Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones was my first read of 2018 and what a spectacular read it was!

Title: Wintersong
Series: Wintersong #1
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Publication: February 7th 2017, Titan Books
Pages: 436 Pages, Paperback
Source: Thank you to Titan Books for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!
Rating: 4.5/5

Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.
All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.
But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.
Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

Wintersong was the first book I read in 2018, and it was brilliant. I haven’t felt so immersed in a book in months. It was addictive, mesmerising and rich. Add this darkened fairy tale to your reading list, and fall in love with the magical world S.Jae Jones has composed.

There were many things I loved about this book, but perhaps the most striking thing was the writing. You know when you find a book whose writing you connect with? A book whose writing feels like sugar-iced snow; the sweetest, saddest melody and spun gold? A book that is richly layered and reveals it’s buried secrets the further you find yourself in its pages? A book with writing that is haunting and lilting, a melody itself? The writing in this book was utterly incredible. It was enchanting, sensual and simply otherworldly. The sentences flowed into one another with the elegance and grace of a spinning ballerina. SJJ’s writing is utterly captivating. I have found my new writing inspiration. 

I loved the atmosphere; it was dark, tense and gleaming with enchantment. This book reads like a fairy tale; a sensual, dangerous tale that explores the contradictory emotions of human nature, the painfulness of loneliness and the otherworldly beauty of selfless love. I adored the European setting of the first half of the book, and I adored the macabre beauty of the Underground. It was haunting and eerie, dusted with gold.

The one thing that prevented me from giving this book a full five stars was the plot, or, simply, the lack of plot in the second part of the book. This book is essentially split into two parts: Liesl trying to rescue Kathe from the Underground and Liesl living Underground with the Goblin King. Despite that, I still really enjoyed this book in its entirety. There was a constant air of mystery, danger and trepidation, a constant hint of the fine line the characters walked between chaos and tenuous calm. This book wasn't fast-paced, but it was richly detailed and deliciously in-depth. Once Liesl reached the Underground, there was a deceleration in pace and a fading of plot, but that is where the chiselling, refining and excavating of Liesl and the Goblin King's very beings began. Even though the second half of the book wasn't fast-paced and was slightly repetitive, I couldn't put it down. I read this book in three sittings. The world SJJ crafted captured me and confined me, rendering me incapable of escaping. Intoxicating and alluring like the Goblin King Himself, I couldn't put it down. Despite the second part not being plot-heavy, there were subtle revelations and hinted mysteries that added an extra layer of intrigue to the story and that, alongside the writing and the characters and the romance, compelled me to keep reading.
I loved how this book focused heavily on family as well. I loved Liesl's relationship with her younger brother and her sister. . She was her little brother's confidante, his guardian; he was her teacher and the one who understood her. There was also the loving, yet jealous, relationship with her younger sister. The family dynamics were complex, loving, protective and wounded. I adored how realistic Liesl's relationship with her siblings were: there was fierce, protective love but also jealousy and darker emotions. The relationships were tender and complex and deeply layered. Lovely, but flawed, as many things are.

Another aspect I adored about this book was the musical aspect. I play piano, guitar and I sing (not very well, if I'm being honest). I absolutely adored the musical element this book featured. The all-consuming inferno of concertos, minor scales and ivory keys that sparked the heart of Liesl and her family was beautiful. I could relate to a great deal of the sentiments Liesl expressed, especially the encompassing desire to make music. I have gone through phases where I've felt hypnotised by a melody and compelled to unleash it again and again and again for an eternity. It was as if Jones snatched the beating butterfly wings of the passion in composing, the penetrating power of sung notes and the sheer beauty of music and pinned it into her book, with metaphors and poetry as the push-pin. However, even if you aren't musically inclined, I'm sure you'll be able to appreciate the burning passion and the raw love that the characters felt when creating music. After reading this book I wanted nothing more than to sit at a piano and have my being unravelled by the melody I played.

You know what else I loved? The characters. Oh, how I loved the characters! They were so complex, contradictory, vulnerable, magical and unpredictable. They were so real. There wasn't a single perfect character in the book; it was extraordinary. There's Liesl: dutiful, obedient, plain, ashamed and scared. The music is locked inside her, straining to get out; however, harsh words and belittling circumstances have her made her lose confidence in the brilliance she's beginning to doubt she ever had. Liesl was an interesting character. Not only because she wasn't the chosen one, she wasn't physically beautiful (a fact acknowledged by the characters in this book) nor was she the brave, confident heroine you'd expect to find in a YA fantasy story. She's flawed and she's human. She's jealous and she's wishful and she's selfless. She undergoes immense change and her development is expressed with admirable dexterity. From the first few pages I realised there was the true version of Liesl locked within herself, and as the book wore on, I watched the author stoke the fire and release Liesl's character in an explosive manner. The simmering traits that were laced, hidden, through the first part of the book came exploding to the surface in the presence of the Goblin King. The desire, the brilliance, the raw hunger and the pride roared to life. Liesl went from an ashamed and shadowed girl to a fiercely brave, ravenous, confident woman. Her change was drastic, but not surprising, not unbelievable. I could write more on Liesl's character, but I feel like this is where I should mention the Goblin King. For it feels like Liesl could not exist without the Goblin King. They sustain one another; their souls waltz together; they compliment each other in such a manner that I'm not sure where the one starts and the other ends.

The Goblin King tempted a maelstrom of emotion within me. Initially it was mistrust, anger and shock. With his wolfish, enchanting exterior he was magic, myth and danger personified. I didn't trust him and, at first, I wasn't drawn to him.
And then I was. 
His capricious nature and his deceptive games, his flashes of gentleness and humanity that appeared in lightning flashes chipped away at the mistrust of him I harboured. He was terrifying; he was powerful. Yet I wouldn't dare insult him by labelling him as a stereotypical bad boy: he was far too complex for that. I started out with a hardened heart towards him; I didn't see how I could grow to like him, but SJJ is clearly a remarkable the end of the book I had fallen in love with him. He had softened my heart and moulded it in his calloused hands, leaving his fingerprints all over it. He was terrifying and terrified, in love, ashamed, guilt-stricken and aggrieved. He was tender and lost, raw and exposed. I feel like his character was written with so many layers and such painful honesty. I feel like I could analyse his character, reading this book again and again, yet never quite reaching the bottom of his infinite depth. I'd actually love to reread this in the future, as I know it's the type of book that will relinquish new insights and new depths with every reread. I absolutely loved the Goblin King. He was wild and untameable, passionate and gentle; his personality is incapable of being captured in a few adjectives. I loved how the characters were unravelled and refined, moulded and broken and stitched back together again. They were constantly evolving and constantly offering up previously hidden secrets of themselves. There were moments of epiphany where the threads of who they were formed a breathtaking masterpiece of an image and I (aha!) felt like I truly understood them.

I said I couldn't mention Liesl without mentioning the Goblin King and that's true, which brings me to their relationship. I loved their relationship. It was passionate and gentle; tenuous yet unbreakable; selfish yet selfless. It was contradictory and stark in contrast, so multifaceted that I don't think I can stitch all the pieces together to form an accurate image of their romance in this review. They fitted together so perfectly. The Goblin King was Liesl's catalyst to her growth and her self-discovery and she a balm, a key to his wounded, hidden self. Their differences and similarities pushed and tainted and excavated their true selves. I felt as if they bared their souls on the page, yet they only truly revealed themselves to one another. They were exposed, but only attainable to each other. Their relationship was extraordinary. I loved the romance. I loved how the Goblin King looked beyond the exterior and fell in love with Liesl's entirely; I loved how Liesl prodded and demanded and sought until she found the humanity in the Goblin King. I loved watching the shifting, evolving dynamics between them. Games, tugs of wars for power, and trickery that reached a powerful crescendo before lulling into  a softened hymn of truth and gentleness, understanding and pure love. Throughout the novel, the author added remnants of nostalgia and forgotten memories, liberating traits of innocence that were lost to the surface. A shifting jigsaw puzzle of raw, magical emotions that, when completed, revealed the most heart-rending of love stories. And that's what I found in these pages: a woven tapestry of artistic brilliance that is the passionate, enchanting, heartbreaking, beautiful love story of Liesl and the Goblin King. It was sensual, intimate and complex.

Another thing I found very interesting and what I thought was handled very well, was the faith of Liesl and the Goblin King (more so the latter). This book isn't religious but the Goblin King did have faith. Rarely does one see the mention of God, of Jesus, in fantasy, so it was a pleasant surprise. Especially seeing as it was done so artfully and gently. As a Christian, I loved seeing the Goblin King acknowledge and revere God. If you're going to write a religious character into a fantasy story, that's how you do it.

Wintersong was sensual, dark and enchanting. The haunting words strung together were reminiscent of the melancholic echoes of a violin's dying song that resonated within me. S. Jae-Jones is a remarkably talented writer. The depth and detail, the infinite layers of the characters and the relationships, the unforgettable song of her spellbinding writing and the fairy tale atmosphere that swept me up made Wintersong a spectacular read that I couldn't help but love.

I give it: 4.5 cupcakes