Last year, I loved STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle L. Jensen. It was even one of my favorite books of 2014. So you can bet I was eagerly anticipating this year’s sequel, HIDDEN HUNTRESS. I emailed the publisher, Angry Robot, as soon as I knew there was a blog tour and practically begged to be on it
I interviewed Danielle last year, and this year I have an amazing guest post! I gave Danielle a few ideas, and to my great joy, she wrote a letter the readers from Anaïs! This letter is epic, you guys. I had a troll-sized grin while reading it.
Danielle has done a few posts already for HIDDEN HUNTRESS, and I recommend you check them out on Angry Robot’s site. HIDDEN HUNTRESS comes out June 2, 2015, and my review
will be up next week is posted here. It’s worth the wait, guys
A letter from Anaïs, written as she watches over the injured Cécile.
I confess, I was somewhat uncertain of how to address this letter. I am not Tristan or Marc, and I’m certainly not the twins, so if you are reading this believing to find some human-loving spark buried deep within my heart, please set aside those foolish hopes. You are human and I am a troll, and as such, I am superior to you in the way a dragon is a sparrow. You are not dear to me.
I am smiling while I reread my words, as I can see them undoing all the goodwill I’ve built with you over this brief chapter of my life where you were present. As though those few months and occasional meetings were enough for you to presume to know me. To know my story.
So why address your letter dearest, you ask? Why not to the creatures I look down upon or to those I grudgingly tolerate? Why write to us at all? The answer is this: while you are not dear to me, the cause you all profess to champion is more precious to me than my own life.
Surprised, aren’t you? How many of you believed that my every action was driven by my affection for Tristan? Please. Did you never stop to think that half the reason I loved him was because we fought for the same thing, if for different reasons? Tristan fights for the half-bloods and humans because he believes you are our equals. I fight for you because I believe it is the duty of the strong to protect those who are weak. And you have my father to thank for that.
My family is full of black hearts and wicked souls, selfish and grasping, each generation a product of the prior’s cruelty and manipulation. I blame my father because we were subject to his harsh hand, but he was the victim of my grandmother and she my great-grandfather. The instigator of our family’s ways lived and died a thousand years ago, but, oh, how her legacy lives on. And her goal remains the same: to take the crown.
I, like all those before me, was born a tool to use in our quest to achieve that goal. For centuries we cultivated power, drawing in those who cared not for Montigny rule, using them and everything else at our disposal in our game of guerre with the ruling family. We bred for magic, the holder of the Angoulême title never bonding lest a chosen mate fail to deliver progeny of the appropriate caliber of power. My father was a failure in my grandmother’s eyes, but despite disposing of my grandfather and two subsequent husbands, she was never able to deliver a replacement. She never lets my father forget that he holds the title only because there was no one better. Never lets him forget how weak he is. How even if he managed to win the crown, that he hasn’t the mettle to wear it himself.
And how she despaired when my sweet sister was born, for Pénélope had less power than some of the half-bloods who served us, her gifts of kindness, grace, and artistic talent worthless in my grandmother’s eyes. She believed the might of our family was doomed – that we were destined to descend into the teeming pool of lesser trolls, our fight for the crown a distant memory.
But then my power manifested. I’ll not bore you with false humility: my magic changed everything, for I had a spark of power outshone only by the Montigny prince himself. But my father, ever the clever creature, knew it wasn’t enough to wrest the crown from the Montignys by force. His had a much better plan than that. He spun pretty words, saying that our world was too small for so great an enmity as was between our two families; that ours was a common enemy best defeated with a united front. A thousand truths to hide the lie, and a daughter with enough power to be queen sent to befriend the son of his enemy. To be his bait.
But there was a problem with his plan: Pénélope hadn’t just been born weak in magic, she’d been born with a sickness that caused her to bleed ceaselessly from even the smallest of injuries. And though my flesh was not similarly afflicted, the sickness was in my blood, waiting to rear its ugly head in any child born of my body. It was our greatest secret, and my father made us both swear never to reveal it to anyone. To me he whispered simply that Pénélope’s life was destined to be a short one, and that it would be cruel to reveal her affliction. What he whispered to my sister was far worse. He told her she was a scourge on our family name. That she was weak and worthless. That if her secret got out, it wouldn’t ruin just her life, it would ruin mine as well. That it would ruin my chance to be queen. He crushed her spirit and turned her into a coward, rendering her afraid to take a step too fast lest she fall. He would have killed her and removed all chance of our secret being discovered, but our mother threatened to reveal everything to the King if any harm came to her daughter.
My loyalty my father did not doubt, because he believed we wanted the same thing. He believed that I, like him, would do anything – sacrifice anyone – to gain the throne. Not once did he consider that his treatment of Pénélope would turn me against him and into the camp of his enemy. Tristan and Marc brought the twins and me into the fold of their revolution early, but not Pénélope. She could not protect herself from my father, and that made telling her anything a risk we couldn’t afford to take. She’d be safer, we all decided, if we kept her in the dark. So we did. And I, who had been sent to infiltrate the Montignys, was now a spy in my own household. A many-leveled game of guerre that kept me awake at night for fear of being discovered.
When my father told me that he and the King had settled on the terms of the betrothal between Tristan and me, it felt like a dream, for Tristan had held my heart since we were children. But it also seemed like a nightmare, because I knew Tristan would eventually discover Pénélope’s secret and know that I’d withheld the truth from him for my family’s gain. I did not think our friendship would survive such deceit, and I was afraid of what it would be like to be bonded to someone who didn’t trust me. Of what it would do to my sanity if I loved him, but only ever felt his hate. So I said nothing – about my feelings or the betrothal – because in my heart, I knew they would amount to nothing good.
Less than a year after the King and my father settled the terms of our betrothal, which unfortunately included our bringing Roland into our household, my mother went missing on a sluag hunt in the labyrinth. A tragic accident, they said. But I knew the truth: the stakes were too high, my mother too great a risk. And I knew that my sister was next. What I didn’t know was how I could protect her. Any appeals to Tristan or the King to harbor her would be met with questions I could not easily answer and consequences that my selfish heart was unwilling to accept. Instead, I counted down the days until Tristan and I would be old enough to be wed, promising myself that once we were bonded, it wouldn’t matter if my family’s secret got out. That he’d understand and forgive my deception. That once I was a princess, I’d be able to protect my sister. That once I was queen, Tristan and I would reinvent our world and turn Trollus into a place where the weak need not live in fear of those in power.
Which made it all the more painfully ironic that it was Tristan who put an end to my plan. A playful duel at a party. The broken tip of a sword. What were the odds that the one person watching us who couldn’t heal a pinprick without toil was the one nicked by the toxic metal? There was blood everywhere, and the King looked at Pénélope and then at me, and I knew it was over. That I had lost everything. And above all, I knew my father would make my beloved sister pay.
It did not take long. I walked in on him smothering her in the parlor of our home while my grandmother sat idly in the next room. It was nothing to stop him – my power had surpassed his years prior – and for a brief moment, I considered killing him. In one fell swoop saving my sister, killing the enemy of my friend and leader, and ridding Trollus of one of its worst. But he was and is my father, and some small amount of foolish loyalty to blood stayed my hand. Except leaving things as they were would only have left my sister in danger. Threatening him would do little good. Revenge might be sweet, but it does not bring back the dead, and it would destroy his faith in my loyalty to our family, rendering me ineffective as a spy – a role that was so much more important now that he and his followers were bent on pulling Tristan from his position as heir and putting Roland in his place. So I did the only thing I could do – I made her useful. I told him that Marc was the only one who knew all of Tristan’s secrets, and there wasn’t a soul in Trollus who didn’t know Marc was in love with my sister. But I was the only one who knew she was in love with him.
I think in that moment she hated me. And that I deserved it. But it was the only way I could think to save her, avoid killing my father, and retain my ability to spy on his plans. Little did I know that my actions would drive her harder towards the choice that eventually killed her. Maybe she did it purely for love – it’s certainly a sweet thought. But I think it was because she believed there was no place in Trollus for someone like her – that her murder was inevitable. So she chose to spend the last few months of her life happy and to die on her own terms. And I cannot help but wonder if she’d been privy to our plans, if she’d had hope for a future where she did not need to live in fear, that she’d have chosen differently. That she’d still be alive today.
Much time has passed, but there are days where I feel little has changed. That all our efforts have been for naught. And perhaps they have been, for even as I write this, Cécile lies before me on her deathbed. Roland may have struck the blow, but she is the victim of our failure to protect her. A victim of our failure to make Trollus a place where she wouldn’t need protection. There is no love lost between the two of us, but despite being such a fragile creature, she is brave. It is one thing to be brave when one is the dragon, quite another to be brave when one is the sparrow, and I cannot help but respect that.
If she dies, I do not think Tristan will survive it. And thought of losing him makes me want to rend myself to pieces. But more than that, if she dies, the King wins. My father wins. Every troll in this cursed city who believes power gives them a right to hurt those who are weak wins. It’s because I refuse to accept defeat that I’ll do what it takes to help Tristan free Cécile from Trollus. Or I’ll die trying.
About the author:
Danielle was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At the insistence of the left side of her brain, she graduated in 2003 from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in finance. But the right side of her brain has ever been mutinous; and in 2010, it sent her back to school to complete an entirely impractical English literature degree at Mount Royal University and to pursue publication. Much to her satisfaction, the right side shows no sign of relinquishing its domination.