Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
So, I buddy read this with my girl Lea, and I would highly recommend reading her review because she picks apart issues with consent, and being German she has A+ critique on the use of language. I will also mention now that had I not been reading his with her then I would’ve DNF around page 70. Her sass was literally the only thing keeping me going. (Example: one of the best things Lea said in our discussion was that this is more ‘Fifty Shades of Goblin’ than a Labyrinth retelling. (Go an commend her on that pun because I died.))
Now, I know I’ve definitely seen the movie, but I can hardly remember it, so I was coming at this expecting to learn about the fairytale. I can tell you now: the world building is poor and the plot is practically non-existent. Not only that but the writing did not sit well with me, so buckle up, for a discussion on *jazz hands* CRAFT (and some other things that were bad.)
Before we get into the writing, let’s just talk about concept and marketing. I was intrigued with this book in the first place because the blurb makes it sound like one girl’s quest to save her sister. Now, there are levels of sisterly dedication. You’ve got Ana from Frozen who is 100% dedicated to finding/saving her sister that nothing gets in her way. Elsa is the number one thing on her mind all the time. Even when she’s with Kristoff, she’s like ‘sorry, but I need to focus on getting to my sister.’ Then there’s Scarlett from Caraval who is still dedicated to finding Tella, but she gets easily distracted by boys, and forgets her main quest every now and again, but the important thing is, she always find her way back. THEN THERE’S LIESL WHO FORGETS ABOUT KATHE THE SECOND SHE’S IN THE UNDERGROUND. Kathe gets mentioned throughout the book a couple of times, but she is in no way Liesl’s number one quest. Lisle’s number one quest is to become a woman by losing her virginity to TGK. (Once again, I guide you to Lea’s review for why this is WRONG on so many levels.)
If you’re marketing this as a book about sisterly devotion, then I actually need to be convinced the sisters care about each other. The way they were coveting each other’s boyfriends and never using common sense, seriously took away from that.
Now I’ve had my beef, time to talk about the writing.
2. building tension
The blurb tells you Liesl becomes The Goblin King’s wife. (He will henceforth be referred to as TGK) So, it’s absolutely NO surprise when this happens, the worse bit it it doesn’t happen until p.200+
Generally this book loses all sense of plot once Liesl is in the underground. She marries TGK…then what? NOTHING. Well apart from it becoming Fifty Shades of Goblin there was nothing. I could not work out what Liesl’s desires or motivations were as soon as she was with TGK, because then she had everything she’d ever wanted??
The author also relied way too heavily on line breaks to build small amount of tension scene for scene. My best example is the reoccurring use of ‘It was the Goblin King’ in the first part. It would go a little something like this:
‘There was someone else in the room.
It was the Goblin King.’
*ten pages later*
‘I could feel his presence around me.
The Goblin King.’
*another ten pages later*
‘There was no way of escaping his eyes.’
The Goblin King.’
You see what’s happening here? Every time TGK is introduced into the scene he gets an isolated line for his name. While this is okay to use once, and maybe even twice you could get away with it (albeit if it was way later than ten pages away) but 3 times in 30 pages? No way. Now, this might seem nit-picky to you, but to me as an Creative Writing student at university, this kind of thing leaps out.
This refers to saying ‘don’t’ instead of ‘does not.’ Usually you’ll find that an author has a preference and they will stick to it. There was absolutely no consistency, and if you think it doesn’t matter then you might not realize how much of a difference there can be in tone and voice. Not using elision normally makes for a more formal register and can even give off an archaic feel. It can also make a command more demanding or powerful. The change between the two was not handled well, it was like the author just decided they wanted a sentence to feel special so wouldn’t use elision.
In Lea’s review she mention that the writing was trying to be poetic, but came off as pretentious, a huge reason for this is the use of archaic sentence structure e.g.:
a) ‘We both knew he was lying’ becomes ‘We both knew it for a lie’
b) ‘You don’t know what you do to me’ becomes ‘Because you know not what you do’
My poetry tutor says this is something novice poets do to make their work sound more interesting when it’s more about word choice and more importantly APPROPRIATE word choice or sentence structure that makes a pice good.
Even using overly flowery language or ‘purple prose’ will make things sound pretentious, and it constantly felt like the writing was telling me it was impressive rather than showing me. It wasn’t impressive at all, it was confusing.
I rolled my eyes so many times when reading this book, and I hope my attempts to explain why I really didn’t like the writing make sense. (It’s so often I find in reviews people claiming the writing is bad, but they never go into detail, so hopefully these things will help you work out why a book might feel off to you, or it might even help you with your own writing if you can see you do any of these things!)
So, with everything that Lea said, the fact there’s no driving plot and that the writing was not for me, this book gets 1 star.
What’s the worst book/most disappointing you’ve read so far this year?