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Wintersong: A Novel Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—This YA fantasy is a richly detailed journey through German folklore and 19th-century Europe. Often overshadowed by her musically talented brother and her beautiful sister, Liesl assists her parents in running the family's inn. When her sister, Käthe, is taken by goblins, Liesl makes a wager to secure her release and travels underground to the alluring Goblin King's world in an attempt to win freedom for both herself and Käthe. This fantasy debut is rife with intricate details and world-building, as well as the charged relationship between Liesl and the Goblin King. Fans of Gregory Maguire's Egg & Spoon or E.K. Johnston's A Thousand Nights will be drawn to the in-depth depictions of the goblins' realm. Others may find the story's length and its emphasis on description rather than action overwhelming. The slower pace allows for additional character development of Liesl, although Käthe and their younger brother, Josef, remain in the background. VERDICT An additional purchase for larger collections.—Jenni Frencham, Columbus Public Library, WI
“The legend of the cruel and pitiless Erl-king anchors a darkly lush and dangerous tale of a stifled young woman’s creative awakening. Beautiful writing evokes powerful emotions in this journey into the meaning of sacrifice and the power of love.”―Kate Elliott, New York Times bestselling author of the Crossroads and Crown of Stars series
"Wintersong is a maze of beauty and darkness, of music and magic and glittering things, all tied together with exquisite writing. This is a world you will want to stay lost in."―Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Legend and The Young Elites
"Spellbinding and sexy, Wintersong is a feast for all the senses. I didn't want this beautifully written book to end."―Renée Ahdieh, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn
"This was Labyrinth by way of Angela Carter, and I think my soul has been aching for a book like Wintersong for the last decade. Deliciously romantic, with a nuanced Goblin King and a strong heroine, this story was rife with fairy tales, music, and enchantment."―Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen
"S. Jae-Jones has a great grasp of emotion in her writing, and plucks your heart-strings from the very first pages. This story will make you hurt in the most fantastic way. It is captivating. A very strong debut."―Charlie N. Holmberg, bestselling author of The Paper Magician
"This is an exquisitely and lyrically crafted tale of longing, sibling loyalty, and the importance of women in a time when women were so often overlooked. Eerie, unsettling, and above all, full of music." ―Booklist (starred review)
"Jae-Jones writes beautifully about the magic of love, the power of music, and the importance of free will." ―Publishers Weekly
"Structured as a sonata, the final movement culminates in a bittersweet sacrifice that will leave readers... savoring the delicious tragedy." ―Kirkus Reviews
"[R]ife with intricate details and world-building, as well as the charged relationship between Liesl and the Goblin King. Fans of Gregory Maguire's Egg & Spoon or E.K. Johnston's A Thousand Nights will be drawn to the in-depth depictions of the goblin's realm." ―School Library Journal
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The imagery and tone of this book (while lost a couple of times) is overall a real strong suit of the story. The rhythm of the words and the descriptions used evoke the original Grimms Fairy Tales, full of dark, romantic notes and tension (separate from the actual moments of romance present in the novel). The best description that sticks with me is a scene where Liesl's sister eats a peach, a scene full of multi-layered symbolism that catches the reader's attention.
The mystery within the novel is also compelling. This centers around the Goblin King, of course, as well as the world of the Underground. As for her world building, the Underground is quite fascinating and easy to picture in one's mind. The creatures of the Underground are also thoroughly entrancing and easy to picture, though they weren't always consistent. The Goblin King himself reminded me powerfully of Howl from Howl's Moving Castle, both in appearance and behavior, which is certainly not a bad thing...however, continue reading this in the bad.
On the Goblin King, the romance in the book was wonderful. Though confusing at times (especially the timing, which is discussed in the next section), I thought it had an organic sort of growth and Ms. Jae-Jones did a great job balancing tension with loads of emotional depth and history on both sides.
One of my first and most glaring issues with Wintersong was the lack of clear placement in time. The argument can be made that this is a fairy tale/fantasy and therefore exists out of time, but even so, there were enough places in which modernity crept in as to distract me from the flow and structure of the story. This happened quite often with the language being used, particularly with the Goblin King himself. Jae-Jones wrote these beautiful passages of dialogue and thoughts, then sort of tossed that tone out the window for a couple of lines before returning to it. Again, this could have been fixed with more rounds of edits.
On the time frame, this could have been more of a personal issue than one inherent with the book, but it was enough that it kept me frustrated for the first 2-4 chapters. There is no clear time period or setting given, though German names and terminology are used. Again, I understand this might have been meant to set it vaguely in the time frame of a Grimm fairy tale, or to give it that tone, but it failed for me. I was more and more frustrated until I finally saw some detail about her father performing around the time of Mozart and was able to settle my mind in that regard.
The pacing of the story was another issue for me. Not only were some characters inconsistent (in a non-purposeful way), and perhaps this is what Jae-Jones intended (for there to be long lulls with rapid action), but it just didn't work that well. The most memorable scenes for their utter confusion are those in which Liesl is either attempting to enter or escape the Underground. I believe there is a way to add that frantic tension and raise the stakes without completely confusing the reader as to where the character is and what is happening to where they lose their place in the story and have to reread a passage several times. Obscurity has its place, but shouldn't be used to the point a reader gets lost in a story (and not in a good way).
In the end, the story just felt insubstantial and bloated at the same time. The really solid, deep sections full of emotional depth and challenging thoughts were flung through the story in odd sections, dispersed among bloated passages describing the underworld, Liesl's struggle with music, finding dresses, and other such things. Each element was important, of course, but the odd jumping back and forth between such sections caused a lot of the pacing problems and allowed me to set my book down for days at a time, something I normally do not do when reading a new story.
I really wanted to like Wintersong. I found it popping up all over bookstagram, and I wanted so, so badly to fall in love with it like so many others where. Unfortunately, that just wasn't the case—though certain parts had my heart pounding and my feet dancing around. I really wish this story, like so many other young adult novels these days, could have had at least 2-3 more rounds with a good editor. There were some parts scattered throughout that were so, so good, they were just hidden behind all the meh moments to the point I lost interest time and again. Read the book if you want, but if you're after a story with sisters, a mysterious bigger-than-life figure, adventure, darkness, and romance, go for Caraval (which I'll be reviewing soon).
Liesl enters into a game with the Goblin King at the beginning of WINTERSONG. He needs a bride and is riding around looking for one. He steals Käthe, Liesl’s sister, and taunts Liesl into following her to the Underground. Liesl must win the next two rounds because she has lost the first round.
I thoroughly enjoyed the use of music throughout WINTERSONG. I love books about music (seriously, give me all of your musical MCs!) Liesl is a composer, and music is her life – it’s what she has to sacrifice when she’s in the Underground.
Liesl’s connection with the Goblin King was something I really enjoyed, and some of the scenes between them were hot, hot, hot. Liesl has two goblin helpers while Underground, and their scenes with Liesl are intriguing. They provided understanding to the world of the Underground for Liesl and the reader.
I loved the scenes between Joseph and his companion, Francois. Jae-Jones hints at the two boys have crushes on each other, and although I wish it was more obvious, I am definitely shipping it. I mean, in my head, they are together and happy and create great performances of their music and their love. But eventually you get tired of having to think of queer characters and wish that they were more embraced on the page.
One thing that bothered me about WINTERSONG is the use of “queer” throughout the story. It is used to mean “odd/strange,” and I understand that it’s contextually correct (remember, this book is set in the 15th or 16th century.) However words have all sorts of meanings, and whenever Liesl would use “queer” to mean “odd/strange,” I was uneasy. I am queer. But I am not odd or strange because of my sexuality. I honestly wish the word wasn’t used in this context, despite the historical accuracy, because even though it’s technically correct, it can still hurt queer readers. This is a cautionary thing to keep in mind if you decide to read WINTERSONG.
I would recommend WINTERSONG to all fantasy lovers, especially to those who are looking for a lyrical, enchanting read to sweep them away. WINTERSONG is such a good book, and I am looking forward to the sequel.
Most recent customer reviews
It's not bad. Too prose-y for me.Read more