4 out of 5 stars
This review may contain spoilers for the first book.
I received an ARC of the second book.
This as yet unfinished trilogy really hit a lot of the right notes for me. Cecile is a normal girl, ready to join her mother in the big city and sing at the opera, when she is sold to the trolls. They believe she is part of a prophecy which will break the curse set on them that traps them in their kingdom beneath a mountain. Cecile is quickly bonded to their Prince Tristan, but the politics of the kingdom go to hell when the curse remains unbroken. The elite aristocracy, inbred to the point of deformity but still magically powerful, are furious that one of their own has had to defile himself by bonding to a human for nothing. The half-bloods, made weak by the mixing of troll and human blood and made slaves to the aristocrats, are pushing closer and closer to rebellion. The king, knowing that any harm to Cecile will hurt his heir, uses her to control Tristan and Tristan’s insane but powerful brother can see openings to take the crown and rule.
The politics are done very well in these two books. There are enough characters and factions to keep you on your toes, but not enough to get seriously confusing. The plots play out with thought and intricacy and keep you interested and engaged trying to figure out all the angles and anticipating the character’s actions.
Cecile and Tristan are a great couple. They are both bonded to each other against their wills but end up making a great team. Tristan is a complicated character who has to weigh the pros and cons of his actions very carefully. Breaking the curse will mean unleashing his father, brother, and other powerful and evil creatures onto mankind, possibly returning the earth to the state of bloodshed it existed in before the curse. Leaving the curse in place will continue to subject the half-bloods to slavery at the hands of their full-blooded brethren. Either way, blood will be spilled. Cecile is not politically savvy, but is brave and has some unusual magic of her own. She quickly comes to feel sympathy for the half-bloods, and even some of the full-blooded trolls as they languish beneath the foot of a tyrant.
The first book takes place mainly in the troll kingdom, and the second takes place mainly in the human world. To break the curse, the witch who cast it must be tracked down and either persuaded to undo it or killed. Cecile is able to escape the king and the troll kingdom itself, but since Tristan cannot, the King uses him as leverage to force Cecile to track down and kill the witch. Cecile goes undercover as an opera singer following in her mother’s footsteps and must try and master her magic enough to track down and kill someone who has escaped detection for generations all the while trying to deal with her controlling mother attempting to mould her into the next stage sensation.
The contrast between the two settings was great. There are politics going on in both the human and troll realms, but Cecile’s roles are so different you really get to see two sides of here character. She and Tristan also make progressively more and more difficult decisions as tensions rise in the troll kingdom and they get closer to having to decide the fate of two peoples.
The thought put into all the characters reflects very well on the author. Some of them make decisions we might not have made ourselves, but you can always see the internal justification for it. This is not a pure good-against-evil book, where everything is black and white. Characters think and act rationally according to their own logic and circumstances, and even as you root for one side, it is possible to see where the other side is coming from.
The writing flows well and never interrupts the narrative, and the story is not overloaded with too much sappy romance. The characters feel like people and the narrative voices are clear and distinct. I would definitely suggest this to anyone who loves fantasy.