Review: Stain


SERIES: Standalone
REPRESENTATION: Protagonist is mute and communicates with sign language and telepathy
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: YA Fantasy Retelling (The Princess and the Pea)


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For fans of: Tim Burton movies, the original darker fairy tales


34842208Once 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.


I really liked the overall feeling that Stain manages to provoke.

Howard’s writing is lush and lyrical, and she manages to create a rich, gothic world with just the hint of darkness and decay lurking under the surface. The story itself — although described as a Princess and the Pea retelling (and that is in there) — feels like an entirely original fairy tale. It’s right at home with the original pre-Disney version with iron-shoes and cut-off toes.

stain.pngI loved both Lyra and Vesper. They were both precious and strong, and I rooted for them both throughout. However, controversially perhaps, I actually found Griselda the most intriguing character. She’s ruthless and driven. I couldn’t help but admire how she schemes and plots, making all sorts of extreme (and pretty darn clever) moves to achieve her goals. I really liked the contrast better her and Lyra. While Griselda gives everything and does anything to prove a princess doesn’t have to be weak, Lyra has an innate strength and know that true strength is tempered with compassion. I thought that, by the end, Lyra had learned to utilise Griselda’s pragmatism by combining it with mercy.

As much as I loved the writing and the story as a whole, I had some issues with the pacing. I thought that the first act (Lyra’s childhood, Griselda’s scheme to replace her and take the kingdom) was brilliant, full of politicking and lovely character moments for young Lyra. The final act was dramatic, full of action and exciting, cinematic moments. The middle section felt rather weak to me. I found myself skimming quite a few of these chapters. Stain is over 500 pages. To be honest, I think it could have comfortable lost a hundred or so from the second act without any real trouble, and I think the book would’ve been stronger for it.

A sumptuous, beautiful and unique fairy tale.


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