Danielle L Jensen
Angry Robot (9781908844958)
I am a bit conflicted about this one. I saw it popping up on my Instagram feed a few times and when I checked it out on Goodreads, it had great reviews and the synopsis looked appealing. So I ordered it, and I have indeed enjoyed reading it. Then I made my (usual) mistake of checking out reviews of the next two installments of the trilogy, where I saw that a lot of people were disappointed in the series after the second and third books. Such a thing leaves a bit of a bitter taste in your mouth, and you start to view a book a bit differently – I do, at least.
Objectively, I did like this book a lot. The beginning was somewhat rushed, and I am of two minds about it. On the one hand, I like jumping into a story headlong, and I don’t care for much exposure. But I did miss a few things while she was in the midst of being kidnapped. I would have liked to know why it had to be Cécile (we do learn this, but only halfway through the book as some side note), and some more depth to Luc. He has known her all his life, after all. And lastly, Cécile is someone who can stand up for herself, but she keeps following Luc without too much of a fight.
I do love the pacing when it comes to progressing the story further. She is instantly binded to Tristan. No protest would have helped either one of them, no dragging it out. Before you could blink your eyes, they were married. Following through on a promise – that is what this book is good at. Their relationship was also a highlight. Cécile can think him handsome, but his actions make sure they really don’t build a connection at all for the first half of the book. She has to strongarm him into telling her more, and she struggles under the pretense, trying a few tricks to make her life with him more bearable, but not going so far as to actually wanting to consumate a marriage to a troll she knows absolutely nothing about. It is a good balance, and a good deal more believable if you actually were kidnapped and forced to marry into a creepy-as-hell royal family.
Speaking of, I would have liked a lot more monsters. I would have liked it if Tristan had been a bit of a monster too, but after the initial meeting, it’s all pretty people from there on out. Tristan, I feel, has not been established enough. Not in the way Cécile seems to be. But this is a bit of a problem overall. With Luc, with Chris and Jerome, with Cécile’s family. I only realised there was a sister in the final chapter. Tristan is said to have been maintaining a horrid persona for all his life, whose life is in constant danger from everyone, but the boy cracks faster than an egg. He keeps helping humans, giving himself away to anyone at least partially versed in politics. Even Cécile knows. But we could also attribute his wobbly behaviour to him feeling Cécile’s emotions, which I think is a nice touch to ensure they are forced to form a bond at least at some point and a reason why they have to keep involving each other. But I would have liked it if Danielle L Jensen had followed through a lot more.
It especially starts to become an issue in the second half of the book as well. Because Cécile and Tristan have to be together to be torn apart at the end, Danielle L Jensen seems to forego a few steps and has them confessing their love for each other. While she was doing such a good job of making sure they were only taking small steps at first. Truth be told, I wanted to read a lot more of that. After reading the synopsis of the two final books, I can’t help but think that the court intrigue would have been a far more appealing road to follow. Get me more skulking about, political hornet nests and two people who need each other but don’t know if they can actually trust each other. It shows so much potential! But we suddenly start moving quickly, and ways to break them up become cheap shots at making the road to the finale twist and bend.
I have to say I don’t exactly know what’s been going on during that finale. Cécile chooses to be with Tristan too quickly in this novel, it would have been better for a second book to have given her the choice. And both of them almost dying at some point seems a bit of an overkill (pun intended). What is very interesting, is that we hear from the king that he has always known what his son was, and his actions are intended to make sure he goes dark. I want to read that! Why isn’t the entire series about that? This internal character struggle is far better than traipsing around a country trying to find a mysterious witch. Who probably didn’t pull down the mountain. So why should we find and kill her again as the central focus?
Also, everyone is absolutely terrified of the king. That troll is ruthless, horrible. And we all decide to bind and not kill him? Why do we even show our hand? There is no reason behind it except to set up for a shocking finale and I can’t help but think that is not a good enough reason. I feel as if these books could have been planned better, if you know what I mean. Cécile is thrown out swiftly after that, also a bit too rushed. It’s not that I would expect or – least of all – want a lengthy goodbye, but some of the steps could have been better planned out. This felt as if Danielle L Jensen thought of the way to get Cécile out and back to her family, and afterwards started explaining through a few sentences how that was possible, instead of the other way around.
Conclusively, I liked that this story was more fresh in its approach to a story we have seen before. It shows promise, but in the end, it doesn’t fully deliver and takes a step back to seek plot resolvement through the tropes Danielle L Jensen sought to avoid in the first half. Also, can I call out the troll-Fae deception? I want the monsters more. I thought the references (iron, two courts, “Fa…”) were far too on the nose for avid readers of YA/fantasy. I like such a reveal when it moves from the expected to the unexpected, but this moves from the unexpected to the expected. It irked me a lot.
Still, it is a fun, nice read and I can recommend it to anyone who likes something a bit lighter. And if you like it, do read the second and third novels. They can be good reads too, even if others might not have liked them at much. Opinions are usually quite polarised in some novels. I think I’m going to skip them for now (because I have some other exciting books lying around), but I am not one to say never. I might very well come across the second installment and pick it up just to see how it ends and have it surprise me. So have it surprise you if you liked Stolen Songbird!