Book Title: Wintersong
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Series: Standalone but companion novel set for 2018
Genres: YA, Fantasy, Romance
Date Read: 12/21/16
Pub Date: 02/07/16
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.
Let’s jump right in. This is going to be a difficult one to review because I felt like I loved it as much as I didn’t. I settled on a 3 star review after wrestling with it overnight; I felt it a good compromise overall as it still reflects that I’m glad I read it while also addressing the issues I couldn’t overlook. I’m going to break this up into two sections of likes and dislikes, then you can decide for yourself if it’s the sort of read you’re looking for. Also, if you’ve read the book already, maybe we can discuss and compare our likes/dislikes.
“My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remold it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King.”
-CHRISTINE ROSSETTI, A Better Resurrection
Things I Liked:
-Can we start with how gorgeous the cover is? From the moment I first saw it, I was drawn in and it landed a place on my TBR shelf on Goodreads. Throw in the fact that it is a YA fantasy involving goblins and I felt I had won the jackpot when St. Martin’s Press sent me a widget. The concept, while seemingly similar to many YA books out now, was actually unique and quite different. This is not a fairy tale of mortal girl meets sexy goblin king, falls madly in love, and overcomes all obstacles for an unbelievable (even for fantasy) happily ever after. In fact, this almost has no trace of YA fantasy to it; this is a very grown up tale, but we’ll get into that later.
-I surprisingly liked how uncomfortable this story made me. It went against all pre-conceived notions of what YA novels consist of these days. The story revolves around Liesl/Elisabeth, a homely girl who is seen to have no aesthetic beauty (read no value) to anyone in the mortal realm. This fact is constantly ingrained in the reader’s brain and isn’t changed throughout the book. There is no magical makeover that happens, and even the goblin king admittedly was not attracted to her physical appearance. I’m grateful that there is some YA literature floating around that pushes the fact that beauty is not the end all and other qualities and talents are far more valuable than the fleeting looks of youth and good health instead of consistently filling the next generation’s brains with the nonsense that beauty is the most highly valued trait a person can attain.
-Without getting into spoiler territory, I’m really grateful this book didn’t have a cookie cutter ending. If you are looking for an upbeat, happy-go-lucky, fairy tale ending, this is not your book. That said, there was a certain degree of closure with a glimmer of hope; there is also much to be said about the value placed on Liesl/Elisabeth due to, not her looks, but her sheer talent. This is encouraged throughout the book and is portrayed as the utmost important sliver of plot through the last page.
Things I Disliked:
-The pacing was incredibly slow. If I had gone into this book blindly, I never would have guessed this was a YA novel. I would have seen the fantasy element immediately, but I felt a heavy sense of literary fiction of the adult genre by the exquisite prose and classical sense of language used. The writing was beautiful and of excellent quality; if this had been marketed as an adult story and shaved down to novella sizing, it would have hands down been a 5 star read for me. I just couldn’t get past the feeling of burden while reading a 450 page book with no real action or plot progression until the final 15% of the book. There is heavy detail, but it gave a feeling of trying to force a connection with the characters. I felt that I knew about them intimately without feeling like I connected with them, if that makes sense.
-The romance was a bit off for me. Without giving outright spoilers, the connection between the goblin king and Elisabeth was confusing and, if I’m honest, a bit irritating. I’ll be the first to admit this irk is clearly personal and I don’t expect it to bother anyone but myself. I just couldn’t connect with their relationship when I felt I was getting whiplash from their moments together. For starters, there is a traditional feel to their relationship; there was absolutely no romantic contact between the two until after they wed. This was a refreshing change from the whirlwind, unbelievable romances we see in most books today, and I respected what I thought was the author removing the focus off of their physical relationship to focus on other, more important aspects of their union. This was the somewhat confusing part; while there are some descriptions of the few times they come together (not overly descriptive but somewhat), they never seem to follow through. It was confusing to me that this married couple has “partial sex” a few times but always in a negative connotation. I have heard that this was originally intended as an adult standalone fantasy that was heavily graphic in the romance department, but that all those scenes were removed to make this a YA novel, which may explain the awkward flow here.
-I’m not musically gifted, so the in-depth discussion and explanations involving classical music and musical composition were wasted on me. I wish I could value that piece of the story more, but it’s just not in my genre of interest. This is a good 75+% of the story, so for me that made it a bit difficult to entertain that “compelling read” feeling we all treasure so dearly.
I could ramble on, but I think you get the idea. While this didn’t quite meet my original expectations, I can easily see the desire for a novel like this and applaud the author for writing a story that didn’t revolve around a beautiful young woman and praise only this aspect of her while forcing a love triangle with every male in the book falling at her feet in love with her. I think we need more YA like this; a cleaner, more pure story that values females above solely being beautiful and forces a younger audience to read at a more advanced level. I’m very interested to see what Jae-Jones writes next; I think she has the makings of a longtime, best-selling author that could change the face of the YA genre as we know it.
Many thanks to the publisher for providing my copy via NetGalley; it was a pleasure to provide an honest review.