Reading the synopsis for this book, I wasn’t sure I would like Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. It sounded like a meager fairy tale. Since the cover was beautiful and plastered with appraisals that made reading it seem worthwhile, I decided to take a gamble. Never let me into a casino, folks, because I will never hit the jackpot.
Liesl (pronounced LEE-zl, not LY-sol) grew up playing her violin for the Goblin King in the Goblin Grove, a clearing in the woods by her house where the Goblin King was able to cross into the world above the ground. In addition to playing her violin, Liesl would play games and make careless gambles, not understanding the gravity of what she was promising the Goblin King. Now that she is grown, the Goblin King expects her to fulfill all that she had promised as a child.
Years have passed, and Liesl has forgotten the Goblin King. She is now the least noticeable child of the town innkeepers. With a beautiful younger sister and a musically gifted younger brother, Liesl is often overlooked, yet she continues to put everyone else first. Liesl’s younger sister gets abducted one evening, and it is up to Liesl to travel into the Underground to save her. Liesl also has to sacrifice her musical compositions to the Goblin King, live with him, and become his wife. She initially thinks she is doing this to keep her sister from suffering this fate, but she eventually discovers that she is also keeping the world above ground from entering into a goblin-infested winter.
While living in the Underground with the Goblin King and his kingdom of goblins, Liesl is gifted everything she needs to compose music. She sees herself as a composer, so she is grateful, but she has a composer’s equivalent of writer’s block. Composer’s block, presumably. She needs inspiration to finish the piece of frustration that she started on her and her husband’s wedding night, but the inspiration has not come. She assumes once she is intimate with her husband, the inspiration will follow. (I hate that this is an important detail to add to my summary, but the author stresses it throughout the book.)
I’ll get into my beef with this book in a second, but I would first like to explain how beautifully written the beginning of this book is. The first two pages captured my attention and promised not to let me down. They set up an innocent beginning to an ominous and romantic ending. The word choice was elegant and not too detailed. This didn’t last long. Further into this endeavor of a book, the language starts to sound pretentious. All the beautiful new words I got to look up and consider adding to my vocabulary became so annoying to read. I fear I will no longer be able to read the word “austere” without groaning in the future. The author also writes details of things that don’t matter to me or to the plot of the book. I had to skip entire paragraphs of musical references that I didn’t understand. I was looking forward to the beautiful language in this book, but that, too, let me down.
Liesl is the eldest child, so she feels it is her duty to look out for her younger siblings. Or that’s what she would have you believe. She makes this claim several times throughout the book, but it is obvious that Liesl is jealous of her siblings. Her brother is in the spotlight playing his violin while Liesl believes she should be there, as well. Liesl’s sister is beautiful and flirtatious, and though Liesl claims to care about her, she also mildly slut-shames her. I understand Liesl is a rather plain character, but jealousy doesn’t look good on anyone. And if you don’t like your position in the family, change it.
I really wanted Liesl to be the fearless heroine that walked into the Underground, with nary a backward glance. “She has to save her sister!” I wanted to declare to the pages. “She must be the Goblin King’s hostage in order to save the world! What a selfless act!” But I was dead wrong. Her motives are seedy and remind me of the pigs I occasionally stumble across while pumping gas at a gas station at night, or walking through town to get to class. Liesl was sexually frustrated and took it out on her husband, the Goblin King.
While we’re on the topic, it’s hard to romanticize goblins. Jae-Jones tried to make him sound as humanly attractive as possible, but throughout most of the book, I had a hard time picturing the Goblin King as Prince Charming. Maybe Jae-Jones should have gone with the Wizard King. Or King of the Gnomes.
Liesl is one of the most boring protagonists I have ever read about. One of the most important things an author has to do is make their readers care about the characters. And I did not care about what happened to Liesl. Her mindset is disgusting, she doesn’t do anything to alter her fate, and she agrees to marry the Goblin King because she’s sexually frustrated. When she’s not being a sick disappointment, she’s usually moping around or thinking about something I don’t understand, like the German language or musical terminology. Intermezzo.
There’s a whole section of the book where Liesl is just wandering around the Underground bored out of her mind. That’s boring to read about! I don’t want to read about a bored character unless something is about to burst through the door, wrenching the character from their boredom with some life-altering quest. Instead, Liesl travels to the lake to look at it. Then she has a dress made. Then we learn about the Goblin King’s past brides and, though beautiful, how utterly ordinary they were.
That’s another issue. Liesl is described as plain, if not ugly, and she’s ridiculously bitter about it. Every time she sees someone beautiful, she remembers how plain she is by comparison. It seems like the author has some agenda to convince us that ugly girls are better simply because they are ugly, even if they have no depth. The author tries to trick us into thinking Liesl is extraordinary when the Goblin King compliments her, but she’s not fooling anybody.
I felt icky while reading this. It seems that Liesl believes she is entitled to sex simply because she is married. That. Is. Not. An. Excuse. I was scared for the Goblin King. I wanted him to run away from Liesl as fast as he could. I can bear some romance, but not this one. It was often borderline S&M, rapey, and forced. I had to clench my jaw to keep myself from screaming at Liesl. The Goblin King told Liesl several times that he didn’t think it was wise to consummate their marriage, but she pressured him and threw a fit when he rejected her. Like a typical sex-crazed frat boy. I am disgusted that young adults everywhere are reading about this behavior in their favorite protagonist. I hope they don’t conclude that it is acceptable.
One last rant: once Liesl become “sexually awakened,” she is finally inspired to compose music like never before. She is now complete and can be successful because she’s been intimate with her husband. I couldn’t help but stare confounded at these pages as this revelation unfolded. What kind of utter bullshit is this? I’ve never been trapped inside the head of a more aggravating half-wit.
I would rate this book one star because the beginning had me hooked. I might even throw in another half star because there was so much wrong with it, I was able to write a lengthy review. Thanks for nothing, Wintersong.