My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Wintersong is a fairytale re-telling based upon the German poem Der Erlkonig and stories of the Goblin King. The author takes a relatively short poem and breathes life into it, translating the dark words into an entire world. Liesl has heard tales of the Goblin King from her grandmother since she was a small child. Even played make-believe in the Goblin Grove with her Goblin King, but as she grew older she lost her faith in the old stories. Even her brother and sister seemed not to heed the old woman’s warnings. She warned Liesl that she must protect both siblings – she would be faced with a choice and mustn’t choose wrong.
This dire warning and her later choices set her on a journey to the Underworld. It is dark, earthy and primal, full of creatures that Liesl does not understand or trust. The land itself is well-described and forms itself within the reader’s mind. Though you would never hope to call it home, it has its own ancient and crude form of beauty.
The characters are unique, although generally not faceted or well-developed in their personalities. Perhaps our main character just does not know them as well as she believes, for her view is quite flat. Her sister, Kathe is beautiful and cares only about similarly pretty and frivolous things. Her brother, Josef is a talented musician who fears his music is a “gift” from the Devil. Her grandmother is superstitious, her mother hard-working and aloof, and her father a drunk. Sadly, we don’t get to see or experience any depth of personality, nor are they given the chance to develop over the course of the novel. As our main character is in the Underworld, the lack of development is understandable which is why I wish they were more fleshed out initially.
Liesl herself is a strange mix of traits with her love of music and composition, intense lack of confidence and anger stemming from her belief that she is ugly and unwanted. Her choices are both selfish and selfless. She is a mass of contradictions and broken beliefs. While she is an interesting character, I don’t find her to be particularly relatable. I didn’t connect with any of the characters in the novel, although I enjoyed the story itself. I’m sure there are others who would find similarities between themselves and one of the characters, making this book more impactful.
Finally, the Goblin King himself – who seems to be like two people in one. At times, we see the younger, more open man that he was and could be again while at others the cold, quick to anger Trickster of the Underworld is at the forefront. More intriguing than his present is his story, you wonder how did he become the Erlkonig? For he is not the first, nor shall he be the last. He is more human than his subjects and thus this difference is what fascinated me. I wanted that story, more than him demanding Liesl in her “entire” and her being unable to give of herself, fully, yet.
It was an interesting story even though I didn’t particularly care for the characters. I recommend this book for older young adult/teen readers who enjoy fantasy and fairytale books. The writing is very poetic and beautifully descriptive. I don’t regret reading this book, but I also wouldn’t personally go out and buy a physical copy of it for my shelf.