All right, first up: when I heard this book was the story of the Goblin King, my first thought was, “Shades of Labyrinth.”
And, yes, for everyone who has grown up loving the David Bowie film, this is the book for you! S. Jae-Jones’s Wintersong has met all my expectations and more. It’s a beautiful romantic tale and when I say romantic, I don’t just mean a love story, but also a story that embodies all the feels of the Romantic Era.
Liesl has grown up listening to her grandmother’s tales of the Goblin King, the Lord of Mischief and Ruler of the Underground. But as the years pass, Liesl’s more preoccupied with helping to run her family’s inn and encourage her brother’s musical ambitions. She has no time for anything else, be it fairytales or her old love of composing music.
But when her sister Kathe is stolen by goblins, Liesl must travel to the Underground and match wits with the Goblin King if she wants to rescue her sibling. And in doing so, Liesl must learn just what she is willing to sacrifice and who she really is. Oh, and there is a goblin ball, and yes, everyone there wears masks!
Phew. So, as you can see, there are plenty of similarities to Labyrinth, but differences too. For one, this story is set in late 18th century Bavaria, not America in the late 80s/early 90s. For another, a sibling is taken but it’s not Liesl’s brother, it’s her sister. But there are other complications, and Liesls’ relationship with her family differs to that of Sarah’s with Toby. I also love that Jones hasn’t succumbed to the usual stereotypical characters but has imbued each character with their own strengths and weaknesses, quirks and desires. (Though at the same time, I wanted to find out more about them, particular brother Josef’s story. I’ve heard there might be a sequel/companion story though so I’m guessing that might feature him.) Also, as much as I love Labyrinth, as I grew older, certain parts of the story no longer satisfied me, in particular the ones that seemed more geared towards children. At times, Labyrinth straddled the boundary between kid’s movie and sensuous adult story – Wintersong basically takes the same elements and brings them firmly into adult (or at least young adult) territory.
Wintersong is essentially a love story but at the same time it’s also about Liesl learning to find out just who she is. The writing is sensuous and lyrical; the goblins are cunning and malicious, at times evoking the same feel of the capricious, whimsical faeries in Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. As a former piano player, I also really enjoyed the musical references in the book – almost everyone in the book is musical and I loved running my tongue over familiar old musical terms like pizzicato and arpeggio, scordatura and allegro. I’m also a huge fan of period movies about classical musicians so this was definitely right up my alley. Also speaking of which, I wonder if Franz Liszt was also an inspiration for Jones’s Goblin King?