In the Idelmarch there lies a town called Hamel that borders the dangerous and mysterious Forbidden Forest. Every so often, unwed young girls are called into the Forest by the Beast and presumably meet a gruesome fate. Only being crippled or married saves a girl from this terrible curse.
In Hamel lives Larkin, and her sisters and parents, tending to her muddy fields and fending off her drunk father. However, the town and more importantly the Druids turn against her when she seems to escape the curse, the beast, and the Forest one day. Will Larkin be allowed to pursue the marriage she’s always wanted to Bane, her best friend? Or will she be turned out to the curse of the Forbidden Forest?
What is Stolen Enchantress about?
This novel is about Larkin and her struggle to find her place and her people. Larkin was raised by an abusive father and has two sisters and another sibling on the way. Nesha is a crippled but beautiful young woman, forbidden to marry by their town’s laws but a romantic at heart. Sela is young and dangerously adventurous, venturing too close to the Forbidden Forest one day and dragging Larkin into the worst trouble imaginable. Escaping the Forest with her life turns the town against her, as they grieve the young girls they’ve lost to the Forest and wonder why Larkin is so different as to escape. The Black Druids–the most powerful men in the land–are called in to investigate and it seems they are set against Larkin to maintain the status quo.
Not only must Larkin fend off the bloodthirsty townsfolk and the terrifying druids, but she also struggles with a longing the Forest has put in her heart. With that longing comes the mysterious and dangerous piper, Denan, who insists that Larkin will return to him sooner rather than later. Torn in every direction by her family, her childhood best friend, and the call of the forest, Larkin’s life begins to spin completely out of her control.
Genre: Fantasy fairy tale retelling
Touted as a retelling of both Beauty and the Beast and the Pied Piper story, Stolen Enchantress manages to weave aspects of those tales into a wholly unique fantasy world. There is a set and original magic system that the book describes mysteriously, as part of the knowledge has been completely lost for over two hundred years. Additionally, the world is a unique construction from the Black Druids to the Forbidden Forest and its “stirring.”
Tropes: Everybody hates women!
I’ll probably come back to this in a later section, but yes. Most of the tropes in this book come back to a misogynistically built world, which is partially the point of the story I think? The village that Larkin grows up in is very patriarchal and this is reflected in how she thinks of herself, how she protects her family, and how she feels about the way the men in her life treat her.
Plot: Larkin Makes Bad Decisions
Look, I liked Larkin as a character for the most part. She doesn’t like being helpless, she knows the things she suffers aren’t her fault and she doesn’t deserve them, all in all her head and heart are in the right places. But boy does that girl not make good decisions under pressure. From running into the Forbidden Forest on multiple occasions to helping out people from a sense of misplaces loyalty, she makes some super frustrating choices. And those choices just lead to more bad things happening to her. It’s a totally vicious cycle.
I liked the interpretation of the Pied Piper tale, and the way that affected the worldbuilding. I also enjoyed the complicated way the curse works and the effects that causes, as the explanation given goes a long way to make the story more believable. I felt that the book also did a good job of balancing a certain amount of horror and terror for the main characters with love, hope, and compassion. There were a lot of morally grey characters who made morally grey choices, and I felt that the inclusion of both moments of wild happiness and utter horror was a smart choice to lead to more balance in the writing of the plot and the characters.
I started to get tired of the way women were treated throughout the book. There are essentially two minds in the matter: women are primarily property who will be bound no matter what, or women are to be cherished and protected at all costs. As this book is a series, I hope that in the later books this mentality gets sorted out for some of the main characters and new priorities and values are sorted for them.
Another thing that didn’t totally ruin the book but did start to annoy me a bit was Larkin’s decision making. She is admittedly put into a lot of stressful situations without a whole lot of solutions available to her. But she goes back and forth on her feelings about situations and frequently makes contradictory choices. Even when things don’t turn out horribly, she finds a way to make them worse with yet another poor decision.
All right, time for my major criticism of this book. The magic system relies on the traditional gender binary. There are two types of magic: men’s magic and women’s magic. Men’s magic is the kind of magic the pipers have, using music and specifically flutes to enchant others. Women’s magic creates physical barriers and is more combative/defensive. While there are some potentially interesting implications to this, the execution of the magic system is uncomfortable. There’s a degree of patriarchal status associated with the difference in types of magic that still limits what women can and can’t do. But more importantly, using such a strict binary system excludes those that are outside the gender binary or somewhere else on the gender spectrum.
Potentially problematic gender issues aside, I did enjoy this book. It occupies that nice New Adult middle ground in that it’s mature enough to entertain an older audience, but young enough to reach down as well. The fantasy elements are tantalizing and unique in a lot of ways, though my concern about the use of a gender binary system remains strong. I also appreciated the blending of fantasy elements with fairy tales, reaching for a more creative and original story line and only incorporating a handful of the tropes of Beauty and the Beast and the Pied Piper. Altogether, the story is interesting, the characters developed, and the world built up well.