Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

“What’s the use of running, if we are on the wrong road.”

Labyrinth was the first thing that came to mind when approaching this book – which, of course, could have been the point – and that alone peaked my interest, expecting that mythical and imaginative vision. Wintersong lived up to that expectation somewhat, in terms of the familiarity of forests and villages and curiosity, but it came as nothing more than a satisfactory read by the end.

Nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales about the mysterious Goblin King, the muse which her music is composed, but her dreams of composition must be set aside in favour of other concerns. Her sister, Käthe, is taken by the goblins, and Liesl must journey to their realm to rescue her.

“The kiss is sweeter than sin and fiercer than temptation. I am not gentle, I am not kind; I am rough and wild and savage.”

Sometimes it seemed unsure of itself, switching between dynamics within moments, making the realism of character believability questionable; the relationship between Liesl and The Goblin King changes between tolerance and romance several times, which could be, and is, explained by their history and childhood together, but even then it feels like a stretch to say it has a consistent, blanched reasoning for such differences. Seeing a gradual development between the two would have made emotions, both as individuals and as a couple, more realistic.

One relationship that was is between Josef (Liesl’s bother) and Frances. Although they didn’t have many scenes together, nicely portrayed through Liesl’s point of view, their growing attraction and then love felt genuine and pure. It was also lovely to see it as a gay romance, representing it in a beautiful way as they bonded over their adoration for music.

“There is music in your soul. A wild and untamed sort of music that speaks to me. It defies all the rules and laws you humans set upon it. It grows from inside you, and I have a wish to set that music free.”

The theme of family, greed, power, and jealousy were, to me, the strongest elements of the book, too. Struggling and strained connections with parents and siblings but still loving them nonetheless, enough to make sacrifices in one’s own life, using them as the driving force to keep you going in times of isolation and loneliness. Not only did it show within Liesl’s family dynamics, but within the Underground with the goblins, the King having power over his people, yet most of it is done under a facade, boring a vulnerability underneath; which, despite being a cliché, it isn’t to say it’s not an interesting trope.

To me, Wintersong worked well as a standalone, but I’m curious enough to seek out the sequel.

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Huntress by Malinda Lo

“All you can do is make your decisions based on what you know now.”

Huntress sounded promising, with its High Fantasy setting led by Asian characters, following a path of quest and adventure, completed with a lesbian romance. While those elements in themselves were brilliant, others such as plot and style became a distraction, overwhelming the former. Despite what became a somewhat disappointing read in some ways, in others it was enjoyable and interesting experience, one I’d recommend to readers looking for a sweet and innocent love and scattered scenes of action.

In the human world, nature is out of balance, meaning people’s lives are in crisis. Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls are picked to solve it, headed on a dangerous and unheard of journey to visit The Fairy Queen. The Kingdom only needs one huntress to save them, and what it takes could tear the two girls and their love for one another apart forever. A prequel to Ash.

“She had never known that ice could take on so many shades of blue: sharp lines of indigo like the deepest sea, aquamarine shadows, even the glint of blue-green where the sun struck just so.”

The biggest issue, above all, was the decision to write in third-person omniscient. Lo attempted it with determination and almost well execution towards the end of the novel, but it borders on head-hopping a good majority of the time. Transitions are clunky and sudden, erasing any form of smoothness from one character’s thoughts to another. It didn’t take on the “narrator” role of the style, all-knowing and dipping into backstory with clean breaks, instead straying into subjective when it probably should’ve been objective. And, at times, it became third-person limited, that inconsistency adding to the pressure of trying to understand everything going on.

It also adopted stilted and forced writing, especially in dialogue which, yes, could be explained away by the fact it’s in an otherworldly, fantasy setting, but sometimes it questioned the believability of characters. Because of that, getting involved with their individual stories – not only the main plot of journeying to another land, but the subplots of romance between Con and Shae, and the oaths Taisin swore to take as a Sage – became difficult.

“The world is inviolable: it has no beginning and no end. Those who seek to change it will be changed.”

Kaede and Taisin’s romance was much easier to get involved with, mainly because I’m a sucker when it comes to LGBT loves, but also because it was genuinely kind and well-written. In that regard, if anybody is interested more in seeing themselves represented in a healthy and good-natured way than the writing and plot, getting a copy of this title would be in your favour. During some points, it appeared like the certainty and effort put into the subplot wavered, supplying not much build-up to the official moments, but not to the same extent of the other pitfalls. Which, speaking of, was a common pattern throughout, dragged down with less interesting, info-dumping scenes, only to be brought to life with the excitement and then endearment when it came to fight or love scenes.

Huntress was a mixed bag, to say the least. Sometimes it was good, others times not so much. So, if anything, it was neutral.