Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dual Review: The Hollow Kingdom by Claire B. Dunkle
& Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

I was excited to read two stories recently where a forced marriage actually turned into love. Often it seems that when someone tells a heroine "you must be with him," the story becomes a free will vs. destiny love triangle, where she rebells and goes after someone new.  (Clearly I've been reading the wrong books.) Inevitably when these situations arise, I end up preferring the destiny guy, though the girl always chooses the other one. Of course I'm avoiding triangles at all cost these days. But I'm very interested in exploring how a relationship that starts with "you have no choice," could actually work. I had a great time thinking about that question with these two books. 

In The Hollow Kingdom and Stolen Songbird, the heroines are forcibly kidnapped (or almost), and against their wishes, end up married to mythical creatures that they previously knew nothing about. The former to a goblin and the latter to a troll. The Hollow Kingdom takes place in rural 19th century England, Stolen Songbird in a fantasy world that that seems to resemble a 19th century Britain (the characters live on an island and there is talk about the Continent). These stories share similarities in themes, but they are also quite different. I'm going to talk about them separately and together below.  

The Hollow Kingdom
by Claire B. Dunkle
Read: March 31, 2014
Published: October 1, 2003 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Source: NetGalley (Thank you, Little, Brown BYR!)
Category: MG, fantasy, goblins, Beauty and the Beast retelling

Series: The Hollow Kingdom trilogy #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

In nineteenth-century England, a powerful sorcerer and King of the Goblins chooses Kate, the elder of two orphan girls recently arrived at their ancestral home, Hallow Hill, to become his bride and queen

"She had never screamed before, not when she overturned the rowboat and almost drowned, not even when Lightfoot bucked her off and she felt her leg break underneath her with an agonizing crunch. But now she screamed long and loud, with all her breath."

Hallow Hill has a strange and tragic history. For thousands of years, young women have been vanishing from the estate, never to be seen again. Now Kate and Emily have come to live at Hallow Hill. Brought up in a civilized age, they have no idea of the land's dreadful heritage-until, that is, Marak decides to tell them himself.

Intelligent, pleasant, and completely pitiless, Marak is a powerful magician who claims to be a king-and he has very specific plans for the two new girls who have trespassed into his kingdom.

It is a goblin tradition for the king to steal a human bride. According to the current goblin king, Marak, it is also a necessity. When Kate and her sister move to their ancestral home Hallow Hill after the death of their parents, Marak picks Kate to be his wife. She is obviously not pleased with this, and does everything she can to prevent being taken by him. What follows is a Beauty and the Beast-like story, with a slow building romance, and amazing character building. Kate is fiercely determined, loyal to her sister, innocent in many ways, and also not easily duped. I liked her a lot. While reading, I waffled between wanting Kate to outwit Marak and get away from him, and wanting her to give in a little and get to know him. Marak is unapologetic about the fact that he needs Kate, and it leads to a very intriguing and uncomfortable story, which I enjoyed immensely. At least for the first half.

Unfortunately, there’s a point where this book makes a huge emotional and physical leap in these character’s relationship and the story lost me for a while. This is a Middle Grade read, which explains a lot of why the author chose not to highlight certain details, but I still wanted more. I’m all for subtle, but this was so slight that it felt more like a leap without any transition. I desperately needed more for this to work for me. The Hollow Kingdom would have been amazing as a YA or Adult book, if it was able to explore those themes, though I do think it could have managed it a bit more gracefully in this genre. Although I enjoyed seeing these two grow into a true relationship on both sides, missing the crucial transition meant that I wasn’t able to emotionally connect with them as much as I wanted. The book also ended a little too abruptly. However, as a whole this is an excellent story that does not do what is expected, in a wonderful way.

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: None. The Hollow Kingdom is part of a companion series, but this story is complete.

Stolen Songbird
by Danielle L. Jensen
Read: April 6 - 8, 2014
PublishedApril 1, 2014 by Strange Chemistry
Source: Library
Category: YA, fantasy, trolls

Series: The Malediction Trilogy #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

Cécile has just turned 17 and is finally going to join her mother in the city to become an opera singer. She has been brought up on a rural farm with her father and grandmother, a childhood that she’s loved, but she’s also excited for her new life to come, for which she's been preparing for years. That is until she is captured while riding alone. Cécile is taken to the city of Trollus, which exists deep under a mountain, and told that she is to be the wife of Tristan, the Prince and heir to the throne. Against her will, Cécile is bound and wed to Tristan, when all she can think of is escape. When trolls bind to each other in marriage their emotions become shared with each other. Cécile can feel everything Tristan does and he her, which is unwelcome and also very confusing.

Cécile soon learns that nothing is what it seems in Trollus, most especially her husband. As she gets caught up in court politics and tries to figure out what to do about the fact that she's stuck married to someone she doesn't know, Cecile has to figure out who she is and what she's most willing to fight for. Cécile starts off the story just going along with her mother’s plans for her life, but she has to grow up when she’s taken to Trollus and her life is altered wildly beyond her control. That is when Cécile, has to decide what she wants and believes - and where Tristan fits into that. I’m excited to see more of that path for her in book two, especially in light of the revelations she learns about herself in this book. 

Although this is mostly Cécile's book, part of the narrative is told from Tristan's point of view. Tristan is very much a man of secrets and convictions, and he has no idea how to fit his new wife into his long range plans. He doesn't trust easily nor is he very open, which leads to a lot of frustration for Cécile. But it is also very clear that he can't help but care for her. I really liked how the binding of their emotions affected their relationship. It added a layer of complexity and confusion, but also eventually forced them to communicate. Even though Tristan and Cécile are clear about how they feel about each other by the end of the story, it's also clear that Tristan hasn't shared all of his secrets. I'm looking forward to the prospect of watching their relationship deepen in the future, and Tristan opening up more. 

Stolen Songbird is part of a trilogy and it ends on a cliffhanger, which definitely stressed me out after the struggles Tristan and Cécile face in the book. But it is one that I think will be good of Cécile  as she continues to build up her inner strength. I'm also hoping that we get more of Tristan's narrative in the second book. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium/High

Comparing these stories
Stolen Songbird seems more coordinated in how it brings Tristan and Cecile together, where The Hollow Kingdom is decidedly messier. In the first highlighted story, Marak is the one attempting to kidnap Kate, and it makes the story deliciously uncomfortable and complex. Although Marak is described as 'pretty' for a goblin, he also has some strange features that are unsettling for humans. On the other hand, Tristan had nothing to do with Cécile's kidnapping, and he's also one of the most beautiful men Cécile has ever seenTristan doesn’t want the match, and Cécile learns very quickly that the antagonistic front he presents to the world is not his real face. Marak is much more what you see is what you get, and completely unrepentant about taking Kate, though it's clear she unsettles and challenges him in a way that makes her a perfect match. Still, it took me a while to feel settled about Marak and Kate as a couple. However, I didn’t struggle as much with the idea of Cécile and Tristan together, and I mostly just enjoyed the process of watching their relationship slowly evolve. Though the prospect of remaining underground forever was unpleasant in both scenarios.

Where I loved the beginning build up of Marak and Kate's relationship, I was much more satisfied with the emotional transition in Cécile and Tristan’s relationship, from disliking and mistrusting each other to love and commitment. It does pick up swiftly at one point, but Cécile struggled with many of the issues I would have, if I were suddenly married and bound against my will to someone I didn’t know. Those elements of internal struggle of becoming a wife were too subtle in Kate's story. I also read Stolen Songbird at a time where I needed a romance that was a little easier to enjoy, which is one reason why I liked the ways it differed from The Hollow Kingdom, and ended up enjoying it a little better overall. But I can also understand why some people prefer the other. 


  1. I'm really glad you enjoyed Stolen Songbird, Lauren - I had a feeling the romance would work out well for you after your struggles with The Hollow Kingdom. For me, Kate and Marak are far more complex, flawed, and intriguing characters to read about. Since we were able to get into Tristan's head with Stolen Songbird, I didn't find myself overtly compelled by his personality in the least. Or maybe I read this at a time when I was in the mood for a more complex romance than I got? Not sure but the characters in Stolen Songbird didn't fulfill me the way Kate and Marak did. Both books have their flaws, especially the ending of Hollow Kingdom, but I'm glad you were able to enjoy these and I love this comparison piece! :)

  2. Ooh, I like how you did this! I always seem to pick the "wrong" guy for the girl, too. Usually, it's the naughtier of the two or the destined one. Don't fight your destiny! I've heard really good things about Stolen Songbird and, even though she's basically kidnapped and forced into this, how her attachment to Tristan is growing and evolving.

  3. I'm so happy that yet another blogger I know loved Stolen Songbird. I'm planning on reading the book next week and I'm very excited. Tristan and Cecile sound like a great couple and I actually like that there are some struggles and secret-keeping. That would be very realistic especially considering their situation. Cecile sounds like she also grows throughout the book. I love transitioning heroines more than anything in YA books.

    I'm not sure if Hollow Kingdom would be for me. It seems to be lacking in the romance department and I'm all for the romance, so it might disappoint me. Still though, it sounds like the beginning of their relationship was strong.

    Lovely reviews, Lauren.

  4. I love love love the way you've written these reviews Lauren. I do like my stories where two characters start off forced into a situation and then slowly a relationship develops between them. The Hollow Kingdom greatly reminds me of a book which I adored called Greta and the Goblin King, before this book I had the image of goblins similar to those in Gringott's bank in Harry Potter, but just like Tristan, the goblin in this story wasn't immediately hot, but he slowly works his charm onto you. Also I'm really intrigued about this cliffhanger in Stolen Songbird, I've probably mentioned before how I enjoy books which end in cliffhangers, so I will certainly be adding both books to my tbr!

  5. YAY LAUREN!!! Yes the cliffhanger in Stolen Songbird wasn''t fun, but it wasn't too awful right? Especially since you know how they feel for one another. If she had snuck out in the night or something and left him "for his own good" (I hate, hate, hate that excuse) without every telling him how she felt, then the cliffhanger would have been miserable for me. I'm definitely hoping for more of Tristan's narrative in book two as well, which I'm guessing we'll get since they'll presumably be separated for some time, I really liked the glimpses we got into his character!

    Beautiful reviews as always my friend:)

  6. I must read these since all I ever wanted in the Nightshade trilogy was for the girl to be with her chosen mate, but nope. That was not happening. At first right these two sound very similar. I'm sorry The Hollow Kingdom lost you for a while and even thoug it was an amazing story, I'm sorry you weren't that emotionally connected with it. As for Stolen Songbird, I'm so happy that you enjoyed the main relationship in this book. It has me very itrigued and ha! You're probably the 5th person who says they want more Tristan narrative in book 2 :D These two sound wonderful nevertheless and I wouldn't mind reading them. Nope, wouldn't mind at all :)

  7. Yay, I'm glad you enjoyed Stolen Songbird. The ending was a bit tough on us, but I'm excited to see where their relationship goes. I'm really want to know more about the mystery behind the curse placed on the Trolls.

    I also really enjoyed your idea of comparing stories. Even though I've only read Stolen Songbird, I can totally get a feel for both stories. Wonderful review, Lauren :)

  8. First, I have to point out that you were JUST telling me you were reading The Stolen Songbird (a week, a few days ago?) and now you have a review posted with a comparison of the two books. *applauds* GO LAUREN. Now, for the books, I really really like the sound of them. I agree that usually when arranged marriages are in place, it turns into a love triangle. I don't read MG, but I think I could bend that to read the Hollow Kingdom. Except for that part where it leaps over something. As for the Stolen Songbird....GIMME GIMME.

  9. I loved loved loved Stolen Songbird. I fell in love with the main characters, Cécile and Tristan. Cécile is such an amazing heroine, she's strong, but it's an inner strength, and she really wants to help people even when doing so risks her own safety. She's not perfect, she makes mistakes, but she doesn't whine and she takes responsibility for her actions. And love love this guy. He starts off being cold and uncaring, sly and a bit snarky, but as you get to know him you realize there's so much going on that he has to hide his true feelings from everyone. The politics of this world are so well done, with different factions having their own agendas and Tristan walking a fine line, keeping secrets in order to do what he believes is right. I loved that we get a few chapters from his POV, knowing his thoughts made me just love him even more. The romance is not insta-love, it's slow building with tons of chemistry and the progression of their relationship was just perfect. And not even a hint of a love triangle. Even the secondary characters are well developed and memorable. I became so invested in these characters.

    I can't rave enough about this book. Glad you enjoyed it too! ~Pam

  10. I must confess to being very skeptical about this book. The title is a little cheesy and ... Trolls? But I should always keep an open mind because I've read a lot of positive reviews of this. I'm in!!
    Jen @ YA Romantics

  11. It was definitely very interesting to see how you felt about both The Hollow Kingdom and Stolen Songbird. I will admit that I was skeptical of Stolen Songbird (trolls?), but I've been hearing quite a few great things about it. I think I might check it out of the library!


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