Review: Wintersong // S. Jae-Jones

If you grew up watching Jim Henson’s movies like I did, then Labyrinth was probably one of your all-time favorites. Indeed, over the past several decades, the film has garnered an enormous fan-following, and for good reason: It’s absolutely spell-binding.

So, it was a no-brainer for me to pick up S. Jae-Jone’s 2017 debut novel Wintersong, which was described by Roshani Chokshi as “Labyrinth by way of Angela Carter.” Sold! And let me tell you, Jae-Jones (JJ) #delivered.

Now, don’t get it twisted. While Wintersong pays homage to Henson’s film by way of the Goblin King, it by no means mimics the movie. It stands as its own story, entire. Set in late 18th-century Bavaria, this novel is an amalgamation of genres layered together to form a beautiful paradigm of intrigue, romance, and darkness. It’s historical fiction meets fantasy meets fairy-tale meets gothic.

Rife with emotion and mystery, the story follows 18-year-old Liesl, eldest of three children and secret musical genius, who helps her financially-struggling family run an inn. Throughout her life, she has maintained faith with her grandmother’s teachings of Der Erlkönig, the Goblin King—keeper of mischief and wishes reckoned in the dark. Straddling the line between childhood fantasy and stoic adulthood, Liesl strives to find her place in her family, where her sister Käthe’s beauty is prized, where her brother Josef’s musical ability is worshipped . . . where Liesl is judged for her ‘plain’ face and her sex, unable to share her music for fear of ridicule and rejection.

But when Käthe is taken by the Goblin King to the Underground, Liesl must shed her fear and self-doubt and play his games, else risk upending the natural order of the world. Finders, keepers, dear Liesl . . .

Lush, enchanting, and daring, Wintersong explores self-identity through the transcendence of music, love, and loyalty. Liesl is insecurity dipped in bravery, and her awakening by the novel’s catharsis will leave you breathless, teary-eyed, and hungry for more.

Fingers crossed for a sequel!

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