About the book
Title: Wintersong (Wintersong, #1)
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Published by: Thomas Dunne Books
Once there was a little girl who played her music for a little boy in the wood.
Elisabeth “Liesl” is a 19 year old girl raised by a family of talented musicians. Overshadowed by her little brother’s virtuosity on the violin and discriminated for her sex, she is denied a proper musical education and is forced to take the backseat as the “responsible older sister”, never knowing any fun and never having any other interest besides taking care of her family’s inn and looking out for both her brother, Josef, and her little sister, Käthe, whose stunning beauty only serves to eclipse Liesl even more. Shunned, unnoticed and taken for granted all her life by those around her, Liesl grew up with feelings of inadequacy and next to no self-esteem at all, composing her music in private, too afraid to showcase her songs to anyone.
The only thing that makes Liesl extraordinary are her early childhood memories of dancing and playing music with her friend the Goblin King and Ruler of the Underground, a memory that is now more a long-forgotten dream than anything else.
“Will you marry me, Elisabeth?”, the little boy asked.
“Oh, but I am too young to marry.”
“Then I will wait. I will wait as long as you remember.”
When winter arrives, the barrier between the two realms are thin, and the Goblin King prowls the land above for a new bride to bring back spring. When Käthe is kidnapped, Liesl is forced to risk everything to rescue her sister, a mission that leads her straight into the arms of the Goblin King, who asked for her hand in turn. As the new Goblin Queen, Elisabeth is propelled into a path towards self-discovery, self-acceptance and love.
Choose to live, Elisabeth. There’s a fire within you; keep it alight. Feed that flame with music and seasons and chocolate torte and strawberries and your grandmother’s Gugelhopf. Let it grow with your love for your family. Let it be a beacon to set your heart by, so that you may remain true to yourself.
WARNING: mild spoilers ahead
Now the days of winter begin, and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride.
When I first read the synopsis for this book, I was very skeptical. “Kidnapped by a Goblin King? Oh let me guess, I bet they fall in love… ” However, I felt this book was so much more than that. It tells the story of a girl that had grown up feeling like she was not enough, feeling unappreciated, unlovely. Her long journey to self-love was portrayed beautifully, so powerfully and heartbreaking. There’s also a portrayal of the power of family, how it can make or break you as a person. How it can hold you back forever or propel you into greatness. Family loyalty plays a strong role in the plot, as it is only the love from her siblings that keep her alive in the Underground.
Love is the bridge that spans the world above and below, and keeps the wheel of life turning.
Often, I felt that Liesl’s insecurity issues and overprotectiveness of her music was a little exaggerated, and I caught myself rolling my eyes from time to time. She always found a way to make herself a martyr despite mostly every single character in the book telling her how talented she was.
Throughout the book, we are told and informed over and over again how passionate and full of life she is. And yet, I would have liked to have seen it and experienced it more than be told about it. The unconditional and undying love she felt towards her siblings and parents were continually mentioned as well, but for the better part of the book, every time Liesl thought of them, she did so with a bitter and rather resentful tonality.
As I read, I detected strong religious undertones. Faith and belief had a weighty presence throughout the book. The Goblin King’s constant worship in his underground chapel despite the fact that he lived in one of the most sinful places on Earth was extremely interesting. At some point, while telling Liesl how he came to be Der Erlkönig, he confesses it was like making a deal with the devil, a deal that damned him to Hell and imprisoned him in his Crown for eternity. In his chapel, he prays for strength, for endurance and for forgiveness.
I don’t know if Thou art there, my Lord, but I am here, come once more, kneeling and asking for forgiveness. Asking for guidance. I am so far from Thee and Thy grace in the Underground, yet still I yearn for Thy presence.
The complete opposite, Liesl is not particularly devout. Moved by the king’s faith, towards the ending she visits the chapel and finds the answers to all her questions regarding the king’s past depicted on the stained glass, causing her to reflect the following:
The answers had always been here. But I had never thought to look for them in the house of God.
I had read in reviews this book was poetic but nothing could have prepared me for S. Jae-Jones’ writing style. It was beautiful, it was dark, it was twisted, seductive, fluid and no words were written in vain or laid to waste. If I had to convey how the writing felt into one tangible thing it would be dark velvet. Some passages were so beautifully and elegantly written, they felt like a caress on the mind. Definitely reading future works by S. Jae-Jones.
The world building was slow but spectacularly achieved (although I have many questions about the mechanics of the Underground ruling system and the Old Laws). I will say this though: my biggest issue with the book was I did not like the Underground; I did not feel particularly interested in getting to know the Goblins and the time she spent in their kingdom had me cringing and feeling claustrophobic the whole time.
I want you, entire.
Now… I had my issues with the romance. I disliked the way they interacted with each other, often feeling like their exchanges lacked authenticity or the aw factor. They were constantly throwing tantrums and being hot and cold with each other throughout most of the book, which would have been fine except the reasons were usually unclear and that just served to confuse me. I found the whole “I want you, entire” thing and his obsession with the “music inside of her” annoying at some point. Also, I think I never understood their total obsession with music because I can’t relate to it.
You are the monster I choose.
However, towards the end, I started to root for them more, especially because Liesl proved she was working towards something bigger than just a romance. In the end, she chose to fight for herself and what she wanted, something bigger than just her love story.
He was Der Erlkönig, and he was my Goblin King, but I wanted to know who he was to himself.
The Goblin King’s past intrigued me so much and I really felt some parts of the story lacked character depth when it came to him; he was constantly on the verge of being reduced to a mere love interest. Thankfully, S. Jae-Jones didn’t let that happen and I can’t wait for the sequel, Shadowsong, to get to know him more.
He looked at me as no one had before, as though I were more the sum of my eyes, my nose, my lips, my hair, and my wretched plainness. He looked as though he saw me entire, as though he knew me.
Usually, I don’t mention the cover art in my reviews because it does not have any weight on my rating, but I had to say something about this one by artist Danielle Fiorella. It is just so incredible and the illustrations inside – I think, if I’m not mistaken, they’re by the author herself – are amazing too. I’m not one to pick up a book just judging by the cover but if I had to, this book would be it. Hands down, my favorite book cover of the year.
B & L
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