Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

cover art for Stolen Songbird, featuring a white girl in a green dress holding a glowing crystal rose while standing in a cave
The moment STOLEN SONGBIRD’s cover art hit Twitter, I knew I had to read the book. Never mind what it was about; there was a girl in an awesome green dress, a glowy thing, and what looked to be a cave.

I have a thing for green stuff, glowy things, and caves. Give me all three and I am a happy girl indeed.

Give me an awesome story beneath an awesome cover and my happiness increases exponentially, as it did within the first few pages of STOLEN SONGBIRD. This book is every bit as wonderful as the trappings that drew me to it in the first place.

17-year-old Cécile looks forward to a career as a singer in the big city. But the day before she’s set to depart, she’s kidnapped and sold to the trolls who secretly dwell beneath the nearby mountains.

Five hundred years ago, the city of Trollus was buried by a magical catastrophe, its otherworldly inhabitants cursed to remain forever within its boundaries. A recent prophecy says the curse can finally be broken--but only if a human girl of Cécile’s exact description is bonded to the crown prince of the trolls.

Neither Cécile nor the troll prince, Tristan, is terribly happy about this development. But the better Cécile comes to know the trolls, the more sympathy she feels for their impossible situation. Drawn to her prickly husband and his quest to end the inequalities that plague trollish society, Cécile begins to wonder if a life below the mountain might be just as good as what she's left behind.

STOLEN SONGBIRD, like so many other awesome books, requires two reviews.

The Short, Gushy, Ungrammatical Version:

OMG YOU GUYS THIS BOOK IS SO AWESOME I mean it has alllll my favourite things like okay there’s a musically inclined protagonist and music is the BEST and also pretty well the whole thing takes place underground and I have a TOTAL THING for underground settings and also there are sexy monsters and lots of political intrigue and class issues and hey I haven’t even mentioned that the whole thing has an eighteenth century French feel and YOU GUYS EIGHTEENTH CENTURY FRANCE IS MY FAVOURITEST OF FAVOURITES oh and there’s dark magic too which is always fun who doesn’t love dark magic amirite and the worldbuilding is so tasty you just want to eat it up and also Jensen provides actual answers for the sorts of things that bug the hell out of me and many writers just expect you to overlook which is great AND HOW HAVE I NOT MENTIONED THE ROMANCE YET I am the world’s worst sucker for arranged marriages that begin with lots of trepidation but end with affection and respect and maybe some hardcore sexual tension too it is so great you guys I want you to read it right away go buy it go buy it go buy it.

The Sensical Version:

Friends, STOLEN SONGBIRD might as well have been written just for me. As mentioned above, it has all my favourite things woven together to produce a rich tapestry character, setting, and emotional peril.

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first, though. If you’re anything like me, you hear "prince of the trolls" and you think of either short, naked people with hair that sticks straight up or the Scandinavian monsters (who stole children from Upsala and celebrated, tra-la-la1). Be assured, Jensen’s trolls have little in common with their mythological (and pop cultural) namesakes. Some of them do appear unusual to human eyes, but their physical limitations are due to inbreeding rather than a predisposition towards monstrosity. (It’s hard to maintain a big gene pool when you’re entire race has been trapped underground for five centuries, y’know? Especially when you’re too snobby to intermarry with the lower classes.) They aren't human, but they're not monsters either.

So, yes. You needn’t worry that any potential love interests are part animal or anything. All Beauty and the Beast parallels are strictly situational.

Such parallels abound, which is always a good thing in my book. Beauty and the Beast can be problematic, but at its heart it’s a story about two people who learn to accept one another despite their differences. It’s also packed with tension and danger as the Beauty character navigates her way through dangerous new terrain. She can’t be certain how the Beast character will treat her, or whether she’ll ever return to her own world. She desperately needs to find her feet in a strange place, and to be on the lookout for opportunities to escape.

And along the way, of course, Beauty arrives at a different view of her circumstances, as is very much the case with Cécile. She’s never happy about being trapped under a mountain with a surly husband, because that’s a pretty crappy situation, but she doesn’t let her dissatisfaction stop her from learning and adapting. She makes an effort to understand where the trolls are coming from, and to parse the different factions who have as much influence over her own fate as they do over the buried city’s.

She gets to know her husband, too, and their relationship’s slow burn is a joy to behold. Their forced marriage places them instantly at odds to one another, but they still manage to find common ground based on mutual respect. They move from traditional antagonists to reluctant allies to sorta-maybe friends to... well, I’m sure you can guess.

I absolutely love fictional arranged marriages that begin with trepidation on both sides but end in affection and respect. Add in some genuine chemistry and a whole lot of unresolved sexual tension and you’ve got the perfect formula to hook me but good and leave me rooting for the couple in question.

On top of this lovely romance, Jensen delivers well-realized intrigue as tensions brew between Trollus’s hereditary nobility, the workers they exploit, and the few humans who link them to the outside world. Inequality abounds, but it does not go unopposed. The resistance’s efforts to improve things add a great deal of excitement and build towards a stunning confrontation.

Trollus’s banished state provides a delectable mystery in itself as Cécile picks at the secrets behind the magical catastrophe that removed the city from the world and keeps the trolls confined within the mountain. Their otherworldly origins, too, prove rather different than one might expect from a people called "trolls." Jensen dishes out some fascinating hints as to what's really going on on both fronts, and what happened with the human sorceress who purportedly cursed the city five hundred years ago. It’s all terribly exciting and hooky, inviting the reader to put it all together for herself.

Which I did. I can’t wait to see if I’m right about Cécile’s mother, in particular. Hell, I can’t wait for more of this fascinating story, period, even if I’m dead wrong about everything. The sequel can’t come fast enough to suit me.

I'll while away the long wait by urging every last fantasy fan among you to pick this up. STOLEN SONGBIRD is a fantastic blend of romance, intrigue, and magic, all packaged up in a gorgeous setting rife with possibility, and you’re gonna love it.


While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read STOLEN SONGBIRD, you can try:

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the book through one of the links above.

  1. When I was a little kid, I was totally obsessed with a purported nonfiction treatise on gnomes. The book delved into both the physiological and social aspects of gnomish life, and included a number of supplementary materials besides. One of these was a song about the gnomes’ hereditary enemies, the trolls. It went:

    He stole a child from Upsala
    And celebrated, tra-la-la

    I have to hum it whenever I hear mention of trolls (or Upsala). I just have to.


  1. This sounds very, very awesome. Also: have you read A Face Like Glass yet? If I remember right you haven't, and reading this post made me think it also contains quite a few of your favourite things.

    1. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list of library books to borrow once I get la TBR to a manageable level.

  2. I loved this book! I am so happy that I read it. :)

    1. I'm glad you read it, too! You're always the first person I poke when I come across awesome fantasy. :)

  3. Ah, I do like an arranged marriage that develops into something more. Except in romance novels, because that dynamic is too squicky and I feel weird about it. But in other genres, an arranged marriage that turns into something more is THE BEST.

    1. Yeah, romance novel arranged marriages can be squicky (though I do like marriages of convenience at least some of the time). Fantasy arranged marriages that blossom into actual relationships are often awesome, though! I'm always so, so happy to encounter one.