The second book in Danielle L. Jensen‘s THE MALEDICTION TRILOGY continues the complex political intrigue between the powerful trolls who live beneath the mountain and the eighteenth-century humans who dwell on the surface. In the first book, Stolen Songbird, a truce was attempted by an arranged marriage between Tristan, the heir to the troll kingdom, and Cecile, a kidnapped opera singer. Their union was prophesied to dissolve the magical barrier that keeps the trolls beneath the earth, one put in place by the witch Anushka hundreds of years ago — but the trolls still remain imprisoned.
As so often happens in YA books, the dislike and mistrust between Tristan and Cecile gradually grew into love, and Stolen Songbird ended with Tristan betraying his own people so that Cecile could escape her captivity and return home. At the beginning of Hidden Huntress (2015), she’s working as an opera singer and living with her mother in Trianon, but a surprise meeting with the King of Trollus ends with him extracting a promise: that she’ll hunt down Anushka and free the trolls.
A promise made to a troll is more like a spell, and Cecile finds herself unable to resist his command, knowing that if she fails, Tristan’s life is forfeit, and if she succeeds, she’ll unleash the troll population on her friends, family and countless innocents. Meanwhile, Tristan is attempting to muster his allies in the face of the shattered morale brought on by his own betrayal — a task much easier said than done when his dream for a better world relies on trust and integrity.
The chapters alternate between Cecile and Tristan’s points-of-view; each one given a distinctive voice and range of obstacles, with only a thread of sorcery between them that allows them to sense the other’s emotions. Jensen certainly doesn’t make it easy for either of her protagonists to achieve their goals, and King Thibald makes for a formidable opponent: always one step ahead, and an interesting male foil to the more elusive Anushka. There is some mystery over the witch’s true identity, and though I guessed the twist before Hidden Huntress’ final act, it’s handled cleverly and raises plenty more questions to be resolved in the last book.
What sets THE MALEDICTION TRILOGY apart from others of its ilk are the very high stakes that are involved. This isn’t just a star-crossed lovers’ tale, but a prolonged fight for freedom and justice, one in which likeable, three-dimensional characters (as opposed to disposable nobodies) suffer and die if our heroes fail. After a slow start, the book’s tension starts rising as Tristan and Cecile struggle to choose paths that offer the least amount of harm to others, and we never forget the danger they’re in as they do so.
I’ll admit I’m still not sure why Jensen went with a troll as the “beautiful supernatural love interest” that has to exist in nearly YA book out there (especially since the deformities described in the first book go completely unmentioned here) but I suppose vampires, werewolves, angels, fairies — heck, even zombies — have been done already. And I should probably commend the fact there’s no overt love triangle.
In all, Hidden Huntress is a worthy follow-up to the first book, and I look forward to wrapping things up with Warrior Witch.