This review is going to be a bit different from my usual posts because today I am actually reviewing two for one. Today’s review is for The Marked Princess and The Searching Songbird, books 1 and 2 of The Shendri Series by E.P. Stavs. And the reason I decided to do this is because book 3 of the series The Unclaimed Wolf comes out tomorrow, March 16th. So I want to encourage everyone to pick up all three on launch day!
I’m going to do my best to keep this review spoiler free (which is really hard when you’re reviewing the sequel at the same time).
Originally, I was going to post my review of The Shield Road by Dewi Hargreaves today, but since that’s coming out at the end of the month, I decided to do The Shendri Series first. So stay tuned for that next week!
As usual, I am not being compensated in anyway for this review. I purchased both books on my own. My opinions are, as always, my own.
About the Author
So, these books are another Twitter find for me. They came highly recommended by one of the other author’s whose book I featured recently. You can find that review here. I have not interacted with E.P. as much, but what interactions I have had were lovely, and I can recommend her as a great follow on Twitter.
From her author bio, I can tell you that E.P. currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. She is originally from New York. And apparently she is also a coffee fiend like yours truly.
Check out more of her bio here.
About the Book(s)
The Marked Princess weighs in at 200 pages in print, while The Searching Songbird comes in at 217. Both books are available in print and Kindle eBook. If you have Kindle Unlimited you can read them both for free, or you can pick them up for $2.99 a piece. The paperbacks are $12.99.
I was rushing to get this review out, so I did not get a chance to ask the author about whether or not there are plans for audio editions. I will provide an update on that when I can.
Exterior first. I love the covers on these. I love the beautiful simplicity. They also really feel like they belong together in the same series. My only complaint would perhaps be that I don’t know that they really convey the genre well. Since this was a (highly recommended) Twitter find I can’t say for sure if I would have scrolled past them or not. So I’m going to give cover design for both books four teaspoons.
Interior Design. Both books are formatted consistently, which I appreciate in a series. In the print editions the chapter headings are nice, and fit the vibe. The font choice is nice and legible. The use of italics for inner thoughts is consistent. The only real formatting issue I noticed was the occasional widows and orphans in the print editions, particularly in The Searching Songbird.
One minor thing that drives me a little crazy personally (and this is going to sound so nitpicky) is that book 1 is printed on cream paper and book 2 is printed on white.
Now. There is a map included in both books— and you all know how I feel about a good map. This one is alright. I don’t know if the style of it quite fits. I would have really liked to see something more hand-drawn in appearance.
All in all, I give the interior for both books 4 teaspoons.
That brings us to 4 teaspoons overall for design.
The overall premise of the series is that the female protagonists are descended from ancient warrior women who fought a demi-god and prevented him from taking over the world. Each girl has inherited the warrior spirit and powers of her ancestor.
All in all, the building blocks that Stavs uses are pretty standard YA Fantasy tropes. In addition to a “chosen few” we also have tropes such as “the rebellious princess,” “enemies to lovers” and “childhood friends to lovers” just to name a few.
That being said, the execution of these tropes is very well done, as we will discuss further when we get to worldbuilding and plot.
Premise gets 4 teaspoons.
Since these are YA Fantasy Romance, I’m going to focus specifically on the couples in this section. This may be minorly spoilery for The Marked Princess since early on there is an indication of a triangle. I don’t think it’s enough of a spoiler to really hurt the enjoyment of the book, but proceed with this section at your own caution.
Josselyn is the “Marked Princess” of Eldour. In some ways I think she had the shallowest arc of any of the main characters. Most of her character growth is centered on figuring out her feelings for Alex and Edmund. Her dialogue was great, though.
Alex is like Josselyn in the sense that much of his character arc is concerned with learning to fight for the things that he wants. In this case, what he wants is Josselyn. The change in him is honestly, somewhat abrupt, but believable given the circumstances. Still, I did not find him as interesting as some of the other characters. To be honest, I was borderline Team Edmund at one point.
Lily had a great character arc, probably the best in the series so far. Much of The Singing Songbird was about Lily coming into her own as a woman and discovering her own inner strength. I found her to be believable and well written. If had one complaint at all about Lily, I would say she forgives perhaps a touch too easily.
Draven is of course Lily’s love interest and would-be kidnapper. I found him to be a delightful counterpart to Lily. The dialogue between the two of them was quite snappy and fun. His change of heart as he gets to know her is well-written and does not feel abrupt or out-of-the-blue.
And as a bonus, there’s Edmund. Poor Edmund just keeps getting the short end of the stick. Although Joss’s childhood friend got relatively little screen time in either book, he was a charming character and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him. I suspect there’s much hidden beneath his playful exterior.
Overall, each character definitely had their own distinct voice. Reading about the leading ladies especially really felt like reading about two distinct personalities. I didn’t feel like Lily and Draven rehashed anything we already experienced with Joss and Alex (always a danger with serial romances).
At the end of the day, I found the main characters in The Searching Songbird to be much more interesting and well-developed than The Marked Princess. For this category, The Singing Songbird takes a full 5 teaspoons, leaving its predecessor in the dust with 4.
The worldbuilding starts off strong in The Marked Princess and only gets stronger in The Searching Songbird. The cities they visit– particularly in the second installment– feel like real places. When the characters talk about other countries and cities, it really feels like they’re talking about real places they have seen or read about.
I’m also pleased with how the author treated the subject of discrimination and the “Kalo” who seem to be somewhat analogous with the Romani peoples in our world. She has characters correcting other characters when they use a pejorative (at least, in the second book), and distinctly shows the Kalo people in a generally positive light. That said, if you find the word gypsy to be offensive, this may not be the book for you.
I give worldbuilding a solid 4 teaspoons.
This is a category where my ratings are once again going to diverge. I’ll start with The Marked Princess (ya know, since it’s first).
Overall, I found the plot of The Marked Princess to be predictable. There really weren’t a lot of surprises. Even so, it was a fun, well-paced romp that hit all the right notes and came to a satisfying conclusion. Plot for book 1 gets 3 teaspoons.
Now, The Searching Songbird on the other hand… you got me, E.P. I’m normally pretty good at predicting the direction things are going to go (although not as good as my mother, never watch a movie with her you haven’t seen) but I was a bit surprised in the end. I was delighted by resolution of the book’s main storyline, as it sets up plenty of new conflict for the upcoming books. Plot for book 2 gets 5 teaspoons.
I really adore E.P.’s writing style. Both her prose and her dialogue are snappy and fun. Her characters are generally well-written and delightful. Both books are well paced. If I had any complaints, it would be that I could occasionally do with just a bit more description. Still, I have to give E.P. Stavs 5 teaspoons for pure enjoyability in both installments.
The Marked Princess comes out to a final score of 4 teaspoons. Although immensely enjoyable, it is — in my opinion — a far weaker installment than its successor. There was much that I found predictable or standard for the genre. I would have liked to be surprised a little more often.
I have a whole discussion about why I don’t give out 5 teaspoons very often in next week’s review (that I actually wrote before this one) so I won’t get into that here. Nonetheless, The Searching Songbird is a rare, solid 5 teaspoons for me. Not only did it continue with the fun, snappy style of its predecessor, but it brought new depth and maturity to the table. Stronger, more interesting characters and a plot that manages to surprise lift it up to the next level.
Bring on book 3.