Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review: Hidden Huntress by Danielle L Jensen

Cover of Hidden Huntress, featuring a red-haired white woman wearing an elaborate black gown with corseted bodice and a full, runched skirt. She carries a black lace fan and stands in a red-tinged theatre with elaborate moldings.
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

HIDDEN HUNTRESS, out today (unless you're reading this in the future), is the sequel to STOLEN SONGBIRD, a book I loved and adored and encouraged everyone of my acquaintance to read. I’ll have to adopt the same tack with this worthy follow-up, because Danielle L. Jensen’s emotional resonance game is strong, strong, strong.

I want y'all to have books like this in your life.

HIDDEN HUNTRESS picks up three months after STOLEN SONGBIRD ends. Cécile is determined to find and kill Anushka, the witch whose curse keeps the trolls imprisoned, and her search becomes all the more frantic when King Thibault extracts a binding promise from her. Meanwhile, Tristan deals with the fallout from the choices he made at the end of the previous book, with plenty of soul-searching all around.

I recognize it’s possible you didn’t heed my advice to rush out and buy STOLEN SONGBIRD, so let's begin with a brief primer. The trolls I'm about to discuss have almost nothing in common with the grotty, naked, big-haired creatures of Norwegian mythology (or the mid-90s Treasure Troll craze). They’re sexy trolls, many of whom have physical disabilities due to inbreeding. They’ve been trapped underground for the last five hundred years, you see, and that’s made it difficult to maintain a large gene pool. They've crossbred with humans, yeah, but that's done little to diversify their population as the law mandates that all halfbloods are slaves no matter who their parents are. This rigid structure holds everyone static.

Many of the people in charge of Trollus are Not Very Nice (to put it mildly), but fear not! The protagonists aim to change things, as protagonists have done since time immemorial, and that’s where we find them at the start of HIDDEN HUNTRESS. Cécile wants to break the troll-trapping curse (or does she?); Tristan aims to give trolls of all bloodlines better rights (but at what cost?).

That’s more or less what you need to know going in. If you’re after a more detailed take on the series’ premise, I’ll direct you to my review of STOLEN SONGBIRD.

And now for the review proper.

Jensen has crafted a glorious, toothsome setting with plenty of appeal for those who value wallowsome fiction . Even if I hadn't reread STOLEN SONGBIRD immediately before I began HIDDEN HUNTRESS, I doubt I’d have struggled to immerse myself in Cécile’s world. Jensen shifts the focus this time around, allowing the reader to spend a great deal of time in Trianon, the nation’s capital city, instead of confining the action to Trollus, the buried (and largely secret) city of the trolls. Cécile guides us through this urban, human sphere as she nurtures her career as an opera singer, attempts to forge a relationship with the long-absent mother she loves, and hunts for Anushka1.

I had a wonderful time exploring Trianon at Cécile's side. The city is heavily French-influenced, and better yet, it’s eighteenth century French-influenced. Y’all know how much I love eighteenth century France (in an academic sense. I doubt I’d have done very well there), so I was more than happy to wallow in the theatres, dark schemes, and secretive magic that characterize Trianon.

Likewise, I was intrigued by how the events of the previous book have reshaped Trollus, but I shan’t say much on that count because of spoilers and suchlike.

The characters remain as easy to root for as their settings are to wallow in. Cécile and Tristan have shared the narration from the start, but Cécile carried STOLEN SONGBIRD. Tristan gets far more as-POV-character page time in HIDDEN HUNTRESS, and I welcomed the chance to delve a little further into his psyche.

Much of Tristan’s storyline, especially in the early chapters, focuses on how he deals with the mistakes he made in STOLEN SONGBIRD. He’s got a ton of self-examination to do as he weighs what he’s done and what he might do in the future versus what’s actually best for the people he’s meant to serve. He’s got his work cut out for him as he faces up to the ways he’s abused his peoples’ trust, and as he learns what they require from him if he’s to start winning it back. He’s forced to reevaluate both his personal relationships and his political actions going forward. It's great, consequential stuff.

Cécile, for her part, continues to cultivate the magical abilities she discovered in STOLEN SONGBIRD. Magic becomes an essential part of her search for Anushka, especially with her promise to Thibault driving her to extremes, but many of the spells she considers necessary come with a major price: they require blood magic.

Or do they? Cécile soon realizes blood magic is addictive. The more you do, the more you want to do, no matter how squeamish you feel at first. Cécile continually has to ask herself whether the magic she does is truly necessary, or whether there are less soul-crushing ways to find Anushka. At the same time, she considers how far she’s willing to go to keep Tristan safe, and whether she’s truly committed to this plan to break the curse and release the trolls from their mountain prison. The curse harms her husband and her friends, but it also contains dangerous parties like Thibault and Angoulême. It’s a difficult line to walk.

I thrilled to each character’s individual struggles, and I continue to delight in their romance. Arranged marriages that begin with trepidation but blossom into a true connection get me every time, and this one fits the bill to a tee. Cécile and Tristan argue. They sometimes struggle to understand where the other is coming from. But at the end of they day, they’re willing to talk through their differences, see the world through each others’ eyes, and find a compromise that allows them to move forward, because what they have is worth it.

Awwww.

So the setting and the characters, they are strong and delectable. The plot, too, is engaging, particularly from the 2/3 mark on, but it suffers from one major failing that may not be an issue for all readers.

I'm good at guessing plot twists, and I answered the central questions (Anushka's identity and ultimate goal) in record time. Cécile, on the other hand, failed to work through the matter at anything close to my pace. I grew increasingly frustrated with her as she missed details that struck me as obvious.

She and I enacted the following conversation:

CÉCILE: I need to find Anushka.
ME: she’s right there. Solved it. Time to figure out how you’ll deal with the rest of this tricky, tricky situation.
CÉCILE: *completely misses Anushka* How does Anushka preserve her immortality?
ME: girl, she obviously [spoilers].
CÉCILE: *wanders around a bit more, searching for Anushka*
ME: stop wasting time! [Spoiler] is gonna [SPOILER] your [SPOILER].
CÉCILE: this is such a tough puzzle, and time is running out.
ME: She is going to [SPOIL] YOUR [SPOILER] WE HAVE BEEN OVER THIS EIGHT TIMES ALREADY.

You know?

From my perspective, the whole thing was obvious as velvet, and I’m not entirely sure if I can buy into Cécile’s failure to see it. There are certain factors that might make it difficult for her to pick up on, yeah, but I still feel like she got enough of the puzzle to figure it out by maybe halfway through the book. It struck a false note, especially given how quick she was to piece things together throughout STOLEN SONGBIRD.

That frustration aside, I adored HIDDEN HUNTRESS. It’s gripping stuff, even if you see the central answer coming eight miles off, and I’m wicked eager for the trilogy’s grand finale.

Links

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 HIDDEN HUNTRESS, you can try:

  • Koboicon (e-book; for purchase; coupons work)
  • The Book Depository (paperback; for purchase; free shipping worldwide)
  • Amazon (paperback & Kindle; for purchase)

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


  1. I’m not entirely sure why everyone assumes Anushka must be in Trianon when it would surely be safer for her to abscond to the mainland. Maybe I missed something about how she has to remain close to preserve her curse’s potency.

2 comments:

  1. Loved your review! Gosh, I even laughed hard over your convo with Cécile, it reminded me of my own ramblings about her complete blindness towards Anushka's identity. She certainly frustrated me to no end!
    Still, I loved this book so much and I'm highly anticipating (and dreading) the finale. So many things can happen and I'm sure it will be a brutal read.

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    Replies
    1. The grand finale is gonna be INTENSE! I can't wait.

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