Where totters can utter whatever the fuck they want to
To me, Stolen Songbird is a story caught between The Blue Sword and Cruel Beauty. It lacks the intricate prose of the former, its detailed background and the memorable characters along with the creative world and concept of the latter. Yet it has intriguing affairs of its own.
While on her way back to her farm, carrying eggs and dillydallying because it's her last day and soon enough she'll be on her way towards singing operas with her mother in cities far and beyond(excuse me for a moment. I can do it, I can remember her name, one goddamn name, memory! Ha!), Cécile is kidnapped by a longtime asshole of her acquaintance. She's then transported into tunnels, where she crawls and screams and fights and runs, all to end up bloodied and terrified at the feet of the troll king, who intends for her to bond with his son, Prince Tristan, and break the curse that has entrapped the troll kingdom ere long.
Shit happens fast enough as their union doesn't break the curse. Now, Princess Cécile becomes a resented prisoner but the king still has hope that the progeny of the new couple would surely break the curse. Entail the typical YA fantasy romance where they talk of not wanting to do it, she's terrified and he's disgusted, he's rude and a troll, she's human and feeble, feelers they do grow and although they can each read the other's emotions because of the union, misconceptions arise; they kiss, make up, fight, commit to detest-ability in moments of jealousy and the rest you can figure out.
BUT WAIIIITTTT! There are things unexplored beyond the curse. The troll kingdom and its hierarchy; there's story beyond their union. Revolutions, slavery, resentment, mad brother with a side dish of Troll politics. These things are different.
I don't know about you, but I don't think I've read a YA fantasy novel with revolutions, per se. There was Eona, and a few other but I don't think they fill the slot. However, it seems that the slot is still empty; Stolen Songbird didn't fill it.
Because first and foremost, it's a romance novel. A romance that takes time and grows because the characters need to grow and get acquainted with us. The love part takes up almost the entirety of the novel, and the revolution, we barely get a hint of. Thing is, Tristan is the one who leads the revolution, but chapters in his POV are very few, and when we do actually get to them, they revolve around Cécile, for the most part. What she's feeling, what she's done, what he's done to her, what she could mean for his plans, and wait a second, he's conversing with his father about something else! Hallelujah! Oh no, there's Cécile entering the scene. That accounts greatly for the lack of tense atmosphere, planning, words and deeds.
In this matter, Cécile's chapters have far more material. Don't get me wrong, she does all that he does, but since her chapters are greater in number, there's a lot of space to fill. The job is accomplished by escapades, side characters, discovering about the revolutions and witches and curses, meeting the slaves.
Stolen Songbird's characters have absconded some of the most irritating tropes of YA fantasy novels: Cécile and Tristan exist of their own, and are not dependent on the other; neither is a doormat, and there's no insta-love, or whining and complaining, or speshul-ness with snowflakes dancing around because there's fucking underground. That, in itself, wouldn't be a bad thing. Yet their personalities can have lists composed of everything we'd like to see; that's all they are are:lists. All the good things, and none of the bad. All the good things individually and nothing, no quirk or hint of true-ness, emanates from them. For me, they're forgettable. I was invested to a degree in their story but now, I couldn't give two shits about the ending nor their heartbreak nor what might ensue. Their voices hooked me for the time being, but there was no captivation involved; and now, almost two days later, I find them boring.
The troll world doesn't have a linear history, nor present. One could call it complex, with the disfigured nobility and the commons and the slaves bereft of magic. Power rules and power matters. Gender doesn't determine shit, blood does. Because blood carries troll power. Get this, gender doesn't fucking matter. She-trolls go to school and can inherit property; they can own their lives and rule their homes. POWER MATTERS. You'd think-I thought- that such a world would be almost free of misogyny. Yet at every turn, I encountered such sexist notions:
It was to his advantage – he had only two daughters, one of them now dead – and a new young wife gave him another chance at a son.
“But she’s his wife,” Tristan said indignantly. “She is duty-bound to go wherever he wants her to go.”
"...I can certainly tolerate drunkeness in myself, but not in a woman."[Says Tristan.]
FAAAAAAAAAAACCCCCK? There were more. Did you know, in all these centuries, Trollus was rules only by kings? Don't tell there was never a Montigny(the royal family) daughter powerful enough to defeat her predecessor. Just fuck.
And once more:
The second[rule] is that no human male may touch a troll woman, whether it is against her will or not.
Get this: troll males can hump and bump human females; it's frowned upon but there are no restrictions. She-trolls can be as powerful as He-trolls, depending on their blood. And that addition: whether it is against her will or not- that's fucking offensive, in a world like theirs. Implies that not only do they not trust the female trolls to be unable to protect themselves against humans, their judgement is skewed. I don't think it's chivalrous, it's stupid and fuck.
For once, I was so excited to read a YA fantasy where girls were on equal footing with boys; a world whose traditions weren't stooped in our age-old discrimination. This is a good post exemplifying my feelings.
Not only was the inclusion of misogyny inconsistent with the world building, it was also fucking excessive and unavailing.
Without those choice lines, the book would've been the same; they don't affect the story in any fucking way. A picture, a name of a female ruler in the library wouldn't alter the story. This is my question: Was the inclusion solely for the purpose of custom? Because that's how it is in YA book? Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
And I'm not even a fan of Nicki Minaj. But she's so right
Another thing I'd like to know is why does the kingdom of Trollus have a curfew.
The side characters are all well-developed, especially Marcus. I love that he tried to (view spoiler) when shit happened. There was the usual another girl thing, the subversive type where the author tries to show that the other girl isn't a bitch, and has feelings of her own. This trend started because authors tried to write more feminist novels, to show that girls don't need to fight because they love the same guy. But my sensors are so overwrought: this thing's been done so many times. I wish it weren't there at all. But it was, and far be it from me to tell what an author should or not do.
Yet I still wish. I wish that if the authors do include it, I wish for once the girl weren't so fucking beautiful and mesmerizing and curvaceous on the outside; for once, can't a guy share a platonic and intimate relationship with girl who loves him but isn't a super model, AND she does the job of making the MC jealous? And then can we have the props follow? The feelings and all? Can the MC not ever be jealous of a girl with plain features? Says my finicky side.
For the sake of being fair and shit, I must add that she was a loyal person and had her own grievances, who might have been nicer to Cécile in a world where there are two Tristan's. [I want to read a book where two girls pine over the same guy, and there's no friction between them; they're united in their pining. Actually, there was something similar in [book:Persuasion], and obviously, there are so many incidents in real life.]
Also, the book says that due to an old tradition of inter-breeding amongst them to preserve their blood, the nobles and royals are all disfigured. Even the 'other girl' has an internal, hereditary problem, yet Tristan is perfect. In. Every. Fucking. Outward. Way. He doesn't even have pointy teeth. Seems to me, he should be the most disfigured of the lot.
I was going to rate the book three stars, but writing this review has made my feelings more coherent, thus the lack of half a star.
Anywho, besides all that, the scenes with sluags in especial were credible, reminiscent of The Descent: Part 2, which is to say, it was very atmospheric and disgusting with the pool of shit and all. It was a gripping novel that had me hooked whenever I was available for hooking. The character introductions plus developing relationships. very, very little about revolutions and the politics beats the lack of revolution-izing by a very minor factor.
All romanticising and characterising, no revolutionizing. :/
I certainly would encourage you to give Stolen Songbird a try; it's not a bad book, actually. Some of the things just weren't to my taste.
Review copy provided by publishers.
[If you can't figure it out, this review was written in two parts. Yesterday, when I was feeling mild after an unexpected evening nap, and today, after getting access to my computer after almost a two-day hiatus. I was feeling ecstatic. Go figure.]