February 6, 2018
Expectations can be funny things. We bring them to almost everything we do or experience, and they can influence what we do in any particular situation. The first book in a duology carries a lot of expectations, with the very real possibility of defying all of them, to positive and negative result. So it seems to have gone with Wintersong, the debut novel from S. Jae-Jones, a book which I thought did admirably in forging its own path.
I read Shadowsong oddly without any expectations, even after having loved its predecessor, and the experience was more fulfilling and compelling than I could have hoped for. It beckoned me forward not by answering questions for me, but by asking them: what did I think would happen at the end of Liesl’s time with the Goblin King? Where might her heart lie? How would her life resume? Could it ever resume the way it had been?
Sometimes the answer is no.
Jae-Jones dives straight into the aftermath from the first chapter, through the letters that Liesl sends to her beloved brother, Josef (called Sepperl). There is a quiet desperation in Liesl’s words, as only silence answers her. Life goes on, you see, and Liesl’s time with the Goblin King did not stop time or her loved ones from changing and moving forward. Liesl struggles with this, understandably so, and Jae-Jones does not shy away from the discomfort of it all.
Josef inhabits his chapters like a spark, and it’s easy to see why Liesl would be drawn to him and want to protect him. The secrets he discovers have the potential to change his life irrevocably, but Jae-Jones fortifies his character with a way back to his sister, and the strength they give each other. There are notes of personal experience that ring true here, for both Liesl and Josef—Jae-Jones provides a content warning at the beginning of the book and has spoken about the challenges posed by this story as she wrote it. They are the actions of a writer with deep compassion, not just for her characters but for the readers who might find themselves drawn to this world.
That said, you might wonder how much the Goblin King could figure in this book when so much of it revolves around Josef and Liesl’s relationship, as well as their relationship with their sister Kathe. What Jae-Jones brings forth in the Goblin King, and his connection to Liesl will likely surprise some readers. The intensity of their relationship is different now, and it beckons to different parts of them, in varying shades. Emotions deepen, frustrations grow, and people change. Jae-Jones does not ignore that, and the result is a deeply satisfying expansion of Liesl and the Goblin King.
Liesl says at the end of Wintersong that she is her own self, that she is complete as Liesl. It’s a welcome reminder and a map for Shadowsong, and perhaps, a reminder and a map for us as well.