Thursday, February 20, 2014

Stolen Songbird (The Malediction Trilogy #1) by Danielle L. Jensen

Cécile has been waiting all her life to leave home and follow her dream of becoming a singer on stage.  All her plans have been made but on her way to the goodbye party, Cécile is kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Never one to give up, Cécile vows that she will find a way to escape and see her family again but it is hard to fight a battle when one is unfamiliar with all of the players. Cécile has been kidnapped by trolls and married off to the heir, who seems to have little to no interest in her, despite the order that he is to impregnate her.  Cécile finds herself embroiled in troll politics and her desire for personal freedom quickly becomes a fight to help the half breeds, who are disposable to full born trolls. Against her better judgement Cécile starts to have feelings for Tristan.  Could it be that there are more trolls than the legends say?

Stolen Songbird is an extremely compelling novel.  I found myself unwilling to put it down and I raced through it quickly.  For a Y.A. novel, Jensen weaved many political themes throughout Stolen Stongbird.  What is the value of freedom and can it be justified at any means for instance.  Once free, should there be limitations and if so, what are they to be? Stolen Songbird was filled with political intrigue leaving the reader guessing until the very end where each of the characters stood.

I was confused when I first started Stolen Songbird because it didn't seem to match the description of the book.  It quickly shifted and I found myself embroiled in Jensen's world.  Cécile is a fascinating protagonist who is not prone to spunky agency. Though she is clearly in over head, Cécile takes the time to learn about the history of her new world and her role in it because she realises that knowledge is power.  This was quite refreshing because Cécile started off as the typical chosen one and that line of plot quickly failed.  Stolen Songbird also easily passed the bechdel test, in that women most often interacted about the state of the half bloods or political intrigue.  There were several strong female characters, chief among them Anais and Elise.  

The relationship between Tristan and Cécile developed slowly, which is such a relief given the penchant of instant love which often happens in YA.  Even though they are bonded to each other, Tristan and Cécile have get to know each other and trust each other, and with so much at stake, neither of them finds this an easy thing to do. Tristan heavily feels the responsibility of being heir to the throne and his desire to see the freedom of the half bloods and humans. 

Unfortunately, Stolen Songbird had an all straight, White cast.  It never ceases to amaze me that authors can create worlds full of fantastical elements but fall down when it comes to inclusion.  How is it that a troll who has magic so strong, he or she can easily toss a human across a room and is difficult to kill, is more feasible than a character of colour or a GLBT character? It would not have been hard to have a troll grieving for the loss of a  same sex love partner.   

When it came to disability, once again, Stolen Songbird failed. Lord Roland is the young brother to Tristan. Like many of the ruling class, he hates humans and he hates half breeds.  What differentiates Roland is that he is psychotic.  This gives us yet another example of someone who is neurologically atypical who is violent and murderous.  This is an ongoing negative trope repeatedly reinforced by the media though in reality, someone who is neurologically atypical is far more likely to be a danger to themselves than others.  I was further troubled that given the history of the violence perpetrated by the trolls that Roland is considered mentally ill.  He doesn't seem much different than his ancestors and he certainly fits in with a large segment of the troll population vis a vis their view of humans. 

When I finished reading Stolen Songbird, I immediately wished the second book had already been released.  I am heavily invested in Cécile's journey and the potential choices she will have to make.  The issues like the ridiculousness of all the characters having French names and the slow start are more than made up for by the intriguing web Jensen manages to weave.  This is not a book to pick up unless you have time to get lost because Stolen Songbird will draw you in and not let you leave until you read the last word. 

Editor's note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley for review.