Death and the Composer, or my review of Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones


Wintersong (Wintersong #1)

By: S. Jae-Jones

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Publication Date: February 7th 2017

Format: Hardcover

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 and spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen and helping to run her family’s inn, Liesel 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. With time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.

Dark, romantic, and powerful, Wintersong will sweep you away into a world you won’t soon forget.


4 star (griffin)

Note: this is a much later review by me, Ro, of a book also reviewed by Em. We definitely thought different things about the book, and if you want to check out her thoughts you should click here

I’d met S. Jae-Jones (or JJ, as she prefers to be called) numerous times before I’d actually picked up her book. I’d heard her speak at multiple YA events around NC, and even had a drink with her after the Aru Shah launch party. But again, I’d never actually read any of her books. I finally decided to change that recently, and picked up Wintersong. Although I wasn’t sure of what to expect, I deeply enjoyed it.

Wintersong is a story about Liesl/Elisabeth, who comes from a musical family and composes music, although her gift is ignored in favor of her brother’s talent for the violin. After her sister goes missing, taken by the Goblin King, she makes a deal–herself in exchange for her sister, as one woman must go to his halls underground as a sacrifice. Although she finds herself drawn to the King, who in turn encourages her composing, she still longs to be back with her family, who without her is falling apart, and worried about what it truly means to give herself up.

The first thing I found myself taken by was (very unexpectedly) the setting. I didn’t expect to actually like a portrayal of Bavaria, but I thought that JJ did a good job in making it feel both as if it could be the Germany I knew but also placing it somewhere slightly more mythical. The point at which I had to grin was when she got a bit of dialect right. Having family from Bavaria, I wasn’t expecting such a good portrayal of my other homeland. But JJ succeeded in drawing me in.

Elisabeth was a harder character to like–but because I’d heard JJ speak, I was anticipating this. She’d spoken several times previously about how Elisabeth has her bipolar disorder, and how writing her as a character was both gratifying and frustrating. Although it was less discernible at the beginning, later on I could definitely see Elisabeth’s periods of highs and lows. But they tied into the story well–her disorder was an essential part of her character, and drove the story as such. And I sympathized with her, not just in dealing with mental illness, but in other ways. I could relate to how Elisabeth felt trapped, her desire to create, her passion but her wariness of it, and other things. She felt very real to me–not perfect, but real.

And although there was a hint of Stockholm Syndrome with the romance, and it was definitely not an unproblematic romance, I enjoyed how it grew and changed–how Elisabeth pulled her austere Goblin King into letting his guard down, how they bonded over music, how genuine their bond felt by the end of the story. The realization that they were both trapped changed the story for me, to something that felt less like kidnapping and more like two people desperate for connection trying to make something work.

But at the same time, I loved Elisabeth’s devotion to her family, her enduring love for them, even though she also acknowledged that they were not always perfect people. Her love for all of them literally kept them grounded, which I thought was an excellent plot point. And her choice, between family and the Goblin King, felt all the more heart wrenching for it.

In short, I really should have picked this book up sooner, but I’m glad I did eventually pick it up. The honest depiction of mental illness, the setting, and Elisabeth herself all drew me in and wouldn’t let me go. And, although JJ has said that the sequel was the most difficult book she’d ever written in her life, I can’t wait to dig into it. AND, for those of you who are also fantasy nerds like me and Em, she’s writing a 4-part fantasy series RIGHT NOW. 

rosi name

Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.

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