Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones
Book Two of the Wintersong series
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Rating: 2 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley
Summary (from Goodreads):
Six months after the end of Wintersong, Liesl is working toward furthering both her brother’s and her own musical careers. Although she is determined to look forward and not behind, life in the world above is not as easy as Liesl had hoped. Her younger brother Josef is cold, distant, and withdrawn, while Liesl can’t forget the austere young man she left beneath the earth, and the music he inspired in her.
When troubling signs arise that the barrier between worlds is crumbling, Liesl must return to the Underground to unravel the mystery of life, death, and the Goblin King—who he was, who he is, and who he will be. What will it take to break the old laws once and for all? What is the true meaning of sacrifice when the fate of the world—or the ones Liesl loves—is in her hands?
What I Liked:
Shadowsong wasn't what I expected. Where Wintersong was focused on Liesl and the Goblin King's connection and relationship, Shadowsong was focused on Liesl and her relationship with her brother Josef. I thought this book would focus more on the Goblin King, from what I'd heard last year. Instead, the Goblin King was barely mentioned in this book. I was disappointed in that regard, and disappointed in the lack of music and whimsy in this book. It was a dark book, which I respect and admire, but it was nothing like Wintersong and nothing like my expectations following the announcement of this sequel.
This book takes place six months after Liesl leaves the Underground, and the Goblin King. She has been writing to her brother, desperate to hear how he is doing in Vienna, with his prestigious music instructor. One day he writes back, stating that the instructor is dead, and for her to come to Vienna. With the help of a mysterious benefactor, Liesl is able to travel to Vienna with her sister Kathe. They find Josef, but Josef is no longer who he wants was. He is distant and disinterested. And there is something strange about Liesl's benefactors. All the while, the Great Hunt is roaming the earth, and the barrier between worlds is thinning. Liesl must travel back to the Underground and make a final stand as the Goblin Queen, in order to save her world, or theirs.
The author's note talks about Liesl's bipolar disorder (or "madness", as bipolar disorder was not understand during this time period). Possibly the best/most well-written aspect of this book is the darkness and madness that Liesl struggles with. Liesl is constantly wrestling with herself - is she mad? Or is she lost in her sanity? She feels her loneliness acutely, just as she feels guilt and shame over her brother's distance from her. I may not have enjoyed this book or reading about this darkness in Liesl, but I have to admit that all of it was well-written.
The same can be said about Josef's "madness". This book is written mostly from Liesl's first-person POV, but with certain parts of a chapter written from Josef's third-person POV. There was another portion of certain chapters featuring a tale of old, which comes together at the end of the book. The story is significant though not immediately at first. This is also the case with Josef's state of mind.
I also liked the ending - it is an excellent ending and makes perfect sense to me. Any other ending would have been ruination to the series. I love how it wasn't all up to Liesl, and that other characters had important choices that made all the difference.
I didn't really care for this book, but there were aspects of the book that were very well-written and deserving of recognition. But for the most part, this book didn't work for me.
What I Did Not Like:
The first thing I will start with: this book is incredibly boring. I kid you not, I fell asleep around the 25% mark and woke up an hour later, and decided that I was done with the book. I ended up picking it up the next day and finishing it, but not without doing a little skimming here and there (which is something I hate doing and rarely do). I had such a hard time reading this book. It felt like nothing was happening, and even when things were happening, I just didn't care. There was a lot of self-introspection going on, and I wasn't all that interested.
Part of it definitely had to do with the writing. To me, the author's descriptiveness was excess and really hurt the story. There were paragraphs upon paragraphs describing this or that, in flowery writing and in my head I was thinking, get to the point! THOSE were the passages that I ended up skimming, as I mentioned above. I didn't need those fluffy descriptions. It was too much, and added to the rising boredom.
The story itself felt like it had no direction. What was the point? Find Josef... okay? Once she found Josef, I couldn't understand where the story was supposed to go. How was finding Josef significant to saving the world? The "saving the world" bit seemed so forced and cliche, especially when that exact phrase dropped in the story.
The other part was the lack of the Goblin King. I thought this sequel was pitched as readers getting to see more of the Goblin King and his journey above ground, or something like that? And yet... the Goblin King is present in literally the LAST SCENE of the book? I'm confused, fam. I feel deceived. And in any case, pitch or no pitch, the Goblin King wasn't in this book. HOW can you go from Wintersong, where the Goblin King was infused into every word of every page, to Shadowsong, where the Goblin King is an afterthought to everything?
Not that I was against Liesl trying to reach her brother and blah blah blah. It was interesting to see Liesl and Josef's relationship break down and come apart - they had a lot to work through. But for a series that is built on and around the Goblin King, how disappointing is it to find barely a trace of the "austere young man" - or even the wolf with no heart - within the pages of this installment.
So there is nothing about Liesl and the Goblin King's relationship - none of the burning, passionate, frantic romance, none of the thick, cloying emotions. In fact, there is barely any of the sweeping, living music that filled Wintersong. Yes, there is mention of music here and there, especially when Liesl catches up with Josef in Vienna - but just barely. All of the things that made Wintersong so intriguing - the Goblin King, the ruthless romance, the masterful music - was not present in Shadowsong.
In essence, I found Shadowsong to be a pale whisper following the crescendo that was Wintersong.
Would I Recommend It:
I can't say I recommend Shadowsong, or Wintersong. Shadowsong is a disappointing follow-up to Wintersong - it almost felt unnecessary, and wrong. Like the author went the wrong way when pushing the series in one direction or the other. I didn't really like Wintersong, but I liked Shadowsong even less. It paled in comparison to Wintersong, and I didn't even find Wintersong that great.
2 stars. It's a shame I didn't enjoy this book (nor its predecessor) because the covers of the books are just so gorgeous. I'm tempted to buy them anyway just to have them on my shelf but I didn't enjoy the books enough to spend money on them. (Note: I received a review copy, for free, courtesy of the publisher. Nothing illegal/pirating involved here, in case anyone was thrown by my statement about money.)
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