the curse. The witch apparently was seeking revenge on the troll king for things he had done to her and banished their whole species out of spite. That just seems wrong to Cécile, so if there’s any way she can help right that wrong, she will.
And then there’s Tristan. As she gets to know him, she realizes that being married to him might not be the curse it seemed at first. And that puts her into a terrible double-bind. How can she help the trolls and still live the life she’s always dreamed of? What will she do if she has to choose? How can she walk away from the wrongs she sees yet how can she give up her dream?
Cécile is a prime example of John Lennon’s famous quote, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” She has her life all mapped out and then, wham, life takes her off in a totally unexpected direction – which, honestly, it’s amazingly good at doing when you least expect it. How she copes with that and whether she can rise to the occasion makes for an excellent read. Tristan – ah yes, the reason I didn’t initially read this novel. A troll prince as a romantic interest, seriously?! Bottom line: It not only works, it works beautifully. He’s a complicated man/troll and just figuring him out was tons of fun. I’m not going to disclose anything about the other characters so you can discover them on your own. I’ll just say there are some characters in this novel I absolutely loved and can’t wait to read more about.
Danielle L. Jensen has done something with Stolen Songbird that I thought was not possible. She not only created a beautifully crafted world that works down to the smallest detail but her real achievement in my eyes is that she gave me a balanced and often sympathetic vision of trolls. And that, my friends, is something I thought could not be done. I devoured this novel. Loved the action/adventure, the political intrigue, the interpersonal dynamics, and I could hardly wait to share it with you. Last but not least, I think this is a story that will appeal to men as well as women for a number of reasons, i.e., it is not a smaltzy, wimpy romance – push-pull relationships dynamics do play a role but the story is an adventure. If you think it sounds even mildly interesting, I recommend that you enter our giveaway because I think you’ll be as pleasantly delighted by Stolen Songbird as I was.
Click here to read an excerpt from Stolen Songbird.
Can’t wait to read it?
Stolen Songbird was published on April 1, 2014, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks).
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FIVE lucky readers will each win a finished paperback copy of Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen!
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