Lately I have been slacking SO hard on reading the books that are included in my monthly subscription boxes. I used to have a deal with myself – if I was going to continue to subscribe to multiple boxes each month, I had to read the the books before the next boxes arrived. This system worked beautifully until October of last year when I spent 2 months binge reading both the Throne of Glass series and the Outlander series. Missing those 2 months was enough to become daunting to me, and I have let my system slide until my TBR stack got out of control (…more out of control anyway). NO MORE! I have made a firm promise to myself that I will catch up on these forgotten reads, and I decided to kick things off with Stain by A.G. Howard.
Stain was the January Unicorn Crate book, and has one of the loveliest covers I’ve seen in some time! I have only read one of A.G. Howard’s books (Roseblood, back when it came in the January 2017 box) and I enjoyed it, but not enough that I have picked up any others. So, I went into this book with zero expectations and an open mind. And boy was I delighted by what I found! Before I get into my review, let’s get a quick summary!
Once upon a nightmare, her fairy tale begins…
After Lyra—a princess incapable of speech or sound—is cast out of her kingdom of daylight by her wicked aunt, a witch saves her life, steals her memories, and raises her in an enchanted forest … disguised as a boy known only as Stain. Meanwhile, in Lyra’s rival kingdom, the prince of thorns and night is dying, and the only way for him to break his curse is to wed the princess of daylight, for she is his true equal. As Lyra rediscovers her identity, an impostor princess prepares to steal her betrothed prince and her crown. To win back her kingdom, save the prince, and make peace with the land of the night, Lyra must be loud enough to be heard without a voice, and strong enough to pass a series of tests—ultimately proving she’s everything a traditional princess is not.
This summary was courtesy of Goodreads!
I adored everything about this book! For starters, it is an absolute beast in size, clocking in at 512 pages, with teeny print that filled each page! I LOOOOVE giant books, so this immediately gave it a boost for me. Beyond that, the plot was so unique and the world building was great! We had a fair amount of POVs, and each one deepened the story wonderfully. I won’t get into all of them, but I will at least discuss the three main players.
Let me lay the scene a bit with the world. This world is split into two: Nerezeth, the Night Kingdom, and Eldoria, the Day Kingdom. The kingdoms were once joined, with the sun and moon sharing the sky in a normal cycle, and everyone existing side-by-side. But that hasn’t been the case for millennia. Lyra is the princess of Eldoria, where it is always day. This is a land of perfect weather and warm sun all hours of the day. Sadly, Lyra is born with the palest skin and lightest eyes, burned by even the hint of sunlight on her skin. She is also incapable of speech. Vesper is the prince of Nerezeth, where it is always night and dark. This land is below ground and is always frigidly cold and snowy. The counter to Lyra, Vesper was born with the coloring of a Eldorian and the inability to see in the dark like the rest of his people. He does, however, have their inherent ability to speak mind-to-mind.
Lyra was a fabulous main character, and I loved how the author incorporated sign language into the plot to overcome her inability to speak. She had a lot of spunk and so much goodness in her. One of my favorite scenes was watching her negotiate trades throughout the market – a market she had beautified over the years. I also loved how she saw the good in everyone and had made herself a family out of the people and creatures that were essentially the outcasts of society. This was especially evident in her relationship with Scorch, the fiery Pegasus (so awesome!) that was pretty much a bloodthirsty asshole.
Vesper is the counterpart to Lyra here, and his story was so unique. His people are dying from what is essentially lack of sunlight, and his blood holds temporary relief for them. However, the more he gives, the more toll it takes on him, shortening his own life in the process. Despite that, it is very clear that he is devoted to the well-being of his people, and he is willing to do anything to heal them. He’s even willing to go along with an arranged marriage to Lyra, despite his strong desire to marry for love. He has so much good in him, and I love it!
Then we have the villain of the story, Griselda. Lyra’s aunt, she is literally the wicked witch of the story and a truly awful person with no conscience to speak of (seriously…it was taken away from her). So desperate for the throne is she that she leaves Lyra to die and uses magic to put her own daughter (the youngest of three) in her place, pretending she is the real princess. Griselda is responsible for so many deaths and, if her plans go as she wants, she will be the actual ruin of the two countries. She’s despicable and you hate every minute of her.
There isn’t a magic system, per se, in this story, although magic is prevalent in all aspects. Rather than being “a thing”, it just is. I actually love this because it just seamlessly adds magic into the world without thought. You don’t have to try to understand it because it is no more out of place than people breathing air or eating a meal. So well done.
I won’t give any spoilers here, but just know this is such a fabulous read! If you love fairy-tales and fairy-tale retellings, you will NOT want to skip this. I will also highly recommend this for fans of Danielle Jensen’s Malediction trilogy! The books share very few similarities, but I spent my whole read seriously getting the same vibes, which I am all about! Conversely, if you love(d) Stain, and haven’t read Danielle’s books, go pick them up next!
In conclusion, this book was a total win and one I will be revisiting again and again!
Unicorn Crate still has some copies left, which include a signed bookplate and an author letter with a matching bookmark! Grab one now, while they last!
You can also pick up a basic hardcover here.
Also, here is the purchase link for Stolen Songbird by Danielle Jensen, the first book of the Malediction trilogy.