This is one of those books where you kind of like it but also kind of don’t like it, and you're low-key impressed you don’t actively hate it? Yeah, I think that's what this is. Stolen Songbird is a hot mess of paradox: the plot is straightforward but also convoluted; the romance is broken but also kind of believable; the main character is annoying but also grew on me. I liked it enough that I almost want to read the sequel, yet I kind of never want to read anything else in this world again. How has Danielle L. Jensen caused such tumultuous emotions? Read on to find out!
Cécile has been groomed her whole life to be a singer. Born and raised in a backwater village to an undistinguished farmer, Cécile’s mother is a singer from the big city. Cécile has reached the age where she is expected to move to the city to begin her formal training. One wrinkle: Cécile gets kidnapped and sold to trolls! Yes, trolls. She ends up in Trollus (ugh), the city of the trolls, who are magically confined there. Forced to wed the Prince of Trollus in the belief that this will help to break that curse, Cécile finds herself trapped in a city with precious few allies or options. Can she escape Trollus and return to her old life? Does she even want that when her hubby Tristan is the hottest troll and the best at magic and also really kind and cool in a thorny bad-boy way? You’ll have to read the book!
From the get-go, the obvious romance between Cécile and Tristan grated on me because it is so forced. I’m not a fan of "girl falls in love with her captor," and no matter how you slice it, that’s what Tristan is. It doesn’t matter whether or not he eventually reciprocates: there is a power dynamic there that neither of them can fix, and that makes for an unhealthy relationship. That being said, Jensen seems to be aware of the problematic elements and wants to avert them. She makes the interactions between Cécile and Tristan believable in terms of their nuance. They bicker and they work together; they agree and disagree at different points.
That’s the frustrating thing about this book: the plotting is madcap (we’re going to get to that) but the characterization isn’t bad. Jensen has a handle on how to write dynamic, interesting heroes and villains and all the side characters in between. When it comes to throwing them into a believable, interesting, captivating world with conflicts? I don’t know.
There’s a moment about 2/3 through the book where Tristan reveals some very juicy hints about the true origins and nature of the trolls. Very cool—I see what you did there, Jensen, and that alone is almost enough to make me want to read the next book to see if you take it anywhere! Almost. Yet the rest of this world just feels … unencumbered by complexity. Trollus is conveniently mythical yet also prosaically available to trade with a bunch of humans Cécile knows (this is handwaved away with magic, but still…). The world beyond Trollus and Cécile’s home is not fleshed out much. That’s excusable, given that almost all of the book takes place in Trollus, but it’s not very interesting. Trollus itself doesn’t seem that fully realized to me.
And then we have Cécile and her voice.
When you name a book Stolen Songbird and you make a big deal about the protagonist’s singing and you intimate this protagonist might have some magic in her … it’s reasonable for a reader to expect this magic is going to be song-based, or at least song-related, yes? Yet with the exception of Cécile occasionally singing in captivity to lure Tristan into her presence or whatever, the title seems to be more for its alliteration than anything else. Big disappoint there.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Stolen Songbird is a story of squandered opportunities. It’s not bad, but it could have been so, so much better than it is. There are parts that made me cringe. There are parts that made me want to stand up and cheer. There are parts that left me cold or bored and other parts that had me calling Jensen a genius. This book is incredibly, frustratingly uneven, and having written this review, I still don’t know if I want to read more.
Stay tuned, I guess!