Book Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones ★★★

“”You are the one who wanted a happy ending, my dear. So you tell me, how does the story end?”
Tears slipped from my face, and he wiped them away with his thumbs.
“The foolish young man lets the beautiful maiden go.”
“Yes.” His voice was clotted thick with unshed emotion. “He lets her go.””

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Cover image courtesy of Goodreads, as I do not own the book. 

Well, this book was hard to review. I was wavering between two and three stars forever on this one, so I would officially give it 2.5 stars with an extra half star for the beautiful writing. This is another book that came out early this year that I was super excited for. I read the multi-chapter preview right when it was released and I loved it! The cover is beyond gorgeous and I was so intrigued by the idea of a Labyrinth-inspired story, despite being kind of terrified of the original movie when I first saw it in 6th grade (those tights gave me nightmares). But, once again, when I finally got to read all of Wintersong, it was just…meh? Ultimately, I was just underwhelmed. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations, but I wanted more from Liesl and the Goblin King!

This is a beautifully written book, no doubt about that. The prose is luscious and Jae-Jones takes her time to really immerse the reader into her world. It is dark and poetic and everything I should have loved. And I did love that aspect of Wintersong. The writing style and the cover were hands down the best parts! What was a little more disappointing was the actual story that we got. We start with Liesl living with her family in Bavaria, lamenting the fact that she is neither as beautiful as her sister Kathe, nor as musically gifted as her brother Josef. We spend a lot of time at this point in the novel, getting only snippets and teases of the Goblin King and his world. Liesl is quite envious of her siblings, but is trying to be the responsible, mature adult about her lot in life. I understand the set-up here, and I am glad for the background that we were given, but it was a little tedious.

When we finally get down into the Underground, I thought the book would take off and pull me right into the “labyrinth.” However, when Liesl travels to the Underground to save her sister from the Goblin King, things just become more complicated and equally as slow. There is very little significant interaction between Liesl and the Goblin King, despite them being childhood companions, so I was not as invested in their relationship as I thought I would be. There was a lot of flowery language surrounding their times together, so it was one of those situations where I wasn’t even sure if these peeps had kissed, let alone had sex. And I know this isn’t a huge deal, but it was very important to their dynamic, the temptation, desire, power, etc. . But, (what I assume was) the sex was super weird! It was all angsty and full of pain. There were heavy religious connotations being thrown around and like zero emotional intimacy even when we were told that there was, so all in all, it was not really my cup of tea.

Sidenote: after the release of Wintersong, Jae-Jones made the explicit passages that she had originally written into the novel, when it was an adult novel, available via email. Once it was changed to a YA novel, she had to remove/rewrite some of the more sensual scenes, which I think caused much of the confusion and clunkiness. Those scenes, which were not even all that explicit, did help with the overall flow of the book and the development of the relationship. Albeit, they were still bogged down with negativity and religious guilt…which is just not sexy or romantic.

So, the interesting Liesl x Gobling King dynamic I was hoping for was a bit of a let-down, even with the beautifully writing. Still, I was at least looking forward to the magic and the creepy goblin realm. I thought maybe I could find that spark in the setting or with side characters. However, the Underground and the goblins felt quite flat, once we were actually in it. Their potential was so much greater! There was hardly any action surrounding the goblins and most of the book (which was still very slow at times) revolved around Liesl’s music and her coming to terms with her “inner strength and beauty.” Those are both fine things and I definitely appreciate the care that Jae-Jones put into all of the musical discussion (I love classical music and am so impressed with composers), but that is not what I was expecting or hoping to read in this particular story. It was like I was getting a music lesson every few pages. It seemed disjointed and detached from the rest of the novel, causing a major disconnection between me and the story, as a whole.

The only part that really had any emotional impact for me was the ending, which I loved for its unconventional twist (although I hear there is a sequel now, so it might be resolved later). This was the sort of devastating, emotional intensity that I was hoping for throughout the whole book, the kind of raw love that we were told Liesl and the Goblin King had, but that I did not really feel. I wanted more of this, not religious angst and self loathing. I really did like the ending. It even made me tear up and the writing, as always, was stunning. That being said, I also do not completely understand it, because won’t the world kind of implode if Liesl leaves the Underground and doesn’t sacrifice herself? I mean the whole reason she was dying was because she had to give up her life for the world to live…hence the sex angst. But I guess it didn’t, since she left and everything was peachy??? I don’t know.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Wintersong. It most definitely was not a bad book; I really liked many aspects of it and I recommend everyone give it a try. I just had heightened expectations, I suppose, that did not really pan out. While the writing and descriptions were beautiful, I was just expecting an entirely different kind of story. But maybe that’s just me. Have you guys read it? What did you think? Cake, how about you??

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While the concept of playing in magical tunnels sounded thrilling, the execution was..not as fun. 

Thank you for reading and may your bookshelf be ever full!

-Chelsi

Book Depository | Wordery

 

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