I'm obsessed with Labyrinth, so when I see a romance cross my path that promises to woo me with similar tales of faeries, goblins, elves, or trolls, I obviously get more excited than a kid on his or her birthday. When the Malediction trilogy went on sale for Kindle a few years ago, I bought every single book, because there was NO WAY, my eternal optimist said, NO WAY this wouldn't be good. My eternal optimist can be an eternal idiot and is responsible for 99.9% of my stupid book-buying decisions, but luckily for me, this particular decision was 100% spot-on.
Cecile is a talented singer who lives in a village with her father and brother. While on her way to go to her mother in the nearby city, to sing on stage, she is kidnapped by a man who has decided to deliver her to the trolls imprisoned in their kingdom under a mountain in exchange for Cecile's weight in goblin gold. Once in the kingdom of Trollus, Cecile finds herself in a truly bizarre society filled with racism, paranoia, and power plays.
The trolls were imprisoned beneath the mountain by a witch because they were too dangerous and too powerful to be around humans. To break the curse, they believed that they needed to marry their prince to a human woman. Despite the farcical wedding ceremony to Tristan, said prince, nothing happens, and Cecile finds herself imprisoned in a kingdom filled with bizarre people who either ignore her, threaten her, or else treat her like she's less than dirt.
Enemies-to-lovers romances are my favorites, and so are fake marriages or marriages of convenience. This book has both tropes and even better, it does them well. It was interesting to see how Tristan had his people's interests at heart, and how he spent every step of the way fighting his attraction to Cecile "for her own good." There's also a really rich tapestry of side characters, like Marc, Tristan's best friend who has a mismatched face, Anais, the sister of Marc's dead wife, beautiful as anything but unlikely to wed due to her flawed DNA. And then there's Tristan's evil father, his mother who has his aunt growing on her back like a sentient tumor, and so many other interesting and bizarre people, too.
This is definitely more romance-driven than fantasy-driven but the forbidden romance and the need to escape the mountain are both mired in some very good world-building. The magic system isn't really that clear, as magic is kind of a catch-all here, where trolls can do just about whatever sorts of illusions they please, but I did like the clear divide between human magic and troll magic, and based on some of the reveals in this book, I'm hoping that divide will come into play more in later books.
STOLEN SONGBIRD lives up to its hype. It's a very fun fantasy romance that's a bit reminiscent of darker stories aimed at women, like Phantom of the Opera or Labyrinth. Cinematic in scope, it's got everything from fancy dresses to a dangerous love interest, peppered with a smattering of magic.
Book two, here I come!
4 out of 5 stars