Book Review : Wintersong
By S. Jae-Jones
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. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of Wintersong, in exchange for an honest review.
Wintersong had some really great imagery, eerie qualities and other moments of intrigue in the story. By the end, I felt betrayed because I expected more. I hate not giving a book a glowing review.
The initial premise was interesting. I loved how the grandmother was pushed aside like she was crazy, but she knew the danger present in not observing the rituals to protect the family from the goblin king. The grandmother was also the most insightful person into the family dynamic. I actually wish there had been another couple of scenes with her just because I liked the cantankerous old woman. The grandmother had known the Goblin King just like Liesl had as a child, however the old woman had not forgotten him or his power.
The characters had a nice contrast. Käthe was driven to get away from her home and the people in her life. She didn’t identify with music like her other siblings and father. Consequently, she was dismissed. Being pretty just wasn’t enough. Liesl was the dependable older sibling, not known for her beauty or even her musical talent, because she wasn’t a son. She held the family together, and created an environment where her brother’s talent could shine because she understood him. Her father and mother were also a reflection of the wanton, misbehaving Käthe and the dependable, solid Liesl. The boy in the family, Josef, is expected to be a shining star but is crippled by shyness. I thought it was very sudden for him to be able to move forward when he met the maestros assistant. This turns into a gay love affair between the two young men, though there is nothing explicit.
The tone of the story is magical as the sister walk through the town market. The reader can feel the danger dripping off the page, while Käthe is oblivious. Much like fate, it seems there is nothing to be done. Käthe has to be kidnapped, because Liesl cannot or refuses to remember.
In the underworld, I liked the idea of how the goblin servants were less human and more tree-like. I also liked how a door was unnecessary for them to enter Liesl’s room/prison. The banquet where Liesl observes Käthe wilting from the wanton nature of the beasts is poignant. She desperately wants to save her sister, even though she is the sacrifice required to do so.
The love between Liesl and the Goblin King is where the story fell apart. I never felt like they actually experience love. Liesl feels lust for the Goblin King, while he feels he must resist her advances because her fire will be gobbled up more quickly. The sex scenes were very uncomfortable to read because the characters didn’t have a connection. It just didn’t make sense. Liesl became someone who she wasn’t when she married the Goblin King. She was a decent person, but once she tried to save her sister she lost all her values and qualities that I liked. Liesl became the wanton sister, the one whose lack of morals always results in disaster (just like her father and Käthe). She seemed to draw her identity from the Goblin King, which seems like a weak female character to have to be defined solely upon a relationship with a man. (I know that sounds like feminist tripe, but really women are so much more than one relationship.) Even though Liesl became a different person than who she had been as a child, the Goblin King values her and his former humanity is touched to allow/help her to escape. With centuries of background the Goblin King could have had many facets to learn and explore as a reader. With his long life I found it hard to believe he wanted Liesl as a mortal wife. He should have wanted something more. I felt like I was short-changed on his character.
As one final complaint. There were moments in the writing when the tense changed from past tense to present for one sentence. I found the tense change highly disconcerting.
I’ve hesitated on the rating. I wanted to give it two stars based on how it fell apart in the second half, but settled on 2.5 stars because there were some great parts in the beginning. Overall I was dissatisfied and will not read the next book.
2.5 out of 5 stars
I suggest The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle. I only remember liking the first in the trilogy, but it has a more innocent take on the Goblin King, but remains eerie and the underworld is full of deceit.