The best way to describe Wintersong is a child playing with fingerpaints. In the beginning, the child just toys around with basic colors, but then is amazed by what happens when you mix them, so they continue mixing and mixing until you cannot tell what the original colors were in the first place. The color that remains is disgusting and unappealing, but the child mixes more colors in it, desperately hoping that something good will come out of it… to no avail.
That’s essentially what S. Jae-Jones does throughout the entire book. Keep adding themes, characters, random details, and entire plotlines, and something has to come out of it, right? Right?
Wrong. Wintersong ends up being a hodgepodge of unnecessary details and unfinished plotlines: a literary Frankenstein that attempts to be “a spellbinding tale of music, love, sisterhood, and a young woman’s search for self-actualization” but ultimately ends up achieving none of those things, with a plotline so convoluted that all I could say at the end of the book was “What.”
Let’s start from the beginning: as a child, Liesl played with the Goblin King and promised to marry him, not realizing that it wasn’t a joke. She grows up and forgets about him, instead taking care of her siblings, Kathe and Josef, whose only important traits are apparently that Kathe is beautiful and Josef is musically talented. Alas, our protagonist is neither beautiful nor musically talented - a fact that she’ll rub in your face until you’re sick of it. But wait! Liesl is musically talented - it’s just that she’s not recognized for it! And since she’s musically talented, everything she says has to relate back to music in some way, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. And when her sister Kathe is kidnapped, she has to rescue her by temporarily getting rid of her musical ability somehow, and playing a game with the Goblin King to escape the Underground with her sister - which ends up being pointless, because the Goblin King can’t let her go… not unless she wants to doom the world to eternal winter! So Liesl stays to save the world by being the Goblin King’s bride and starts calling herself Elisabeth because that makes her more of a woman or something? And she’s repulsed by the Goblin King but at the same time is intrigued by him, and uh, goblins feed on the five senses, there are loreleis and changelings, Josef is a changeling, the Goblin King used to be a man, and that’s about it? I guess? If that was confusing, good. That’s what the book is like.
Prepare yourself for a story that is the epitome of teenage wish fulfillment, with characters that aren’t so much people as they are inconsistent character traits, a story so determined to surprise you that new developments lose all meaning, and protagonists so bland you’d rather read about Liesl’s goblin handmaidens than Liesl’s relationship with the Goblin King - which is uncomfortable to read about at its best, and downright disturbing at its worst.
To be fair, all the warning signs were there. When the author began making superfluous physical descriptions of all the characters, it should have been a red flag. But I continued anyway, holding on to the desperate, optimistic hope that it would get better while simultaneously wanting to scream and bang my head against a table (because doing that would have made me lose less brain cells than finishing this book did).
With all the music references Wintersong makes, I think it’s fitting to make one of my own: Wintersong is like a discordant child bashing his hands on a piano without any semblance of how it works; making noise just for the sake of making noise. It’s fair to say that Wintersong is a solid 2 out of 5; its absolute trainwreck of a plot and inconsistent characters make that adamantly clear. The only reason why it’s not lower is because I’m genuinely sad that this is what the YA fantasy genre has to offer.
Review by Janice R.
The book Wintersong is a raw and beautiful book that shows the meaning of sacrifice through the story of a girl named Elisabeth (although used to more childish nicknames like Liesl). She’s known for working to help provide for her younger brother and sister. Like her brother, she has a genius talent for music that she has to keep away due to the day and age; as time goes on, she finds herself stagnant while her siblings rise to happiness and their goals. In the event that her sister gets kidnapped by mysterious beings that her Grandmother warns her about, Elisabeth does whatever she can to keep herself and her family alive. A figure from her childhood, she reunites with the Goblin King and undertakes a journey that reveals her true worth and teaches her survival and sacrifice.
Wintersong is a beautifully crafted book with a rich understanding of what passion is portrayed through Elisabeth’s love for music. At some points however, there are sections where the story drags and there are questions still unanswered (depending on the reader’s understanding of the story) due to the slightly open ending; although I do think that’s what adds to the charm of the story, letting the reader think for themselves and give a future to the characters fit to the reader’s liking. Overall, I definitely recommend this book for mature, teenage readers looking for a good novel to read.
Review by: Joann L.
I’m sick of reading book series’. There, I said it. No, really, if I see the words “To be Continued” one more time, I’m going to swan dive into a sweaty children’s playpen. So when I picked up S. Jae-Jones’s “Wintersong: A Novel,” I almost started praising the Lord/Mysterious Entity/Invisible Guy in the Sky for bestowing this otherworldly gift upon me. An actual, singular, stand-alone novel. And for the most part, my mood stayed like that until I got to the last page- and there it was. “To be Continued”. “Hi, Siri, could you direct me to the nearest Chuck E. Cheese’s?”
Besides backstabbing me with a rusty fork, the book is an alluring, rustic fairy tale. The book is set in 17th century Germany, and follows budding composer, Liesl Vogler, who journeys underground to rescue her sister Kathe from the Goblin King. While saving Kathe is Liesel’s initial objective, the story ventures beyond the premise. Wintersong’s primary focus is Liesel’s journey to womanhood rather than her journey to the Goblin Kingdom.
Although Jae-Jones’s writing style is bewitching and fits perfectly within the time period, her characters are not. Lisel initially suffers from an inferiority complex and buries herself in ten layers of woe-is-me. However, Lisel does exhibit significant character growth, eventually becoming enjoyable. Overall, I’d give this book “8 iced cinnamon strudels” out of ten.
Review by Srija C.