Author: S. Jae-Jones
Narrator: Eva Kaminsky
Publisher: Recorded Books
Running Time: 14 hours, 17 minutes
Goodreads Synopsis: The Instant New York Times Bestseller!
Bustle – 2017 YA Must Reads
Paste Magazine – Most Anticipated YA Books of 2017
Dark, romantic, and unforgettable, Wintersong is an enchanting coming-of-age story for fans of Labyrinth and The Beauty and the Beast.
The last night of the year. Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride…
All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her mind, her spirit, and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen and helping to run her family’s inn, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away.
But when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds—and the mysterious man who rules it—she soon faces an impossible decision. And with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.
Rich with music and magic, S. Jae-Jones’s Wintersong will sweep you away into a world you won’t soon forget.
“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
“This was Labyrinth by way of Angela Carter. 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
Buckle up, y’all, cause this is gonna be a long one!
Ah, conflicting emotions, how you torture me! This book was so, so, soooooo good but also so, so, soooooo problematic….
Let’s start with the good. The good thing is that I loved Wintersong so much that it’s a new all-time fave of mine! Rich, dark, and seductively magical, Wintersong dazzles. Everything about the book pulls the reader in and immerses them in a darkly enchanting tale. Wintersong reads like a modern fairytale.
First off, Jae-Jones’s writing is absolutely luscious. She manages to write in a style that is beautiful and enchanting, yet succinct. In this way, she allows readers to experience the magic of her world without swallowing them in description and losing the storyline. And, my gosh, is this world immersive. Jae-Jones’s writing and world just completely surrounds you, flowing from the page to make you feel as if you’re right there with the characters!
Jae-Jones’s gorgeous writing works hand in hand with the world building to create a full experience for the reader. Wintersong takes place in Bavaria in about the 18th century. But this is not quite the Bavaria you might know. Jae-Jones’s Bavaria is ripe with magic and enchantment. Magical creatures mingle with humans, playing tricks and capriciously “granting” wishes. And beneath the human world lies the dark goblin underworld, where nothing is quite as it seems. I loved how Jae-Jones wove in whispers of folklore to create the feeling that this world was ancient. She slowly, succinctly sets up the history via Liesl’s superstitious grandmother and then weaves in new elements of the world through Liesl, who is experiencing magic for the first…er, well, actually the second time. Everything about the world leaps from the page, painting pictures before your eyes and wrapping you in its arms.
The story isn’t just immersive in its world alone but in its plot as well, which is absolutely enthralling. Wintersong almost hummed with the vibrations of the story, whirling in a slow, yet enchanting waltz. I lost myself in the viscous melody of Liesl’s story. I always wanted to know what was going to happen next, what new secret Liesl was going to discover. I found myself looking for clues even in the ordinary moments and frantically turning the pages to find out more!
So now that I’ve gushed enough, I’m gonna move on to the elements of Wintersong that I disliked. I’m gonna start with a relatively tiny issue that I’ve heard about from other readers/reviewers that I didn’t experience too much myself. So, as I mentioned, music plays an integral role in Wnitersong. Unfortunately, in weaving music into the story, Jae-Jones used a lot of complex musical terminology. I generally was able to follow along because I’ve studied music all of my life, but I’ve heard from others who aren’t musicians that it was very confusing because they couldn’t understand the jargon. So that’s just something to be aware of.
Okay, so let’s get to what I think is a more pressing problem which is: Liesl. I couldn’t relate to Liesl at all. She was so gosh dang selfish. Everything–everything–she did was purely out of self interest. Not only that, but she was also so judgmental and envious and self-pitying and, honestly, whiny. All the freaking time! She can’t go a chapter without somehow mentioning how every other woman is so beautiful, but (in her opinion) their beauty makes them shallow and how she’s so plain, but has depth that beautiful women don’t, so people should pity her because no one will ever be interested in her because she’s plain and on and on and on and on…That narrative got tiring real fast and left me feeling like, “Girl, the reason no one likes you isn’t because you’re plain, it’s because you’re bitter af.”
Which brings me to to the downright problematic elements of Wintersong. Liesl’s bad attitude plays straight into the first problematic element of Wintersong, which was the demonization of beautiful women. I’m not about girl hate. And I don’t think anyone else should be about it either. I get that the author wanted to hammer in that Liesl is plain and insecure, but she could’ve easily done so without tearing down other women.
But the “girl hate” isn’t where the problematic content ended. Oh no. That was only the beginning, my friends. Liesl goes on to have a troubling romance with The Goblin King. My issue with the romance lies in that Liesl enters it almost entirely out of her deep desire to be desired. Not because she’s falling in love. Because she is desperate to feel wanted and she feels The Goblin King can satisfy that desire. Now, I’m not a psychologist or a relationship counselor or anything, but that to me seems like a really unhealthy reason to enter into a relationship. In America, we have a saying that goes something like, “you gotta love yourself before you can love someone else.” I wish Liesl could have learned that lesson.
And if you thought the issues would stop there, you’d be wrong. The romance becomes even more problematic due to the fact that Liesl wants to have sex because she wants to “find herself” and in this narrative, her wish comes true–only after Liesl and The Goblin King have sex does Liesl “find” herself and her music and begin to love herself. Ummm??? I’m sorry, but what kind of message do you think that sends young women??? Because it seems to say to me something like, “your value and worth comes only from having sex with a man,” as well as “you need a man to help you discover your value.”
To top it all off, the anti-feminism doesn’t limit itself to females, but also extends itself into the realm of perpetuating masculinity stereotypes. After Liesl and The Goblin King have sex for the first time, The Goblin King cries and the next morning Liesl’s all “I felt shame at having seen him during this embarrassing moment of vulnerability and emotional nakedness.” She gives off the vibe that it’s shameful and embarrassing for men to cry or be vulnerable.
So, I know I’ve listed a lot of things that I found problematic, but I really did love Wintersong. If you’re willing to look past the…less positive…elements of the book, I think you’ll find a darkly magical and intriguing read. Bottom line for me, personally, is that I really loved it and I’m desperate to get my hands on the sequel–especially after that dreadfully heartrending end! I’m so happy to hear that the sequel is a direct sequel and not a companion and I honestly can’t wait to get my greedy little hands on it!