Stolen Songbird by Danielle Jensen
Just finished reading Stolen Songbird by Danielle Jensen which is a YA novel with a refreshingly different take from that with which we’ve all become only too familiar with. Jenisen has taken the mythology of trolls and pretty much turned it on it’s head a little and I’m intrigued as to which direction she’ll take this next. Anyway, not to get ahead of myself.
The plot. At the start of the story, a young farm girl called Cecile is about to embark upon a singing career. She’s returning home for her farewell party when she is accosted and kidnapped. Her kidnapper then takes her deep within the underground tunnels of Forbidden Mountain where a city of trolls exists. The trolls have been trapped and cursed by a witch. Doomed to die by the falling mountain, only their magic keeps the whole thing from collapsing and killing them all. As with all good stories, wherever there is a curse there is usually a prophecy and so it is prophesied that when a troll prince is bound to a human girl the curse will be broken (well, the prophecy is a little more complicated than that but that’s the gist of it). Hence the kidnapping. And so Cecil is brought to the City of Trollus where she will be bound to the prince and future heir Tristan.
Throughout the book I couldn’t help thinking of Beauty and the Beast – which isn’t really an accurate depiction at all but I just couldn’t shake it off. Beauty and the Beast meets Pride and Prejudice. I’ll explain. The trolls have been captive beneath the mountain for so long that humans have all but forgotten about their existence. All humans know that trolls are monsters, they turn into stone in the sunlight and they steal young children to boil alive in their cook pots! On the opposite side are the trolls who believe they are superior to all other beings. Humans are weak and frail and half bloods are beneath contempt. In reality, the mythology about trolls is actually far from the truth. Some of them are indeed cursed with deformities – as a result of inbreeding apparently, however there are also those among them of outstanding beauty. The idea that they live underground is only true in this story in that they are forceably kept underground, prisoners to the curse that holds them bound and they desperately want to be freed and feel the sunshine on their skin again. They live in a City almost devoid of colour. Elaborately carved over the years and filled with it’s own beauty and magic – but still a prison nonetheless. In fact the topic of freedom and slavery plays a big part in the story. The half bloods are slaves of the nobility and full bloods. Full bloods are the wielders of the truly strong magic and whilst the half bloods and humans may wish for their downfall and in fact plan rebellion they actually need the nobility to keep them alive. It is after all only magic that is keeping the City from being crushed under the weight of the mountain. It’s a dilemma indeed – overthrow your oppressors at your own peril! However, it seems like not only the half bloods are unhappy with the current status – some of the full bloods are unhappy with the way halfbloods and humans are treated.
Onto the characters. Both defy expectations in their own way. Cecile – brought in captivity to Trollus to help release the trolls from the curse. She’s the ‘chosen one’ and yet in spite of this things don’t go according to plan and Cecil ends up being little more than a prisoner, hated by the majority of the trolls who at first had such high expectations. Tristan, far from being a hideous monster is in fact quite easy on the eye and yet he will, once he becomes of age, be the most powerful of all the trolls in terms of magic. This magic and intolerance of others is more what makes the trolls the monsters – at least this is what Tristan believes. And so the two, much against both their wills, are bound together. A process that leaves them both vulnerable. They share each others feelings and if one dies it is more than likely that the other will follow. So bonding Tristan to a frail human, who has failed to break the curse anyway, now leaves Tristan in a very precarious position with his rivals. If anybody should see fit to dispose of Cecile then he would also likely die.
Yes, there is inevitably a love story here but it’s not instantaneous. The two originally detest each other, they argue and mistrust each other which is the cause of much trouble for the pair. Both of them are capable of making mistakes – more often than not as a result of not sharing information with each other. But that’s the rub, how do you share information, dangerous information, with someone who you don’t know you can trust. And yet, without sharing the information how will you ever find out if you can trust them?
In terms of the world building. We see very little of Cecile’s world before she is kidnapped. Feels a little like a mediaeval type of affair. The troll world is quite easy to imagine. Intricately carved out of stone with gardens of glass. Beyond that are the tunnels where a person could become lost and expire of natural causes or, more likely, could be tracked and eaten by the Slaug which appear to be some gigantic type of slug which stings it’s victims with highly potent and paralysing venom. As though the curse wasn’t enough – the slaug prevent thoughts of fleeing.
The ending leaves the way open nicely for book no.2. There are a number of threads that remain unanswered and it will be interesting to see where the author takes the whole troll mythology. I couldn’t help thinking that this story somehow draws on the lore of the fey – thinking of this whole other fantasy plane that remains unexplained. Not to mention the trolls dislike of iron, their dislike of anyone knowing their names, the way they can’t lie, the fact that a promise is binding but needs to be clearly defined, etc.
Criticisms. Well, although it’s a nice storyline, I’m unsure what the necessity of Cecile being a singer is to the story. Other than it’s a little out of the ordinary and because of her mother’s expectations it gave a reason why she had been provided with a decent education, other than that I can’t really see any relevance but perhaps this will be expanded on further. And, although this isn’t really a criticism so much as something that disappointed me slightly, I think it would have been less predictable if Tristan hadn’t been absolutely gorgeous. He’s a troll but he’s incredibly handsome. I think it would have added something more to a love story between the two if Cecile had had to see beyond what lay on the surface.
Other than that this was a very entertaining read. I think the author has done a great job of turning this mythology around and giving it a new twist. On top of that she puts forward a world that is riddled with internal dispute, petty jealousies and conflict which give it a much more solid feel. I look forward to seeing how the story develops.
I received a copy of this via the publishers through Netgalley. The above is my own opinion.