Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

by S. Jae-Jones
St. Martin's Griffin
YA Fantasy
448 pages

Coming. . .
February 7th, 2017!!!

Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.


There are amazingly wonderful things in these pages--extremely amazing, but there was one larger element that left me feeling a little short. Since I read this in one sitting (and wasn't intending to), I'm hitting the 5-stars. Anything that can grab my undivided attention, and leave me reading long after bedtime, deserves it.

This story rubs elbows with several other tales: Der Earlkoenig (a German poem from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), the Labyrinth, and Hades/Persephone. What I appreciated--and was not expecting--was the poetic, dark beauty in the writing. The descriptions are simply a treat. The author brings a cruel, lovely, sinister and alluring world to life through elegant depictions and writing. Not only the familiar human world comes to life, but the Underworld with all of its quirks and oddities gains clarity and lures in. In other words, it's not the lightest read.

The story has depth, not action. The pacing is steady and tense due to character depth, decisions, self-discovery and emotions. The main character, Liesl, does run into danger a few times, and although these do create angst, this is not the style which dominates the story. I believe this is a book readers will love or dislike, and much of that is based on whether the reader connects to Liesl or not. She is the center of the plot--how she comes to terms with the task, the world, the Goblin King and, mainly, herself. Everything rotates around her relationship/attitude to the Goblin King. So if she, as a character, falls flat for the reader, than the plot doesn't have much of a chance.

That's my biggest problem with this book as well. I did find Liesl intriguing and thoroughly enjoyed the masks and layers of the Goblin King. But there weren't as many layers to the plot. The first half of the book promises more intrigue as the Goblin King lays his trap. The side characters are present and have a stronger interaction in the tale, offering various possibilities and angles. The second half, however, switches to a concentration on Liesl and the Goblin King with only shadows of other players involved. Liesl has only one direction she can basically head toward, and this narrows the possibilities for surprising layers or unknown twists down, making the second half a little deeper and slower than the first.

One thing that also stuck out to me (and I enjoyed this tremendously) was the very real, historical background at the beginning of the story. The atmosphere of Vienna, musicians, Mozart, the king's musical court...all of this is brought to life like a gentle fog. Although the book never visits these places completely, the roots are clear and give the story a nice, real base. The setting in Bavarian forests is also very realistic. And this glance at a true, historical reality adds a nice touch.

I received this book as a Fantasy for young adults (YA), but it does not come across as a YA read. Not only is Liesl slightly over the border age wise, but her sights are set on goals more associated with new adults (NA). The topics, themes and her desires lean toward an older audience and don't fall into the main YA stream.

Summed up, this was a read which pulls into a creepily poetic, beautiful world. The Goblin King is as dark, layered and mysterious as promised, and his realm comes to life with all sorts of horrible creatures and details. It's eerie, alluring and tempting. Fans of fairy tale re-tellings, the Labyrinth and dark, mythological undertones should definitely pick this one up and dive in.

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