ARC provided by Strange Chemistry through Netgalley
Cécile is close to leaving her father's village to follow in her absent mother's footsteps as an opera singer. It's all she's ever dreamed of achieving in life - treading the stage, the fame, the glory, doing what she loves: to sing.
But she ends up being kidnapped to Trollus, the troll's underground city. They plan to wed her to the troll Prince Tristan so she may fulfil the prophecy: that when a prince of night bonded a daughter of the sun, the curse would be broken and the trolls would be set free from their mountain.
I went into this expecting something like Clare B. Dunkle's The Hollow Kingdom, (which I quite enjoyed), since it shared a basic summary: young girl kidnapped to wed a hideous groom (a goblin in The Hollow Kingdom, a troll in Stolen Songbird). I really like that premise - not the kidnapping bit, of course, - but the one where the love interest is undeniably unattractive. You know for sure that the author won't just say, "He was so handsome, she fell in love at first sight" etc. ad nauseam. You know the author will really have to develop everyone's personality and their relationships.
But Tristan, as it turns out, though there is some "wrongness" to him, is exceedingly attractive, and to be perfectly honest, I found that disappointing. Not that their relationship was less fleshed out because of this, or that Tristan wasn't a fully developed character - but it's always nice to see an author make such a bold choice.
Besides, it would be a much more interesting story if she found them all to be monstrous looking and they found her just as horrifyingly disgusting to look at.
But on to what really matters: I absolutely LOVE the dialogue in this book! Especially between Cécile and Tristan:
"(...)perhaps you might say something. It would be best if it were humorous. I enjoy a good jest.”
“You are dreadfully rude,” I said to him.
He sighed. “That wasn’t the slightest bit funny.”
“Nor are you in any way a gentleman.”
“Cruel truths, mademoiselle, but tell me, did you expect otherwise?” His eyes gleamed, not with humor, but something else.
“I confess my expectations were low,” I snapped.
“I’m a firm believer in low expectations, myself,” he said cheerfully. “Makes for less disappointment in life."
“Of course. We agreed to her weight in gold, did we not?”
I gasped, as horrified as I was astonished by the amount.
“Aye, Your Highness,” Luc replied.
“You see, Mademoiselle de Troyes, another instance where low expectations have served me well. Given the contract your dear friend Luc made with us, I half expected him to deliver me a girl of prodigious girth to tip the scales in his favor. Imagine what a pleasant surprise it was for me to discover you were just a little bit of a thing.”
I really, really liked Cécile. She's not a Mary-Sue, she's not whiny, she's not needlessly bitchy. There was a moment or two where she was a bit tstl, but I guess we're all entitled to those. She's a strong, brave, normal girl who sees her life take a turn she abhors and refuses to accept:
"This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I was supposed to be on my way to Trianon to get everything I had ever wanted. Now, not only had I lost everything – my family, my friends, my dreams – I had just been informed that what life I had left would be spent in an endless nightmare."
And she's really not falling for any Stockholm Syndrome tactics:
"Although you did not choose this life, perhaps, over time, you might come to find it satisfactory.” He stood up.
I met his gaze. “Is that what you aim for in life, my lord? Satisfactory?”
She doesn't stop thinking about escaping, even while being drawn into troll politics, and I thought that was something great.
We get dual POVs, Cécile's and Tristan's, I think it would have been a more intriguing book if we'd had only Cécile's POV and had to guess Tristan's character from his actions and how Cécile saw him, but I have to say that it was well achieved.
It certainly allowed for a slow development of the relationship between Tristan and Cécile, which didn't have the greatest start, what with her being kidnapped and neither of them wanting to marry the other.
The secondary characters were awesome: The Duchesse Sylvie, Marc, the maids, Anaïs, the twins, I really liked them all. I hoped to see more of the Duchesse, because she seemed like a really amazing lady.
The underground kingdom was an astounding setting, it was just... I don't even have words, it felt real!
I must warn that this book is slow to start, but this is one of those I urge other readers to hang in there and just keep reading because it gets amazing.
So why only 3,5 stars? The thing is, at 436 pages this book was just too long. From about 65% forward there was just more and more unnecessary drama. It just read like filler, to be honest, and did this book a disservice. There is enough plot, world building, character development, and writing skill here to preclude this.
Don't let that stop you from reading, I'm a notoriously stingy reviewer, I could easily round this up to a 4, and this is still one book I cannot wait to get my hands on the paperback as soon as it's out! And I can hardly wait for the sequel!