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I've been anxiously awaiting CHANTRESS since reading the book's unusual, intriguing summary. It sounded like something that could have been influenced by Greek mythology, yet it was also original. And it involved singing. I would like to see more fantasy novels where singing is considered magical art in and of itself. I never had time to read the title, though, and it fell down my TBR list. I was recently lucky enough to take part in Lena Goldfinch's Blog Tour for her new novel SONGSTONE. I reviewed the book and interviewed the author. This book also revolves around the magical elements of song in a fantasy world, albeit in completely different ways. Even so, it re-inspired me to read CHANTRESS, and I'm glad I finally have the chance to talk about it.
In a world where chantresses are feared and persecuted, one managed to escape. She stowed her young daughter away on a deserted island before she herself was murdered. That daughter, Lucy, has grown up unaware of the ability stowed away within her. She lives alone with Norrie and knows only that singing is forbidden. She comes of age without being told the terrible truth about her heritage, and accidentally sings on All Hallow's Eve, breaking the spell her mother cast and propelling both herself and Norrie to their homeland of England. The only problem? The Lord Protector is high on power and knows that only a chantress can reverse the dark magic he wields. He's mandated that all chantresses must be brought before him...where they are then executed. Lucy goes into hiding with a circle that calls itself The Invisible College is bent on finding a way to bring Lord Scargrave down and give his power to young King Henry the Ninth before London is destroyed. Lucy's newfound abilities as a Chantress are the best chance they have. Lucy only has six months to learn skills that she should have been learning her entire life. If she can't learn to focus and control her songs, she has the power to sing a song of destruction that will bring England to its knees...but if she pulls it off, she'll save everyone.
I didn't realize that CHANTRESS was historical fantasy until I was reading the novel. It added to the appeal, however, and never felt forced. Instead, the time period was completely suitable and added an additional layer to the story. I find that more and more historical fantasy novels are making their way into YA, which is always a welcome addition. The tides seem to be turning in that direction when it comes to fantasy with recent entries like GRAVE MERCY and DARK TRIUMPH by Robin LaFevers and CHANGELING by Philippa Gregory.
Those readers looking for an epic romance novel will be disappointed, while the ones who want a book more focused on the story will rejoice. There's a little romance, but much later on, and I expect it to be more of a focus in future titles. Greenfield chooses to focus on developing Lucy and preparing her for a meeting with destiny, as well as creating a backstory of the persecution of all Chantresses. She builds a state of array for London and features citizens longing to break free of the horror of Lord Scargrave and his Shadowgrims
CHANTRESS is certainly an ambitious novel. The scope of a Chantress is vast and intriguing. At times, there's a lot of info-dumping that can be hard to wade through, creating more Tell than Show. The sequence where Lucy begins studying how to properly be a Chantress leans tedious. At the same time, future books will likely be more focused on action since we already know all of this information. While CHANTRESS ends cleanly and can stand completely on its own, there are two more books to come. Those looking for a book that doesn't have any sequels can read this and feel satisfied, but those wanting more will be happy as well. Greenfield has achieved a good balance here, and it will be interesting to see where she takes Lucy in future books.