Title // Stain
Author // A. G. Howard
Publisher // Abrams/Amulet Books
Publication Date // January 15, 2019
Synopsis // A high-fantasy gothic fairytale inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea.
Once 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.
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5)
Stain is a loose retelling of Princess and the Pea, which was really cool since I don’t believe I’ve read a retelling of this specific fairy tale before. It’s really more inspired by than a retelling of and the corresponding elements were faint, so while it wasn’t really a straight up retelling, it was cool to seem some of the fairy tale elements work their way into this fantastical tale. It’s basically the fairytale, but make it more badass. I mean, a princess who feels pain sleeping on a pea… what about a princess who can sleep on a bed of nails? (I was actually lucky enough to hear the author speak at Yallwest last year, and when she mentioned that, I was SOLD).
I’m slightly conflicted about the writing style and way the story was told. There was some fluffy purple prose, and at times I loved it because it honestly felt like I was reading a fairy tale from Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson. At times though it felt rather slow and over the top and I was like enough already just cut to the chase and tell the story.
The pacing also felt rather slow at time, and I think this 500+ page sucker would probably have been better if it was a hundred pages shorter or so. The beginning of the book was cool as it really established the fairy tale tone and the magical world, and the ending was super exciting as lots of things were happening rapidly and Lyra was becoming such a queen (figuratively… and literally hahahaha puns), but the middle felt really slow and that was especially when the purple prose started to annoy me.
I really can’t describe this any anything other than a fairytale though, and I mean that in the best possible way. It was told by an omniscient narrator, and I loved snippets where readers would be told about flowers and vines growing rapidly and smothering the kingdom, characters venturing into woods and ravines filled with dark creatures, and the hopes and desires of so many different characters.
The world building was phenomenal too! When I read the synopsis of kingdoms of daylight and night I thought it would be figurative but then I started reading and I was like… wow… this is legit. There are two kingdoms, one where the sun never sets moving from East to West, dipping for a few moments of dusk, and then moving back from West to East, and another kingdom below that never gets any sun… ever. It was so cool to read from characters from both of these different kingdoms, seeing their thoughts of the world, and seeing how broken and desperately in need of both light and dark everyone was.
I really loved the main character Lyra, who is also Stain. She’s so weird and eccentric, belonging more to the night than to her kingdom of light, and my heart just ached at seeing how she was mistreated, especially by her own family, because of her oddities. But throughout it all, she was able to befriend creatures of the night and use shadows and totally own up to her qualities even though others didn’t like them which was amazing to see. Her time as Stain was fun to see as well, getting to see her make friends with all the weird creatures of the forest. And of course, finding her way back to herself and rediscovering her identity was so amazing to read about!
I really enjoyed Prince Vesper too. As the king of the night kingdom who lacks night characteristics, he’s just trying his hardest to be a good king and protect the people as well as being a good husband for his future wife and I just wanted to give my smol boy a hug!
I’m rather conflicted on the romance between. On one hand it felt so dreamy like the prince and princess of a fairy tale, fated to be together, and I loved it! On the other hand… as a novel I felt it moved rather quickly and was a bit too much instalove for my taste.
Overall, this book was slow at times, but the tone and world were so unique and cool that I would definitely recommend reading!