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.
Wintersong by S Jae Jones
I can honestly say I don’t know how to feel about this, other than I feel strongly. Wintersong by S Jae Jones is beautiful, with grand, sweeping descriptions that envelope the reader in a faerie new world. But it is also not enough at times. There are characters you come to love and grieve for, and others you grow to tolerate. It definitely bears the marking of an author trying to strike the right balance between all of the different elements needed to make a story truly amazing.
Jumping off of Christina Rossetti’s AMAZING Goblin Market poem, Jae Jones sets the bar high for her debut novel, perhaps unfairly so as it sets the readers aspirations aloft. You get a feeling that there’s danger and villainy abound. Yet, it never really feels that way, which was fine by me as I loved the Goblin King we did receive. But it sets up the expectation that things will be visceral, guttural, almost an assault upon the senses, yet still controlled and melodic. Instead, the senses are dulled, most probably because this is meant for a YA audience, therefore the mature scenes are skipped over or kept to a minimum, which is truly a shame because Jae Jones excelled at the small snippets that were there.
Jae Jones also does melancholic longing amazingly well. The prologue, aka Overture, broke my heart and it was just the short tiny prologue. She immediately is able to convey the dynamic between Liesl and the Goblin King, as well as their entire history and everything that would ever be. If the prologue were made into a book, I’m pretty sure it would destroy me. Yet, we jump in at the tail end of a romance with a character that is almost unrecognizable from the prologue.
And that’s where my main problem lies. What knocks the book down from what would otherwise have been an easy 5 stars, to 3 and a half. Liesl is so unbearably plain and passionless that it’s hard to care for her. She seems to lack a personality outside of music, outside of what she can do for others. This isn’t something that is remedied, even by the end of the book. I understand different heroines for different readers, but she just didn’t do it for me. She was too meek, too unlike the girl from the Overture. I can understand that life and responsibilities may have dulled her spark, but even while beside the Goblin King, she never truly seems to recover.
The Goblin King, on the other hand, is an amazing character that shines in all regards. He is well rounded, as light and fun as he is broody and melancholic. Compassionate and giving as he is cruel. Handsome and loving, readers love him before they even know him, which makes his pairing beside Liesl so uncomfortable for me.
Now, the reason I am overwhelmed with emotion, though which emotion I know not? THAT ENDING! It was expected and unexpected at once and just really makes you realize things about life and love and I want to talk more about it but spoilers and 🙁
Wintersong by S Jae Jones is a tremendous debut novel that has some real strengths. Even with the stumbles, it leaves you feeling emotional and way too invested. With a bit more direction and time on character progression in the future, Jae Jones is well on her way to becoming a five-star author, whether she chooses to remain in YA or delve out.
Quotes & Excerpts
“Lonely, yes. But does the king serve the crown, or the crown serve the king?”
– The Ugly Truth