… it needs to be Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Well, let me rephrase that. If you’ve read the other books in her series, Tales of Goldstone Wood, then you need to read this. If you haven’t, you need to read the first book, Heartless.
But let me backtrack a little. I read about two hundred books a year, and my list of favorite books and authors is constantly changing. You know that a book/author is really good when it stays at the top consistently. Anne Elisabeth Stengl is one of those authors. From the minute I first read one of her books, I was enthralled. Captivated. Whatever highly superlative word you want to use. And what is it about her books that is so amazing, you ask? I’m glad you asked.
First, her prose. It’s almost poetry — smooth, lyrical, flowing, not a single word wasted, each sentence glimmering with beauty. I have not yet seen it matched and doubt I ever will. Then there’s her characters. They’re so complex, heartbreakingly realistic, utterly unique, and masterfully portrayed. The villains especially are a testament to Stengl’s talent. And don’t forget her world-building. A variety of distinct cultures, both mortal and immortal, are sprinkled throughout her books, from the great Faeries to the nomadic Chyyans. In each book, there’s adventure, traveling through worlds, and romance. But what I love best about her works is the allegory, the beautiful, perfectly-woven messages of truth. Yes, her tales can be very dark, but they are also filled with some of the most brilliant light I’ve ever seen.
So. If you haven’t read them yet, here they are, in order: Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, Dragonwitch, Shadow Hand, and Golden Daughter, as well as a novella, Goddess Tithe. Check out Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s blog here, where you can learn all about the books, as well as her great ebook offers. If you read them quickly enough, you’ll be ready for the new novella coming this spring: Draven’s Light.
Now, for Golden Daughter.
The Golden Daughters, you see, are a myth. They are elite body guards, trained to do one thing: protect their future husbands. They are deadly with weapons, unfazed in danger, cunning in politics, and, in short, skilled in every area necessary to keep their masters alive. The Crouching Shadows are also a myth, but these are assassins. Or so most think. Do they take lives or protect a life? Or both? And the Dreamwalkers — another myth, those who, well, walk among dreams and are fabled to reach Hulan’s garden itself.
Three myths come to life in the form of Stengl’s masterly crafted, intriguing, multi-faceted, and heartbreakingly real characters: Sairu, Sunan, and Lady Hariawan. And don’t forget the Chhayan Jovann, favored of his father, guarding a secret beyond value. All you Goldstone imps will be pleased to find that a certain Faerie cat with golden eyes is also a prominent figure. And there is also the villain. We’ve met him before, stared at his smoldering eyes, and now we learn the tale of his victory — and defeat.
This one wasn’t quite as spooky as Shadow Hand, in my opinion, although there was certainly great darkness. It is an entrance into several new aspects of the Goldstone World: the usurped tribes, the Chhayans, the Asian-like residents of Noorhitam, and the world of Dreams. There is romance and fighting and mind-spinning journeys between the dream world and the real world, and through all the pain and betrayal and blood (so much blood in this one), there is the silver voice of the woodthrush and great plan of the Lumil Eliasul and the Song of the Spheres.
What I loved best, perhaps, was the description of Hulan’s garden. I was literally shivering as I read that passage. I also loved seeing Stengl expand her universe, and I marvel at how she is able to connect so many storylines and characters from old books with the many new ones she introduces. My one complaint would be that it left with me yet more questions when I’d hoped everything would get cleared up — though I shouldn’t really be surprised, should I? That seems to be my reaction at the end of every book.
Anyhow, I’ll end my long and unstructured ramble here and simple order you, beg you, to read her books.