Rating: 5/5 stars
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retellings, Romance
Publication date: January 15, 2019
Scorch trotted up and snuffed her fuzzed head. He then sat on his hindquarters to gawk at her. “Humans are strange creatures. Moved to tears by emotions. Moved to laughter by physical exertion. And you, tiny trifling thing, are the strangest of all.”
(Ch. 17, p. 265)
Lyra, a princess incapable of speech or sound, finds herself cast out of her kingdom of daylight by her wicked aunt. Saved by a witch who steals her memories and raises her in an enchanted forest, Lyra is disguised as a boy known only as Stain. Meanwhile, the prince of thorns and night is dying. The only way for him to break the curse is to marry the princess of daylight as she is his true equal. But while Lyra is finding her way back to her identity, an impostor princess appears to steal her prince and crown. To win back her kingdom, save the prince, and make peace with the land of night, Lyra must be loud enough to be heard without a voice and strong enough to pass a series of tests.
I have yet to read an A.G. Howard novel that I didn’t love, and Stain is no exception. This novel brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion, yet at other times make me laugh out loud. I fell in love with the characters and felt heartbreak when they did.
While I won’t go too in depth on the subject because it would be considered a pretty big spoiler, there were two characters in this story that held my heart in their hands. I was instantly in love with them and wanted nothing but the best for each. Both of these characters sacrificed so much in order to bring the two kingdoms together and both of them managed to pull tears from me. While both challenging at times, they were two of the sweetest and most caring creatures I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend time with. I look forward to doing it all over again the next time I pick up this book.
Lyra goes through unprecedented challenges in her world, all to prove that she’s worthy – and all without knowing that she’s doing it. She must prove that she’s tough enough to sleep on a bed of nails and loud enough to be heard without a voice. Born a rose and stripped of her thorns, Lyra proves time and time again that though she might have been stripped of everything she’s ever known she’s still a strong spirit that won’t be broken.
While I found this book to be slow at times, every word is worth it. Those slow moments sometimes held the most important clues and only looking back on them did I see how truly impactful the scenes were. Howard is amazing with words and I look forward to reading anything else she writes.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in twisted retellings of fairy tales. Stain is an amazing retelling of the Princess and the Pea, all while being twisted into something almost unrecognizable. Almost, but not quite. The unique spin on this classic tale is one of the things I loved most about it. And if you love this read, I highly recommend reading Howard’s other novels as well.
One of the things I love so much about Howard’s novels is that they’re so great to jump back into time and time again. Having first been introduced to her works through Splintered in high school, I can honestly say that I adore going back and reading everything I have by Howard. I’ll be here, shielding my heart for the emotional turmoil within Stain, until I’m again able to jump into this story and feel the emotions packed into its pages.
The epiphany slammed into him. With wildness born anew in his heart, he stared, unflinching, at the truth. There was no dying Pegasus dragging him down. There was only Vesper himself, whole again, alone in the depths with a bracken around his neck – holding him captive beneath the sludge. His lungs begged for breath. He wrestled the binds, wanting only to get back to her… to Stain. His playmate, his confidante, his tiny trifling thing.
(Ch. 19, p. 309)
It took me way too long to realize that Scorch was Vesper’s other half. All of the clues were there, but they were just such different entities that it didn’t click for a long time with me. I didn’t put two and two together until after they’d met for the first time and the signs were practically yelling at me. It just goes to show how amazing Howard is at making her characters come to life.
Once Scorch had merged back in with Vesper, it was clear when the two halves of his whole were merging to form his personality. I enjoyed seeing the ways that Scorch’s time with with Stain allowed Lyra to help tame Vesper’s rash decisions – and the fact that she still allowed him the freedom to act out at times goes to show she never actually wanted to tame him. She more acted as his conscious at those times than forcing him to do her bidding.
Scorch was one of my favourite characters in this story. While I eventually figured out that he was Vesper’s other half that was cast out of him in order to save Vesper’s life, I fell in love with him as his own being. He was feisty and fiery, with a carelessly caring personality. He only cared about Stain, but was unwilling to admit his care for her in his need to remain free and untamed. Thankfully he was always there for her when Stain needed him. Even when fighting, Scorch still collected Stain when she was in peril.
Crony remains my ultimate favourite character of this story. She gave up everything for Lyra, protecting the girl even after her end in order to save her from the pain of losing yet another person she cared about while they were protecting her. Crony might be a flawed person, but she always tried to do what she felt was right. It might not have felt like it at the time, such as when she trapped Lachrymosa’s final memory in her glass and caused the moon to fall from the sky, but in the end she worked her hardest to make things right in the end.
Her flaws might very well be the reason that I adore her so much. She made a pact with Luce to protect him should she ever get caught. She refused to give up her immortality to save a life until she knew it was the perfect time, until she was able to repay a debt the world didn’t know that she owed. She was as close as possible to being the perfect mother figure for Stain, even if she did keep secrets from her.
I can’t imagine how hard it was for Crony to do what she did in order to help Stain – to help Lyra – while being cursed to never be able to interfere with the politics of either kingdom. To force Luce to play his role in preparing Stain to rule without being able to outright say what he was doing, what they knew.
To know that she walked into flames in order to save Luce’s wings while knowing it would mean her death made my heart break for like the third time in this book. He was willing to give up his wings to save Crony’s life, but she wasn’t willing to let his wings burn. They both gave up their forever for each other, proving how great friends they truly were, just to save the other. Their pact might have allowed the other to escape whenever possible, but that didn’t mean they were willing to sacrifice the other one.
Luce had his own issues for sure, but he certainly received his redemption in this story. It was quite noble of him to keep his sins to himself in order to not put even more burden on Lyra’s shoulders. Sure he was the voice that led Lyra’s mother to her death, but he learned from his mistakes. Like he said, it would only appease his own conscious to tell Lyra of his misdeeds. To keep the truth to himself and turn down Lyra’s request to have him as her first knight was truly the noble thing to do. Although he did not receive the position of first knight, Luce remained at Lyra’s beck and call should she ever need his help. He might not admit to being her father figure, but he certainly was a good one.
Then, of course, we have Lyra. I can’t imagine how hard it was for her to live in a world of sunshine when the sun caused you endless torment. To lose everyone who’s ever cared for you and then forget that they even existed. Lustacia’s betrayal must have been the worst for Lyra, having finally thought she had a family member on her side. Little did she know that Lustacia was only in it for Vesper.
Lyra certainly proved that she was Vesper’s equal. While the kingdom of night trained their children from a young age to be able to withstand the hardy landscape they lived in, the kingdom of sunshine never had to worry about that kind of thing. By spending the only five years she could remember living in the Ashen Ravine, Lyra ended up going through more hardships than most people would in their entire lives.
It also allowed Lyra to get to know the downtrodden and looked down upon that she otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the pleasure to meet and understand. Dregs got to understand Lyra as Stain, to meet the truth within her heart and see that she’s someone to respect. Edith might have gotten on the wrong side of Glistenda, but she was loyal when it counted and willing to do what needed to be done. Winkle might have been a thief, but he became that way having been scorned when doing his job. By meeting and coming to understand the underworld in the Ashen Ravine, Lyra was able to see that some of them were better than society had dubbed them. She was able to see that some were worth pardoning for their crimes – and in some cases, supposed crimes.
Overall, reading this twisted take on Princess and the Pea gave me a greater appreciation for the story itself. What would it be like if instead of a feather mattress with a pea under it, the princess needed to sleep on a bed of nails and not be injured? If instead of having the beauty of a princess your beauty was taken from you? If a prophesy were to lead you to your true love?
Howard did an amazing job at putting the answers to these questions and so much more in this story. Of throwing in magic and mayhem; mystery and intrigue; betrayals and misunderstandings… the list goes on.