Author: S. Jae-Jones
Release: February 7th 2017
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, YA
Series: Untitled (companion novel)
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.
DNF at 60% through.
I can't even tell you what annoyed me the most about this novel, because there were so many things.
First off, the whole special-snowflake-slut-shaming thing. Our protagonist, Liesl, is plain. She whines about this fact only, oh, about a million fucking times throughout the book. I get it, it's hard, but come on. Especially since her "plain" features are only described as the standard European beauty epitome. Tall, slender build, white skin, maybe a bit flat-chested but in the model business you'd be immediately hired with those features. And please stop with the goddamn slut-shaming? She even does this to her own younger sister. What's wrong with you?
“Looking at Käthe, it was difficult to forget how sinful our bodies were, just how prone we were to wickedness. [...] Clothed in clinging fabrics, with every line of her body exposed, every gasp of pleasure unconcealed, everything about Käthe suggested voluptuousness.”
Honestly ... I don't even want to go into too much detail of why I find this paragraph so hugely problematic. Käthe is naive and dumb because she is pretty, knows it, and owns her beauty, but of course pretty girls can only ever be stupid. In contrast, Liesl, as the chaste plain girl, is of course far more superior because she doesn't flirt with everyone she meets. Gross stereotyping.
But when Liesl does express sexuality and sexual desire, that's suddenly ... okay? Like, nowhere in the narrative is this described as impure or dirty, excuse me, "sinful." What the fuck?
“I did not want to be desperate. But I was. Oh God, please touch me, I thought. Please.”
Next up, the world-building. This also goes hand in hand with the writing style, both of them things I want to criticize. For the first quarter or so, this book takes place in historical Germany. When exactly, you ask? Jae-Jones never fucking tells us. It's ridiculous. There's not really much to say about this Germany, because we don't get to see very much of it, but here's where writing comes in: It is a particular pet peeve of mine that when novels take place in foreign countries the author just has to throw in words in that language randomly. Just for the funsies, I guess. This bothers me so much, especially when it's included in dialogue, because no way would I ever just randomly say ONE word in German in a conversation, when there's a perfectly suitable word for what I need to express in English anyway. Why is this so necessary? If you so desperately need this trope to remind us of where we are, setting-wise, then you're doing a shitty job with your setting. Not to mention that it's just so unbearably cringe-y.
Also, what REALLY irked me was that Jae-Jones just insists on saying "Der Erlkönig" all the damn time. Does she knows that "der" is an article? And that we Germans actually decline our articles? So "der" Erlkönig (which is nominative) was the wrong case/declension 90% of the time it was used in this novel. This only fueled my rage into infinity.
On another note:
“Servus, Constanze,” I said.
No. Just no. Please don't. I beg you.
Anyway, the Underworld or Goblin Kingdom if you will, wasn't much better world-building wise. I feel like Jae-Jones' writing was much too dense to really flow naturally and I skipped a lot of her lengthy, excruciatingly in-detail descriptions. They were unnecessary and added no actual depth to the world whatsoever. The dialogue felt extremely stilted and the pacing was so, so off pretty much the entire time, which is why I personally felt like the plot just came along extremely inorganically. It felt like I was dropped from plot point to plot point like sack of flour.
Moreover, the characters, as I already kind of alluded to, just really were not my thing, either. They were the only thing that could have possibly salvaged this novel for me, and who knows, maybe they do get better and more relatable during those last 40% that I am never going to read, but as far as I came along, they weren't particularly well-written. Liesl, to me, was a pretentious, whiny brat with a personality as "plain" as her looks and the Goblin King was just... there. He doesn't even have a damn name, which also really bothered me. Because then Liesl always addressed him as "mein Herr," which contributes to the awkward dialogue I mentioned and severely underlines the power imbalance between them. And that, in turn, makes it impossible to "ship" them in any way, for me at least, even if they were solid characters that I could get behind (which they're not).
Last but not least, and something that is indeed my own fault, it's just not what I wanted or expected from it. I like to go into novels relatively blind, so the only thing I knew was that Liesl had to rescue her sister from the Goblin King. You know what I imagined? An epic, adventurous quest through Faery, maybe even with a ragtag group of people Liesl allies herself with to help her rescue her sister, and the Goblin King as the villain. This novel could not be further from that if I'd tried. So, in that aspect alone, this was already predestined to not be to my liking. It's not the entirely book's fault, I'll give you that.
P.S. No German would nickname Elisabeth to Liesl and Katharina to Käthe...? It's Lissy and Kathi.