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

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Stolen Songbird is a fantasy YA novel about Cécile who life long pursuit is to become a singer who wanted to be like her mother who left her and her family to pursuit her dream. However, she was kidnapped and taken to a secret underground kingdom in which its inhabitants were cursed to live under a mountain and was forced into a marriage after a prophecy hinted that she and the prince would be the end of the Trollus’s curse. However, things doesn’t end up the way it should be and even the trolls wasn’t what the people thought they are.

Despite sounding very cliched, the story is enjoyable and with more depth in it than just a fantasy romance between two people. It was layered in political intrigue, magical curses, impending doom and oppression and revolutionary. The character themselves continuously evolving. Cécile went through enough character growth through her tough time in Trollus as a prisoner and a human in a caste where you’re worthy by the ranks of birth and how magical you are. She undergoes a lot of discovery from her own character strength and ability that exceed what she knew about herself and the expansion of her role in the prophecy and the mystery surrounding the troll kingdom and its people. One of the intriguing aspect of the story was her growing love to the most disagreeable prince one might ever met. One of the amazing thing about this book is that the character doesn’t treat other people of her gender negatively even when one of them obviously in love with your own husband. It is refreshing to see the kind of love that didn’t fit into the stereotypical love triangle.

Since the story was dual narrated, there was another side to the male character that most YA series rarely venture. Tristan himself wasn’t like the conventional male character whose life only revolve around the female character’s well being or as a love object. In fact, the romance itself are an expendable element in this story and the characters do function more than just to satisfy the romance element perquisite with YA genre. Tristan is a political idealist and a revolutionist who recognize the need of his people and was the instrument against the rule of his father. He didn’t idealize the aristocracy ways (re: inbreeding) and do sympathise with the plight of his people and actively trying to change them. He was emotionally guarded to Cécile out of necessity but eventually found himself softening his heart toward her. 

But of course, things in this book never really go predictably well and nothing really end up with the way you imagine it to be. I just hope the continuation will keep on surprising me. 

The ARC is provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A World Without Princes (The School for Good and Evil #2) by Soman Chainani

18004314 ScreenHunter_69 May. 11 03.17It’s not a world without princes, this book is more aptly named “The School for Misandrist and Misogynist”. While I’m not certain whether I am reading the same book as everyone does since I’m still undecided about the entire series and most seem to love it but this book really did embellish what I hate about the last book.

I realize that it was the rigid world structure that strangled my general enjoyment. I can’t understand why you can’t be a flexible in this book. Why can’t these fictitious characters exist normally as a person with in-between characteristics that they somehow defile the idea of each groups that one need to shame them or brain wash those they see different. Why does everyone still need to be at war with those and everyone different than they are. 

Why does a person need to create a world where one can’t have a choice to be who they are and how they’re basically forced to conform with someone’s idea of being someone but at the same time seem to actively endorse this kind of qualities. Why can’t we as a readers get the feel that there are something positive with the flow of the writing and basically hopeful that the characters’ circumstances would be different. Instead we had those who are different or in between being forced to accept their fate “either being evil or forever being a sidekick” and anyone who doesn’t accept their destined fate will be treated very badly. 

While I am certain the author is trying to say something positive or have a meaningful point somewhere but I think this is the first book I read in this recent years where I learn more about hating boys and hating girls that it have to be repeated all the time. I get that the series’ world was based on the idea of dualism but I do think it was just a rewriting of the first book.

One of the things I sort of like about the last book was the fact that the school was clearly psychopathic twisted version of fairy tales Hogwarts based on stories that are twisted to begin with. But I think somewhere around the time when this book began to alter Agatha’s characterizations and retaining Sophie’s attitude is that it forget about the child abuse and child murders going on in the background. Now, I felt like I didn’t have anything to make myself invested with the story as some of that mythos was lost in between the drama. The sequel now seem to be invested in pitting the characters against one another again for the choices they made in the last book which revolve around an emo boy and another session of insecure girls.

Although the first book did try to spin the idea that girls don’t need boys to have a happily ever after but now everything changed in this book. We get a reboot of sorts. Everything as just an alternate version of the world they left prior to this book. Where something change but everything remain the same. The school system still exist in a deus ex machina of sorts. There’s unresolved issues from the last book (ehem, a cursed kid got beheaded last time.. remember).

I’m not sure what sort of empowering message this book trying to sell. Being a character who stand up for herself and her love is wrong. You still have to choose one over another and not both. Being a strong female character is IMPOSSIBLE because the male characters will lose their masculinity and fret about their hate on girls that they have this mob mentality again and very homicidal on the other sex and so on. 

Seeing that there’s no middle ground between these school that allowed the idea that one can have more than two gender identity, I do feel that the entire story structure is crumpling down trying to reason out these inconsistencies. What even weirder, then there’s even a magical option to change your sex just to sneak into the other side because they can’t stand being in the other side. I don’t know about you but that was halfhearted for an author to attempt to discuss gender identity issues. 

I am a feminist myself but it was clear that someone think being misandrist was a requirement to be empowered as a female. I am secure with my gender and accept individual expectations and potential but superficial complete hate of another just because they have differing sex chromosome was ridiculous. Yes, there are men who completely hate anything about female or the idea of being female and having a brain or being self-empowered above theirs. They do exist and these sort of thinking is a chronic disease we face everywhere. We’re living in a patriarchal society and that is factual. I accepted this type of quality in some men and prayed that they might change their mind but I don’t agree that we need a reverse form of misogyny to portray this degree of dualism. Sometimes this is what made this book abhorrent to me. What is it with the persisting idea that princess can only be empowered by completely annihilating the prince or men and the call to render them useless and defeated and emasculated as a form of social justice. Really?

The book could have been better but I do think this book is destructive to young readers. I mean really, girls insisting they’re better off without boys is fine but girls wishing all boys dead. Boys wanting to kill girls for no other reason except they blame someone for ruining their structure of the world. The idea of Queen Guinevere so abhorrent (btw, spoilers, Gwen did take over Camelot in Merlin) Superficial characters, simplified world-building around troublesome complex issues done in a confusing way. I suppose I like the idea that the hero becoming anti-hero but I felt Agatha in this book was a pale version of the one in the first book and Sophie was genuinely repetitive and predictable and changeable. This whole book was a plain disappointment and the plot just scattered in the wind somewhere. I wish I have enough enthusiasm for the next book, I guess we should just wait for it then.

The Shadow Throne (The Ascendance Trilogy, #3) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

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This is the most difficult book in the series. It supposed to since it is a story about a boy king being forced to lead in a war against an invading army while barely months surviving among the pirates and healing his broken knee. Imogen was kidnapped and the likelihood of the nation going to fall was heavy on Jaron’s shoulder. Naturally, majority of this book is about war and politics. It is frustrating, it is slow but the novel did pick up around the challenges it faced.

There’s several YA books that I’ve read like Lumatere chronicles, The Queen’s Thief and The Seven Realms series that did write much about the war but I think The Shadow Throne did good on political aspect on it and the emotional burden handled in a very realistic situation for a teenager. Although I’m still uncertain about the ending of this series but I am satisfied with the book. It is a good series and despite all his flaws and failings and idealistic, Jaron did good to his people and it is admirable.