Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Published by Thomas Dunne February 7, 2017
Genres: [Young Adult] Fantasy
4 Stars, Completed January 28, 2017
– read bold text only to avoid SPOILERS –
It could possibly well be that the reason why this was such a delightful read for me was because I’ve never seen the greatly popular film that this book is based off of. (Actually, I hadn’t even heard of Labyrinth until I was approved of my request for this ARC. Labyrinth fans, don’t kill me.) In addition to that, I rarely read the synopses of books thoroughly. Therefore, I basically went into this blind and with zero expectations, and I believe this ended up working in my favor. I would suggest readers that haven’t seen the movie to try the same approach I did.
This was the Goblin King. The abductor of maidens, the punisher of misdeeds, the Lord of Mischief and the Underground.
Liesl has grown up hearing tales of the beautiful Goblin King, the Lord of Mischief and Ruler of the Underground. But as she’s grown older, her belief has faded since she has more practical concerns to worry about (such as looking after her siblings and taking care of the family inn). But when Käthe, her beloved sister, is taken by the goblins Liesl must travel in the mysterious realm of the Goblin King. There she meets the legendary king, and they make an exchange where she will become the maiden that is sacrificed to appease the old laws. But as time passes and the two grow closer, the contract is becoming more difficult to uphold as Liesl’s life source is obviously diminishing but the Goblin King is also falling for her. Both must learn and decide what they are willing to sacrifice.
After giving this much thought (and chucking numerous of review drafts that I deemed inadequate to convey my true thoughts), I’ve settled for a 4 star rating for Wintersong.
Wintersong was with no doubt an enchanting and dark retelling that kept me entertained. It was complete with beautiful prose, complex characters, and a haunting goblin world, but there were also some severe pacing issues, hence why I deducted a full star. In fact, the uneven pacing is so noticeable that if I wasn’t on my current fantasy kick, this could have possibly been DNF material because the beginning is quite slow as the author is trying to set up the setting and background. Consequently, I also didn’t start caring about the characters until I read about a third of the novel. And after the midpoint, the story begins to taper off and the pace slows down once again.
Yet there were still an abundance of redeeming qualities that made me overlook the weird pacing. Actually I am giving four stars for four factors that particularly stood out to me: the romance, the Goblin King, the music, the ending.
“Life,” he said softly, “is more than flesh. Your body is a candle, your soul the flame. The longer I burn the candle…” He did not finish.
“A candle unused is nothing but wax and wick,” I said.“I would rather light the flame, knowing it will go out than sit forever in darkness.”
To my great surprise, this had a lot of sexy times-well at least for a book slated as YA. But Wintersong features a seductive and passionate romance that isn’t at all dirty and obnoxiously salacious. (This was the perfect segue before I started my A Court of Thorns and Roses series mini marathon, which is a new adult fantasy.) There are sex scene but they aren’t graphic just sensual if that makes sense. And there aren’t sex negative messages; I would still consider this to be appropriate for teenagers (unlike the earlier mentioned ACoTaR series).
“The kiss is sweeter than sin and fiercer than temptation. I am not gentle, I am not kind; I am rough and wild and savage.”
Without even watching Labyrinth, I recognized right away that this is ultimately a Persephone/Hades retelling.
I should leave. I should run. This was Der Erlkönig. This was the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground. This was the creature who had abducted my sister, who made me sacrifice my music to his capricious whims. This was the stranger who lured me Underground for the sake of his wagers and games.
In some respect Wintersong also reminded me of Beauty and the Beast with the captive falling in love with her captor. However, I was extremely relieved that this wasn’t exactly a case of instalove since the two individuals attraction towards one another builds slowly. I love that they share a past history as well. I’m a sucker for these romance tropes.
“What would you do, if you were a free man?”
“I would take my violin and play. I would walk the world and play, until someone called me by name and called me home.”
Not unlike Liesl, I was easily swayed by the Goblin King. The fictional males that exhibit dark, tormented auras are the ones that get me. I like characters that are misunderstood and misjudged by others, the ones that are brooding but in actuality possess the softest hearts. The Goblin King is nothing short of this description. As readers learn more about him along with Liesl, his character is revealed to be more complex than what first meets the eye. I was pleasantly surprised by this.
“I am,” I said slowly, “a girl with music in her soul. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend, who fiercely protects those dear to her. I am a girl who loves strawberries, chocolate torte, songs in a minor key, moments stolen from chores, and childish games. I am short-tempered yet disciplined. I am self-indulgent, selfish, yet selfless. I am compassion and hatred and contradiction. I am… me.”
As for the heroine, Liesl was one I was reluctant to connect with. She’s constantly outshone by her siblings-her brother by his ability to play music so emotionally and her sister in her natural beauty. For a good majority of the story she voices many insecurities related to what she thought were her incompetencies. But I didn’t start to feel something towards her character until she shared more about her conflicting thoughts specifically about music during her time underground.
By the end, I decided I liked her better than how she was first introduced, but I still found her character to be considerably meh aside from the times she thought about music. However, I did appreciate from the beginning that she’s described to be plain and perhaps below average in looks. (Most YA heroines these days have to be beautiful it seems.)
And, like I said, what saved her character for me were the moments where music was involved. I liked that she could feel and compose music from the heart. Because of this attribute alone I can see why the Goblin King chose to open up to Liesl instead of the other women he was with in the past.
Which now brings me to the music. Another distinct quality to this book was how music was incorporated into the storyline. I’ve read my share of titles that involve music (If I Stay, Hello, I Love You, Roseblood, and many more) but most left me without feeling much awe as a student that took music lessons (piano and choir) growing up. But Wintersong has music woven into the storyline and dialogue so effortlessly and exquisitely. Readers that have a bond with music (like Liesl, the Goblin King, and the other characters of this book) will surely like the musical references as much as I did.
“Yes, you have the very soul of me, Elisabeth.”
“Then your name, mein Herr.”
He laughed softly, but it was a gasp of pain, not of joy. “No.”
“So you will forget me,” he said simply. “You cannot love a man with no name.”
Lastly, can someone please give me a guide on how to recover from that unexpected ending? Because I think a part of my soul withered while reading it. But yes, actually what I loved more than the mature romance was the cruel but also impactful conclusion. (S. Jae-Jones, you are savage.) The fates of the characters took a turn I didn’t expect; I had absolutely no idea (even though there may have been foreboding clues present-I guess I ignored them) that this would not lead to a happily ever after. The non-HEA did upset me at first (I may have cried…) but it felt acceptable and so right as well.
You guys wouldn’t believe how thrilled I was that this one delivered. (I’ve been such a grump with my ARC ratings as of late; a lot of them have been utter flops to me.) It was nice to finally write a positive review.
Anyway, like I’ve reiterated several times, my only major criticism was the pacing. Otherwise, this was a brilliant spin on the well known Hades/Persephone love story. The poetic prose, whimsical but haunting storytelling, and beautifully incorporated musical references made up for those slower moments immensely. The gothic elements were well done and I grew attached to most of the members of the cast-even the ones that I initially written off as unlikeable or too simple.
Though, I also don’t think that this is a book that everyone can appreciate. Readers that prefer books with more consistent pacing may struggle with this one. And those that are loyal fans of Labyrinth should probably lower their expectations since I think this one deviates from the original film. So to those special group of readers, pick this up with caution.
Quotes were taken from an uncorrected advance readers copy.
Thank you Thomas Dunne and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review Wintersong. In no way did this affect my reading experience and honest review.