BWW Book Review: WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones
"There is music in your soul. A wild and untamed sort of music that speaks to me. It defies all the rules and laws you humans set upon it. It grows from inside you, and I have a wish to set that music free."
~Der Erlkönig, WINTERSONGThis week marks the release of WINTERSONG, a highly buzzed about debut novel from S. Jae-Jones. It pays homage to Jim Henson's Labyrinth, to Mozart's The Magic Flute, to Christina Rossetti's poem "Goblin Market," and even to the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood. It is one of many tales of Der Erlkönig, or The Erl-King, and, in some ways, reminds me of two of my favorite Greek myths, the tales of both "Hades and Persephone" and "Orpheus and Eurydice." While WINTERSONG is a blend of so many beloved pieces of various tales, it is also wholly a story of its own.
Liesl has never wanted much in life. Her sister Käthe is the comely one and her brother Josef is a musical virtuoso. Music is in Liesl's soul, too, however, as a female, to compose is to overstep her allotment in life. As a child, Liesl played in the woods with a mysterious boy and promised him things she didn't understand. Now, she has grown up, and her playmate the Der Erlkönig, the Goblin King, has come to claim the hand in marriage she once promised him. He bewitches Käthe and entices Liesl to a game. If she loses, she surrenders her sister. If she wins, however, even more is lost. As Liesl begins to understand the cruel twists in the game, she finds herself on the verge of an impossible decision.
I wanted this book when it was a publishing deal. Then we had a summary. When I saw that cover? I was a goner! I've read it twice already, once really early last summer, and once this past week--and the book only came out this past week! Both times, I was utterly enchanted and spellbound, caught up in 1800 Germany, bespelled by the wonders of the Goblin Market, entranced by the dangers of the Underground. I've been on this journey right there with Liesl, and truly come to know her. It's ironic, really: Liesl doesn't even know herself for a good portion of the book. She's been so intent on the needs of her family that she's never taken the time to know herself. It's only in the Underground that she begins to bloom and accept herself, from the good to the ugly.
What's interesting is that as Liesl discovers herself, she goes through so many extremes and, at times, her emotions can be all over the place. This made her feel weak the first time I read the book, but as I read it again, I thought she may be bi-polar. She goes through these manic episodes of creations, then has bursts of desolation and nothingness. To quote Hamilton, she writes like she's running out of time--and she is. Quite literally. The longer Liesl remains in the Underground, the more of herself she gives, and the closer to death she nears. Liesl is fully allowed to swing from one emotion to the next, because as happy as she is with Der Erlkönig, she also misses the land of the living and being alive.
And Der Erlkönig? Whew! He is a force to be reckoned with. He is full of malice and trickery, but he can also be kind and gentle. He plays dangerous games with stakes that are impossible and traps himself into horrible situations. There were times when I utterly disliked him, and times when I absolutely adored him. Sometimes I could see the David Bowie Labyrinth version of the Goblin King in him, but I also saw him as unique, complex character with many facets. And the romance between Der Erlkönig and Liesl? Well, let's just say that the publisher kept switching the book's genre from YA to Adult and back again. After being scrubbed of most of the sexy times, it now resides permanently in the YA category. While the romance isn't as graphic as recent Sarah J. Maas books, it's more explicit than a lot of YA titles, and is definitely for older teens and adults. When S. Jae-Jones talked about her manuscript, she called it "50 Shades of Labyrinth." So there is that.
If you're looking for an adventure full of sweeping romance, dangerous stakes, and traversing the perils of self-discover, definitely take a look at WINTERSPELL this month. It's full of both lore and originality, and will sing to your soul as it finds its way into your heart.
***WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones was released on February 7, 2017 from Thomas Dunne/Macmillan Books.