Danielle L. Jensen – Stolen Songbird

danielleljensen-stolensongbirdFor five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

One of the most beloved and well-worn tropes in fantasy is that of the farm boy turned prophesied saviour. In Stolen Songbird Jensen flips that trope and turns it on its head, not just by turning the farm boy into a farm girl, but by making the outcome of the prophesy uncertain in more ways than one. There is also more than a little hint of the Beauty and the Beast at work here, even if Cécile’s troll husband is as handsome as a girl might wish. 

Jensen spends a lot of time on building the city and society of Trollus. We don’t just meet the royal family and other key players in the palace; Cécile goes out into the city to learn more about the people she is supposed to save. The trolls have a number of characteristics that both limit them and which provide rich fodder plot-wise. For example, trolls cannot tell an outright lie, but Jensen shows us, that one does not need to lie to deceive. Another is that they are bound to any promise they make, which is why they trade in favours owed. One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Tristan almost dies laughing when Cécile tells him all the assorted myths people tell about trolls, such as sunlight will turn them to stone and they all hoard gold.

The setting of Trollus and the history of the trolls really captured my imagination. The trolls’ origins are nebulous and Jensen drops some rather big hints about their true nature and I’m curious to see whether I interpreted them right. The idea and visual of a tree of magical energy keeping the mountain from completely burying Trollus were very striking. Troll magic and human magic are quite different, as Cécile and the reader discover when it turns out that Cécile herself is a witch and can wield the human magic drawn from the elements. It created both another way for Jensen to incorporate history into the story and one more reason for Cécile to wish to help the trolls—by helping them she’ll be able to discover more about her powers and by reading up on magic explains more about the trolls and their society.

Cécile is a conflicted character when we meet her, torn between her dreams for the future and her present. I liked her very much; she’s kind-hearted, without being a pushover, and she doesn’t take her situation in Trollus lying-down. In other words, she is pro-active not reactive. The slow development of not just understanding but even friendship between Cécile and several of the trolls and half-bloods was well done and I really liked Cécile’s friends, especially Marc and the twins Vincent and Victoria. Cécile’s development from unwilling prisoner to burgeoning power to willing co-conspirator was very cool and convincing. It’s through the connections she makes that she comes to change her mind about her situation, a change that felt gradual and not just the effect of a magical bonding by moonlight.

The romance between Cécile and Tristan is interesting. They are soul-bonded by magic soon after marrying, which means they can sense each other’s emotions in their own head. Yet, this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for misunderstandings and not believing each other, once more reinforcing the idea that you don’t need to lie to deceive. Or consequently, that even knowing someone’s feelings doesn’t necessarily mean that you will believe them to be true. I loved the way Tristan and Cécile slowly grow closer and how their trust is built, even if Tristan’s is slower to come than Cécile’s. In the end their bond is true and they are both willing to sacrifice so the other can have what they think is best for them.

The ending killed me. It made me want more of the story now, right this minute though I expect this was Jensen’s intention. The story certainly isn’t over and we didn’t get a happy ending by a long shot. I adored Stolen Songbird, from its original take on trolls, to its treatment of its awesome heroine. If you like your fantasy adventurous and romantic, then this YA novel should without a doubt be on your radar. Jensen’s debut is certainly one of my favourite books so far this year and I look forward – impatiently might I add – to the rest of the Malediction trilogy.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.