My Rating: 5 stars
Wintersong has been one of my favorite books since it first came out in 2017, and I’ve been looking for a chance to reread it for ages. Jae-Jones combines the David Bowie film Labyrinth with The Phantom of the Opera and Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market to create this dark and beautiful story of a young woman who becomes the Goblin King’s bride. It’s another book that I feel was basically written for me because it combines so many things I love. Everything about the novel is gorgeous, including the cover and Jae-Jones’s title page illustration. But the true stars are her elegant writing, particularly her descriptions of music, and the way she develops her characters.
Our protagonist and narrator is Elisabeth, also called Liesl. She feels overshadowed by both of her siblings, plain and homely compared to her beautiful sister, Kathë, and unskilled compared to her violin prodigy brother, Josef. She has pushed down her own desires for so long in favor of taking care of her parents’ inn and nurturing her brother’s talent. A large part of the story is her trying to find herself and let her own talent for composing shine. I personally found Liesl an incredibly relatable main character due to this struggle, and I think a lot of other people will too. She is also quite similar to Jane Eyre, who is one of my favorite literary main characters, which Jae-Jones has acknowledged was done on purpose. I also loved her characterization of the Goblin King and his dual personalities. We see him both as the cold and cruel Der Erlkönig and the kinder, austere young man. Jae-Jones balances and moves between the two aspects of the character well and makes him incredibly seductive no matter which part Liesl and the reader are seeing.
Though this is considered a young adult book, it definitely more on the mature side of the genre. I’ve taken to referring to books like this as “adult young adult.” I suppose new adult would be the proper term, although it seems to have died out a bit as a category. Liesl is in her late teens or early twenties, and there are several sex scenes. While they aren’t explicit, it also isn’t a fade to black scenario. I personally really like this; I tend to find myself gravitating toward these adult YA/NA books when I do read the genre, likely because I am an adult However, I think it’s important to recognize that this isn’t necessarily a book for younger members of the YA audience. I will say, though I adore the book exactly what it is, I’m desperately curious to see what it would have been like if Jae-Jones hadn’t been restricted by the YA categorization.
Overall, Wintersong is my favorite fantasy novel, and I can’t recommend it enough. It is beautiful and dark, but ultimately ends with hope.