Hidden Huntress, by Danielle L Jensen

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – June 2, 2015

Summary: Beneath the mountain, the king’s reign of tyranny is absolute; the one troll with the capacity to challenge him is imprisoned for treason. Cécile has escaped the darkness of Trollus, but she learns all too quickly that she is not beyond the reach of the king’s power. Or his manipulation.

Recovered from her injuries, she now lives with her mother in Trianon and graces the opera stage every night. But by day she searches for the witch who has eluded the trolls for five hundred years. Whether she succeeds or fails, the costs to those she cares about will be high.

To find Anushka, she must delve into magic that is both dark and deadly. But the witch is a clever creature. And Cécile might not just be the hunter. She might also be the hunted…

Thoughts: Following up on Danielle Jensen’s hit YA novel, Stolen Songbird, Hidden Huntress continues the story of Cecile and Tristan, and the trolls that influence their lives. Cecile is in Trianon, following in her mother’s social footsteps and building her social and musical career while at the same time searching for Anushka, the woman who cursed the trolls so many centuries ago. Tristan is still trapped in Trollus, reviled by half-bloods and full-bloods alike for his deception, trying to regain influence and uncovering some disturbing truths along the way. The troll king wants freedom, wants Anushka’s curse broken, and Angouleme wants control of the throne. Politics and prophesy come to a head as the layers get peeled back and the mystery comes undone.

It’s interesting to see Cecile and Tristan far apart for the better part of the book. With the two of them being magically bonded, they remain aware of the other’s strong emotions, which influence them in various ways. Tristan’s pain from having iron spikes shoved through his arms affects Cecile’s health and energy. Cecile’s bonded vow to the troll king to find Anushka brings Tristan to desperation, and the two feed off each other in a mostly detrimental way. I actually liked the way this was handled quite a bit, since it was a major inversion of how most psychic bonds are done in fiction, especially between two people in love. Most of the presentation of that bond were actually quite detrimental. The bond doesn’t stop someone from cheating on their partner, for instance, but it does make the partner aware of what’s going on, and the cheater feels the emotional pain of the one they’ve wronged. The death of one is often the death of the other. Often you see such bonds as romantic and wonderful, but here it was shown to have as many or more drawbacks as it has benefits.

The mystery of Anushka was an interesting one. Who is she? Where is she? How has she lived for so long? Cecile’s sections were highly focused on that investigation, and it was fun to see where all the clues went. I started to form my own theories on Anushka’s identity about halfway through the book (and I’m glad to see that I was right in my theory!), but even though I saw that big reveal coming from a distance, the way all the pieces fit together in the end still surprised me now and again, and here were a few times I put things together only a page or two before it was said outright. I love it when mysteries can do that, and I think Jensen’s got a great talent for writing the exact sort of mystery I like best.

In the same vein, I also love how Jensen added sympathy to Anushka by revealing more of her backstory, and from her point of view. Why she did what she did, how she was wronged so many centuries ago, and why she started on her path to revenge. I love shades-of-grey villains like that, ones who do terrible things but still have their reasons for it. Better still, reasons that even her opponents – Cecile, Tristan, and the readers themselves – can understand and to a degree agree to. But rather than taking that to extremes and presenting Anushka as the wronged misunderstood party, she was still very much a villain. I agree with Cecile when she said that Anushka deserved to get revenge for what was done to her, but that doesn’t erase the fact that she’s a murderer and someone who has punished an entire race for the wrongs of a few individuals. I adored this scene in the novel, where all of that is revealed; it’s probably one of those most powerful and moving scenes in the whole novel.

Also of note, I really liked Cecile’s character development in Hidden Huntress. While she wasn’t exactly a timid little mouse in Stolen Songbird, she’s grown in some very interesting ways, and much of that comes from the situations she’s confronted as the story progressed. Her encounters with blood magic influence her very strongly here, as she twice chooses to do a terrible thing that sickens her in order to get the needed power to do what is expedient rather than take the slower and less certain path. I do like that the story didn’t devolve into some personal battle to stop using blood magic, though, since while that’s an interesting enough journey for a character to take, I feel it would have weakened the rest of the story as a whole, adding a dimension that didn’t need to be added. So Jensen gets much praise from me for being able to walk that balance well.

But incidents like that did seem to prepare Cecile for moments when the right thing to do was also the horrible thing to do. (Spoiler alert: such as sticking a knife between her own mother’s ribs to prevent her mother from killing someone else.) A brilliant ending to a very moving scene, and a fantastic expression of the woman Cecile has become over time. Painful, emotional, and necessary.

The novel ends on a cliffhanger, and what a cliffhanger it is! But it doesn’t leave the main plot thread dangling; that’s wrapped up very nicely, and the cliffhanger ending is much more a consequence of what happened in the novel rather than an attempt to drag the events out further. Between this, and Stolen Songbird itself, it’s easy to see why Jensen is making such waves in the YA genre. Her writing is gorgeous, the plot tight and well-paced, villains you love to hate, and characters who are fantastically unique and not without many the many flaws that make a person a person. Suffice it to say that I’m already looking forward to the next book! This series is a definite stand-out in a saturated genre, rekindling interest and giving me greater respect for the gems that can be found on the YA shelves.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

COVER REVEAL: Hidden Huntress, by Danielle L Jensen

Last year, Danielle L Jensen’s Stolen Songbird impressed me with its take on troll myths, and I found myself pretty quickly looking forward to the sequel. Lucky for me, the end of my waiting is now in sight, and I’m pleased and privileged to be able to present to you the cover art for the anticipated Hidden Huntress!

hiddenhuntress Hidden Huntress, by Danielle L Jensen
(Description taken from GoodReads)

Beneath the mountain, the king’s reign of tyranny is absolute; the one troll with the capacity to challenge him is imprisoned for treason. Cécile has escaped the darkness of Trollus, but she learns all too quickly that she is not beyond the reach of the king’s power. Or his manipulation.

Recovered from her injuries, she now lives with her mother in Trianon and graces the opera stage every night. But by day she searches for the witch who has eluded the trolls for five hundred years. Whether she succeeds or fails, the costs to those she cares about will be high.

To find Anushka, she must delve into magic that is both dark and deadly. But the witch is a clever creature. And Cécile might not just be the hunter. She might also be the hunted…

 

Hidden Huntress has an anticipated release of late spring 2015, coming from Angry Robot, and I’m very excited to be able to read it soon so that I can continue my exploration of an interesting YA series!

Stolen Songbird, by Danielle L Jensen

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – April 1, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.

Thoughts: While I won’t deny that Stolen Songbird was a very entertaining read that takes the troll myth one step further than I originally expected (leading to some fascinating potential future outcomes for the series), I will be honest and say that there are some things in the book that made me quite uncomfortable. I will say that, for the most part, the book doesn’t exactly present these things as particularly positive, so it’s not like it’s a book that talks about how awesome it can be to be kidnapped and married off to some guy who doesn’t like you and be mentally violated. But the mental violation stuff turned out, in the end, to be one of those things that could all too easily be seen as, “I got raped, but then got together with the guy who did it, so it’s okay.” Not exactly how the book presented it, I’ll grant you, but given my discomfort at the forced mind-bonding, and then the way Cecile and Tristan end up falling for each other, in no small part because of said bonding, it came across as a touch squicky for me.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the novel. There were so many political layers developed, especially for a YA novel, where right and wrong weren’t so set in stone and there were a lot of factors to consider beyond, “Let’s free all the trolls” and “half-bloods should be equal to full-bloods.” Complex, like reality, and Jensen’s way of expressing how much things are multi-layered while still making it comprehensible to readers deserves some praise. Ditto her writing of scenes when Tristan, who is defying his father the King and working on behalf of the half-bloods to improve their lives, has to act disdainful of half-bloods and humans and just be a right royal dick about things.

I could write at length about that alone, in honesty. Thanks to the viewpoint of Cecile, who is linked to Tristan and thus senses his emotions, we get to see Tristan acting like a hard-nosed and disdainful person, but we also get glimpses into what he’s thinking and feeling about the things he says. And rarely does Cecile ever mention that he’s obviously lying or that he feels conflicted while he says those things, or some similar thing. In fact, to her it often appears as though he completely means what he says. On the surface, this could appear as a sloppy oversight on the author’s part, ignoring the mental link until it’s convenient to have it appear at a later scene. For my part, Jensen’s writing and having so much between the lines convinced me as the book went on that this was less a case of sloppy writing and more a case of Tristan wrapping himself so well in his role as the spoiled better-than-thou prince that in that person, he almost believed the things he was saying himself. Quite befitting of a prince who has secrets, and fitting well with the rest of the story, in which layers of meaning and misdirection feature heavily.

I may go on at length about this in another post, even. There’s quite a lot worth saying.

Jensen does well at setting up a larger world, of which the reader only sees glimpses. It makes the story feel larger than it is, like there’s a world outside Cecile’s home village and her later home of Trollus under he mountain, and though none of the story takes place in another location, it very much feels like it’s one small part of a complete world, with people and places and cultures that exist but we’re not getting to see. I like it when it’s obvious that the author has done world-building beyond merely what’s shown and explicitly stated, because it makes me want to read more of the series, to explore more of the world. And it’s not often done, at least not so well.

Add that to the strong hints that trolls are not what people think them to be, and you’ve got a story that’s sure to garner interest. I won’t say much on that subject here, because half the fun is in figuring it out for oneself, but let’s just say that it gets pretty obvious by the end, as to what trolls really are (at least a close comparison by our own real-world mythology), and that adds another layer of intrigue that practically has me chomping at the bit to read more and uncover the greater truth!

Overall, in spite of some content that made me feel a bit uncomfortable, I very much enjoyed reading Stolen Songbird and following the events surrounding Cecile and Tristan. The alternating back-and-forth perspective served well to illustrate both sides of the situation, and Jensen’s engaging and fluid writing style pulled me along effortlessly. There was more than enough to make me want to revisit the series again later, and I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series. Very well done, and an excellent addition to the YA shelves!

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)