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.

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Firelight (Firelight #1) by Sophie Jordan

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I enjoyed this book. Its actually a 3 and a half star. Unfortunately, I couldn’t escape reviewing it without mentioning Twilight because it really is, a version of Twilight, albeit being a better one. Since I know that many started reading YA paranormal romance from Twilight, but if you have younger kids in need of something similar read read but you don’t want to traumatize them with that infamous series of bad female character and romanticization of abusive relationship, this is quite a good book to read.

One word : dragon. I adore dragons. My zodiac is an earth dragon. So, what’s better than having a dragon shapeshifter as a main character. Although, I did have a problem pronouncing “Jacinda” in my head since I always end up with “Jacinta” instead. But whatever, dragon shapeshifter or dragon-descent if you want to be political correct with it.

The story is similar to Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly (although I gave up on the second book once the whole Christianity theme began to crop up often) but thankfully devoid of any religious elements. I really like Jacinda. I like the plot too although it is quite the same “special boy meets special girl” scenario but I guess the added twin character gave Jacinda more dimension as a character. I mean, retrospectively, the book is also the story of Tamra’s life reenacted through Jacinda. It is a story of trying to fit in a place where everyone is different. I guess, I can relate to that more as a teenager than I did with Bella in Twilight.

I know that forbidden love have been an overused trope but it kinda suits well with the relationship between Will and Jacinda. I don’t really have a problem with their relationship being rather not straightforward but one thing for sure, Will aren’t a bedroom stalker. Also, I’m not sure there is an actual love triangle.

But as light reading goes. It wasn’t that bad storytelling-wise.

Defy (Defy #1) by Sara B. Larson

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Truthfully, from the blurb, this book aced every cliched story about YA Fantasy with main female protagonist. It have a first person POV girl character who hid her identity as a boy. A triangle love romance with a prince and a friend-zoned guy friend. A character who have the ability to fight better than the rest of the guys her age and older. And a kingdom that need saving. Basically, the amalgam of Pierce’s Alanna, Cashore’s Graceling, Maas’ Throne of Glass, Lahoux’s Thief, Fantaghiro, Hua Mulan and many others stories like it. At least, it was the better likable part of all the amalgams of the first female characters like Alexa since I completely dislike Graceling and Throne of Glass.

What I like most about “Defy” is that the story didn’t afraid to tell things as it is. It was possibly a complete feminist story even with all the horrifics that happened to all the female characters in this book. Alexa isn’t just a girl who disguise herself as a boy to be a knight or to honor her family or because its the only possible way for someone with her ability. No. Alexa became a boy to save herself from being forced into prostitution. Thats the honest truth of the story and it didn’t afraid to let in all the gory detail of the girls being raped repetitively in breeding house in less than three chapters. All female characters in this story was victimized and yes, it was a hard topic to venture especially in YA Fantasy with young demographic, but frankly, it made Alexa’s motivation more justified than every girl-to-boy warrior story I’ve read and made everyone else’s motivation superficial next to hers.

Weirdly enough, Alexa probably is the only gender bending character who suck at being a guy. It made sense since she had a twin brother with her in this charade but when she lost him, everything seem to unravel around her and so was her identity. There were some parts that didn’t made sense in the story especially how some characters simply know that she’s a girl. Since its a first POV type story, I guess, its a lot harder to know what others think but I best assume that they’re observant enough.

The relationship between her character and the characters around the story was a bit raw and unembellished as expected coming from a series. I like that the romance element in this book doesn’t keep the character distracted about the underlying storyline. Yes, there are some drama going on but mostly it was Alexa suddenly being in a situation between two guys and she didn’t know how on earth she got into it which is much better than what Alanna had. Since the blurb already spoil the love triangle parts. The story was actually sustained on sexual tension between the Prince and her when she still think that he didn’t know about her gender and think that he’s a spoiled prince which was just a facade in silent defiance against his tyrannic father. The awkward situation began when her friend and brother-in-arms revealed that he knew about her all along and was in love with her far longer than her attraction with the prince and was unable to act on his love because what Alexa felt to him was as a friend instead of a lover. Its complicated as all sort of love does. But what the author did right with this story was to use Alexa to remind the readers gain that although there are romance in the story, its still a very dark and political heavy story of an ongoing war and the rape of a country and its people and a conspiracy that would end everything or save everyone.

For me, the blurb nearly made me turn the book away but the book saved itself. The story was fast paced and unpredictable. I tried to think it was predictable since it was in a way like Tamora Pierce’s Alanna but the characters in this book was older than Alanna who began her journey as a child. This story isn’t a coming of age like Alanna. Its about survival and as it title said, of defiance. As much as similarities goes, “Defy” is a unique book on its own. Its emotionally intense and mature and really violent even for a YA Fantasy. It might not be anyone’s cup of tea but its definitely mine. The ending of this book alone set this book apart from every books I mentioned in this review and for that alone, I can’t wait for the continuation of Alexa’s story.

The ARC was given by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.