For 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 Cecile 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. Cecile 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 Cecile 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.
I really enjoyed Stolen Songbird. The opening chapter describes a medievalesque village setting that I found very appealing, although as it turned out the story doesn’t stay in that world for long. Cecile is just about to leave Goshawk’s Hollow for the city to start her training as a singer in earnest when she is abducted and dragged off to the buried land of the trolls. Until she’s face to face with them, Cecile thought them just fairy tales. Instead of becoming the next stage sensation, Cecile is to become the troll prince’s consort, willing or otherwise.
The story has lots of good descriptions of Trollus. The journey there is perilous, passages through caves only identifiable by carved markings, and only then if you know how to decode them. The threat of attack by the slaug, a gross giant slug with a deadly whip-like tongue, is ever present. Once past these dangers there is beauty to be found. Fountains and statues decorate the place along with gardens in which amazing sculpted glassworks instead of living trees and flowers. Of course, there is a divide between the court and the rest of the place; not everywhere is so well maintained.
Trollus is an interesting mix of surface and substance, with outward appearances often belying the reality. Cecile finds it hard to adjust to the amount of physical deformity amongst the population, something she encounters early on in Marc de Biron, the Comte de Courville. He is a man of loyalty and integrity, but his face shocks Cecile initially: the ‘two sides of his face, so flawless on their own, were like halves of a fractured sculpture put back together askew.’ That the trolls have a distinct sense of otherness about them is clear; Cecile feels it coming off the prince in waves despite his overall gorgeousness. Mostly I thought the otherness was well handled, but I did feel a bit uncomfortable at Cecile’s reaction at a ball where she likens it to watching ‘circus freak show while being locked in a madhouse’. But, the main message I took from the book was to take nothing at face value.
There are some good strong characters in Stolen Songbird. Cecile definitely deserves credit for being pragmatic, adaptable and using her brain. She is furious at being kidnapped but instead of sulking and stropping about she thinks about how best to escape. Only once does she give in to the temptation to believe some nonsense spouted by an obvious malcontent, and she quickly realises her mistake. She also cares about the injustices she discovers. The political undertones of the book gave it a darker edge that I thought worked well. I say undertones, but political machinations underpin the relationship between Cecile and her putative captor Prince Tristan. Although there is a burgeoning romance between the pair it avoided being too Stockholm Syndrome-y as Tristan is just as repelled by the whole set-up as Cecile.
Before this I’d read a couple of YA novels that had left me a bit nonplussed so it was a pleasure to have Stolen Songbird to get me back on the right track. I’m looking forward to the second part.
Stolen Songbird is published by Strange Chemistry and is out now. My copy was kindly provided by the publisher via NetGalley.