Saturday, 23 March 2019
#CBR11 Book 9: "Wintersong" by S. Jae-Jones
Rating: 3.5 stars
Liesl dreams of becoming a famous composer, but is left to write compositions for her talented younger brother to play instead. Her beautiful younger sister is set to be married to the most eligible young man in the village, while Liesl helps her long-suffering mother and bitter father run their inn, their days of musical success and glory behind them. Jealous of her sister's beauty and brother's opportunities, Liesl becomes careless and suddenly, it seems her sister has been enchanted by the goblins, and taken away by the Goblin King. Even worse, no one seems to even remember that her sister has ever existed. Liesl has until the next full moon to figure out a way to retrieve her sister.
Once Liesl joins the kingdom of the goblins underground, she begins to remember more of her past, and her previous encounters with the Goblin King. As a little girl, she used to roam the woods, and play her music for a strange, pale boy, always slightly older than her. He kept asking him to marry her, and she would refuse. Growing up and being burdened with more responsibilities, becoming a supporting character in the lives of her more vivacious siblings, Liesl forgot all about the Goblin King. Tradition demands that he take a bride, however, and if Liesl won't come to him willingly, he will lure her there by threatening to take her sister instead. The Goblin King requires a mortal bride. Will it be Liesl, or her beautiful younger sister? And if she does decide to give in to the Goblin King, will Liesl really be fine with never seeing her family or the human world ever again?
This book, which is apparently Ms Jae-Jones' debut novel, was very favourably reviewed on several of the review sites I follow regularly, like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Forever Young Adult. This book isn't a retelling of just one story, but a bit of a mish mash of several familiar tales. As the Smart Bitches review points out, you can find elements of the Hades and Persephone myth in here, some Beauty and the Beast, some Phantom of the Opera and the Goblin King, or Erlkönig, is clearly visually modelled on David Bowie in Labyrinth. Even his eyes are two different colours.
The story is set in a historical Bavaria, around the 19th Century, where there are clearly faeries or goblins (complete with changelings and the like), who like to play mischief with humans. Over the course of the story, we discover that there have been a series of Goblin Kings, and that he has to have a mortal bride, or the seasons will stop turning. Liesl's childhood playmate is the last in a long line of Erlkönigs, and she is the last in a long line of mortal brides who have given up their humanity and entered into a marriage sure to end tragically.
Liesl's parents were both talented musicians in their youth, but time has taken its toll and her father's drinking has made it so that they have had to retire to a small village, running an inn and hoping their talented young son will be the next person to carry on the family legacy. That Liesl is clearly a talented composer seems to be entirely ignored. Always finding herself falling short in comparison to her brother's musical talents or her sister's beauty and charm, Liesl is quite the abrasive, jealous and bitter young woman. While she loves her family, and especially her siblings, she's also deeply envious of them and sick of having to sacrifice herself and her dreams in order to take care of them. She goes underground to retrieve her ensorcelled sister, but also to experience adventure and while she has to sacrifice a lot to become the Goblin King's bride, she also gets to be selfish. He clearly wants her, and she wants him back. She isn't choosing to stay with him out of selflessness, but rather to finally put herself first.
Liesl and her Goblin King don't exactly settle down into harmonious and happy domesticity, but Liesl does get the chance to truly devote herself to her music, and there is certainly passion between her and her supernatural spouse. I don't know entirely what I was expecting from this book, but the story took turns I was not expecting and the romance was a lot more thorny and challenging than I was hoping for. I liked the book, but I didn't love it and I'm not sure I'm in any urgent rush to read the sequel, for all that this one ends on quite the cliffhanger. It was a good book, but not quite the magical fairy tale I was hoping for. Maybe I was still working through my book hangover from The Winter of the Witch?
Judging a book by its cover: The cover is lovely, with the delicate rose preserved inside a snow globe. Not entirely sure what the cover is supposed to represent, as there are no snow globes of any kind in the actual novel, but it's a very arresting and inviting cover nonetheless.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.