Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Charming, sensual, bittersweet and beautifully written, this is the best book I have read in a long time. I wanted this book from the outset because of the cover, and in a strange twist, the book was as good as the cover suggested. The Bavarian setting and Victorian (?) time period gave this story a plush, shadowy sort of beauty, nestling the story and the characters into this gothy, gloomy imagery of true winter. From these shadows, it's all too believable that Liesl's childhood fairytales might creep to life. And they do.
Liesl is the unremarkable eldest daughter of a washed-up musician, now an innkeeper. She spends her time hurrying about after her sister, the town beauty about to marry Liesl's childhood crush, and giving her all to the dreams of her little brother, a talented violinist on the brink of a brilliant career, without much care for her own secret desires for magic, wonder, and music. She sidesteps the superstitions and tales of her bitter grandmother despite growing up believing every word, and pays for it when her sister is taken by the Erlkönig for his bride in the Underground. What follows is Liesl's desperate attempts to wade through the magic of fairytales come true to save her sister, and her self-realisation in the process.
There's a Labyrinth retelling feel for the first half. The Goblin King, the Underground, the race to save a sibling lost to arrogance and poor choices. I like, though, that this story diverges from that one by the halfway point and becomes its own beast. Liesl's conflicted desires drive the story onward into something both sad and luscious at the same time. I loved her dynamic relationship with the unknowable Erlkönig but also the very unique loves she has for her brother and her sister. Her relationships with each of her siblings is so very different, and I appreciated this distinction - a fiery and argumentative yet unshakable love between sisters so close in age, a protective and sweet love between a big sister and a frail little brother.
I *loved* the visual way this book approached music and composition. I felt like I could see and feel the music Liesl made in the way the author wove the shape and emotion of music into the narrative. Liesl is made of music - she thinks in musical terms, and itches to compose, and she sees it in everything and everyone. I liked her plenty as a lead character for her practicality and determination, but the music made her real, and gave perspective to all she did and achieved.
I am very excited to know there's a sequel coming out this year!
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