Guys, I did it. After a year, I finally caught up on all the books I kept starting, adding to my currently reading pile, then not finishing because I got distracted by another book. Stain was the last one left, and I know people have been waiting for this review. I love, love, love fairytales, as anybody who knows me can attest, so I was drawn to this book immediately when I came across it during a book fundraiser held by my younger brother's school. It has such a cool concept behind it and I was dying to get pulled into its world. And just look at that cover.
This high-fantasy gothic fairytale, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea, takes place in an alternative medieval world split apart by magic. To win back her kingdom of perpetual day, save her night prince, and reunite the sun with the moon, a princess incapable of speech or sound must prove herself everything a traditional princess is not: tough enough to sleep on a bed of nails, and loud enough to be heard without a voice.
Review: I have to be honest here. I was seriously disappointed when I started Stain. From right off the bat I adored the world--split in two by an ancient magic, creating one kingdom aboveground that exists in constant day, and one underground that exists in constant night--and the prophecy that both rely on to save their people: a "gloomdweller" princess born to the day kingdom and a sunlit prince born to the night, destined to restore the balance of their world together. Howard's writing is just exquisite and really brings to life the fairytale world, but it is just slow. There's slow burn, and then there's slow. Backstory is all well and good but when it takes up over 150 pages before the actual conflict begins, I have trouble caring about what I'm supposed to care about. Which is part of why it took me so long to finish reading the book. I just couldn't get into it, no matter how hard I tried.
I'm happy to say, though, that once things kicked off they seriously kicked off. I was hooked and flew through the rest of the book in a few days. I still have a little bit of a book hangover clinging on as I write this, actually. I'm always iffy on the concept of soulmates or destined other halves, but the development between Lyra and Vesper was done in the most unexpected way, and their chemistry radiated through the pages. Add in my favorite trope of found family, a vibrant and totally original world full of magical creatures and breathtaking scenery, and some oh-so-satisfying karma all around, and I was a happy happy reader in the end. Stain is a brand new fairytale that balances gritty evil with unwavering hope, and I'm glad I'm too stubborn not to finish a book. But, sadly, it takes some patience to reach the payoff.