(In my defense, I did start Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth, but I gave up because it was somehow... worse than Divergent. Annnnd I'm currently reading Empress of a Thousand Skies and have been promised to receive Caraval soon. So I'm getting there.)
The book I did finish was Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones, and let me tell you, it was a whirlwind. An enchanting, bizarre, and complex whirlwind. And I still can't decide how I feel about it.
SynopsisWhen Liesl's younger sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, it's up to Liesl to journey to the Underground and convince the Goblin King to let her sister go. But that request comes at a price--Liesl's hand in marriage, a life for a life. To marry the Goblin King initially means giving up her life in the world above forever, but Liesl learns that staying in the Underground means to give up much more.
My ThoughtsWhen it comes to Wintersong, I'm torn. On one side, the book was beautiful. The descriptions were rich and swoon-worthy, the plot was compelling, and the characters were unique, intriguing. Yet at times, I felt disappointed, not bored exactly but... apathetic about the events. And the ending was a letdown. To make it easier, I'm going to list what I liked and didn't like about Wintersong.
What I Liked"Goblin Market" references
I took a Women's Writers course in college, and we read several of Christina Rossetti's poems. I loved "Goblin Market," so it was delightful to see how that inspired parts of this story. The references at the beginning to the poem and the two sisters were perfect to go with the Goblin King tale. I loved how much folklore and legend and other Rossetti poems were wrapped into this story, which, in my opinion, brought it to life.
The Underground was a dark, enchanting place. I loved reading about all the corridors and passages, all the secrets hidden in its depths, all the creatures that scurried among its labyrinth. The chapel, however, was my favorite place. The way it was described was incredible.
The Goblin King
Okay, I admit it: I was swept away by the Goblin King. He was alluring. I was desperate to figure him out and learn his story. He, more than anything, kept me interested in the book's events. I needed answers. Plus, the descriptions of him were captivating.
Liesl is an interesting protagonist. I like her connection to music and that she isn't your typical main character. She isn't beautiful or perfect. She makes mistakes, she's considered plain to the point of being easily forgettable, and she is relateable. Her connection to music, her desperate need to write and play and perform reminds me of my own dreams of writing. I think she is a strong, durable character worth getting to know.
The references to music throughout the novel was amazing. I've read other books that are supposed to music-themed, but they don't do justice to how Wintersong incorporated music in every aspect of the book. You could feel the characters thriving and breathing off music. This only reinforced the staggering importance of music to Liesl's life. I loved it.
References to God
While I know this book is supposed to be set in a time period where most people have been taught from The Bible, I appreciated how often this book referenced God and mentioned His mercy and grace. It was refreshing to read a book where it contains references but isn't overbearing.
What I DislikedThe Underground
I felt that there was a lot more to explore with The Underground and its secrets. The book focused so heavily on the characters and their relationship that the setting didn't get to flourish as much as I would have liked. I wanted more about the world, the goblins (and changelings), and the labyrinth of rooms and corridors. Also, the pacing of events once Liesl got to the Underground slowed down a lot. It was still interesting, but it wasn't as action-y or adventure-y as I was expecting.
The Goblin King
While I felt enchanted by the Goblin King most of the time, there were moments where I really disliked him. I thought he was annoying or selfish or rude. I just couldn't stand him at times, and I really don't know why Liesl was so turned on by his "wolfish" nature/version. Like, does every alluring man have to be considered "devilish" in fiction these days? (I know, I know. He's the Goblin King. He's not going to be a good little boy. But still. A lot of books these days are focused on an unhealthy relationship between a girl and a "bad" boy. I'm just tired of it.)
While I can appreciate that Liesl seemed more normal than most YA protagonists, it was a little annoying how focused she was on her plainness. Like I didn't need to read ten times that she felt herself so plain and boring and why ever would the Goblin King choose her? Like... girl! Get some self-esteem already. You have the freaking Goblin King as your husband, obviously you aren't as bad you think. People in general are just oblivious to a lot, especially normal beauty. I also found myself disappointed that Kathe and Josef were pushed to the back burner of the story fairly quickly. Sibling relationships (especially strong sister relationships) are one of my favorite aspects in literature, so I was disappointed that Liesl's relationship with her siblings, especially Kathe, wasn't as big of a focus in the latter half of the book. I mean, she gives up literally everything for her sister and then... there isn't much more with their relationship. (Yeah, it's there in glimpses, but still. It was not enough for a book with a synopsis heavily focused on a girl getting her sister back.)
In YA books, I can handle one or two sex scenes, especially since most of the time they're pretty mild or fade from the moment. (You know, they usually hint at what happened without going into detail.) But this book... whoa, baby. This book didn't slow down. There are several detailed sex scenes, and frankly, it got uncomfortable. Half the time I couldn't tell what was even happening (Did they do it? Were they just kissing?), and during the other half, I was just reading fast to get through it. I think it wouldn't have been as big as a problem if this book had been marketed as an adult fantasy. I think it would have been perfect for the adult genre instead of YA, which would have allowed for more to slip by without worry. But I am worried. I suppose a mature sixteen or seventeen year old could probably handle this (if they're comfortable with it), but I would not want a twelve year old or thirteen year old to pick this book up at the library. It was too much for that. It also could have allowed for Liesl to be a little older. I'm not sure how old she is supposed to be, I was thinking probably between 16-19 due to it being YA, but she never felt like a 16 year old. She felt older. And I think it would have benefited for her to be older, more mature, etc. if it had been an adult book instead.
I didn't like the ending. It doesn't end in the typical way, I suppose, but at the same time, I didn't like it. It didn't make sense to me. It didn't help me understand their relationship and what a marriage should mean. And I was just disappointed that it ended so easily and nicely. For a book that's all about sacrifice, it didn't seem like Liesl had to sacrifice much.
OverallWintersong is an enchanting re-telling that brings together multiple sources and ideas into a coherent, gorgeous story. I've never seen Labyrinth (I know, shame, right?), so I can't judge whether fans of that story will enjoy Wintersong or if they should steer clear. If you're comfortable with some sex scenes and you're interested in an alluring romance story with a sprinkle of fantasy and darkness, Wintersong might be for you. But...
Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.
~I borrowed Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones from my local library and chose to review the book of my own freewill. All opinions expressed are my own.~