The enchanting yet gritty fairy tale of Lyra and Vesper is gripping in its originality yet nostalgic in the parts you can see were inspired by other stories. A.G. Howard’s latest standalone book demonstrates her extensive skills that I’ve last read since her SPLINTERED series.
Stain has the classical set-up of any normal fairy tale following the young, mute, princess Lyra who grew up under the care of her beloved father, the King. She was born into the kingdom of Eldoria, where the sun is constantly travelling across the sky and all the fairer aspects of nature such as spring and butterflies reside. But Lyra has all the characteristics of the people of the Nerezeth kingdom, the complete opposite of Eldoria. Lyra’s skin is delicate and easily pierced by the strong sunbeams, so the King of Eldoria went brokered a deal with Queen Nora of Nerezeth that their heirs will marry when Lyra reaches the coronation age so she may finally live somewhere to give her respite. Queen Nora agreed to the deal as her own son had the characteristics of a sun-kissed Eldorian and struggled in the darkness of Nerezeth. While this deal sounded good and dandy, Griselda, Lyra’s evil aunt, wanted her own daughters on the throne and managed to pitch Lyra out of her own kingdom and into the Ashen Ravine (basically a dark forest with all types of lawbreakers) with no one the wiser. Lyra’s memories of her royal heritage were taken and she was raised as a boy named Stain by a sylph and a witch… until the day that she can finally fulfill her own destiny.
A.G. Howard did a fantastic job of rendering enjoyable characters and I can say for a fact that I enjoyed everyone’s page time (even if they were evil). Since I can’t name anything appalling about the characterization, I’ll just name some little issues that bugged me a bit after reading. Compared to Lyra, Vesper pales in comparison in his accomplishments. Lyra had to go through the strenuous experience of growing up with pain and in isolation to protect her from the sun, and then thrown into the tumultuous experience of living with an evil family, and then getting her memories wiped away. What did Vesper experience? He grew up with a supportive family and a close group of friends. He then waited for his bride to come to him. I mean, do these experiences even compare to Lyra’s? I think not. BUT, no hate to Prince Vesper, he is an honestly good person and these things were out of his control.
The worldbuilding in Stain is phenomenal. Each kingdom has their own quirk that’s distinct and the history and geography of the lands are crystal-clear. In the beginning it took a hot second to get used to the general layout, but with a gorgeous map illustrating everything, following the journeys of the characters as they traversed through the terrain was never a problem. The pacing was also fair. There were some chapter that I questioned the existence of but once I read further in I understood why they were there. If Stain was a horse, the pace it’s going at would be a light consistent trot.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Stain and the new take on the princess passing tests to prove herself as “worthy” to the prince. The characters were lovable, the settings vivid, and the journey fantastical.
RATING: 4.2 OUT OF 5 STARS
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.