Book Review: Stain

stainTitle: Stain

Author: A.G. Howard

Pub. Date: January 15, 2019

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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 will be a spoiler free review.

I’m going to start this by saying that I listened to the audiobook via Audible. Definitely recommend it – but more on that in a moment.

I’m also going to say that while I was super excited for this book, I was also a little wary of it. I loved the Splintered Trilogy, but Roseblood fell flat for me (mostly since it was Phantom and there was no music), so I was concerned that maybe I wouldn’t love Stain. I loved the premise and the synopsis, and not to mention the absolutely gorgeous cover, so I was excited. I had been excited for Roseblood too, so I was cautious.

Then I decided to do the audiobook version, due to the sheer size of the book, and I found out that a man was the narrator, which I found weird due to the book being primarily from Lyra’s POV. As it turns out, I judged too harshly, too early, and nearly missed out on one of my all-time favorite audiobooks. Tim Bruce (the narrator) was absolutely perfect!

Picture the quintessential fantasy story narrator – like the “Once upon a time, there was a young girl” in a deep, slightly gravelly voice – maybe a grandfather (I don’t know how old Tim Bruce is, but he painted one hell of a picture in my mind) and that was how the story was told, and it was brilliant. It fit the atmosphere of the story so well, I became completely lost within it.

As for the story itself – I’ll start off with the one little – tiny – negative I have. It’s not really a negative per say, but before this book’s release, I kept hearing it referred to as a “Princess and the Pea Retelling” which is all well and good, but it’s not? Not really? It’s gothic, and dark and absolutely beautifully written, but it was more of a Cinderella retelling than a Prince and the Pea – in my opinion. I don’t think this takes away from the book, but if you go into thinking that you’re getting a book about a princess who can’t sleep on however many mattresses because of a pea causing a lump – you’ll be disappointed. Though that’s not to say, it’s completely devoid of that fairy tale, it’s just not what I would consider a retelling/reimagining since it’s not crucial to Lyra’s own journey.

Speaking of Lyra – I adored her character. No matter what, she just wanted to enjoy life, in whatever ways she could. Unable to go outside in her own kingdom, she found other ways to entertain herself. Then when her life pretty much turns to crap – because, you know, evil stepmothers (her aunt, but playing the role of the evil stepmother) and all that fun stuff – she still somehow makes the best of a very crap situation. She’s resilient and even if you don’t want to like her, she manages to worm her way into your heart.

As for Vesper – he has a plot line/twist that I kind of figured out before the reveal, but it was still a pretty good reveal and it really helps him grow as a character. I will admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of his in the beginning. He was a little angry and really not willing to listen to anyone. Just like Lyra – who had the looks of his kingdom, while he had the looks of her – he was an outsider. It takes a mistake and a drastic change and a beautiful friendship for him to become a better person.

As for their relationship – it starts with a betrothal to finally unite the kingdoms and if you’re a fan of slow burn romances, then this book is for you. I loved how their relationship grew and changed into something wonderful and perfect. They balanced each other out wonderfully. Another aspect that they both share is that, they aren’t perfect, that looks don’t necessarily make a person who they are. They embrace their scars, because they are a part of who they are and they tell a story of what they’ve been through.

As much as I loved the two of them, I think my favorite part of this book was the world building. I think the narrator added to it, but I fell in love with the world, the writing, the dark atmosphere, all of it. It bloomed to life in my head and there were moments that I was so immersed it was startling to come back to reality. A.G. Howard paints a beautiful picture of this amazing world, that was so carefully crafted – it easily became one of my all-time favorite fantasy reads – which is a feat – I read a lot of fantasy.

I’m so glad that this book ended up being a new favorite, that I fell in love with every gold and purple hued aspect of it. I can definitely see myself rereading in the future. I cannot wait to see what A.G. Howard has in store for us next.

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