[Shadowsong] S. Jae-Jones

What are monsters but mortals corrupted?*

Strange and queer, the lot of them. Elf-touched, they were called in the old days…The mad, the fearful, the faithful. Those who dwell with one foot in the Underground and another in the world above.*

*     *     *

We were grotesques in the world above, too different, too odd, too talented, too much. 

S. Jae-Jones is a brilliant writer.

I will admit that I didn’t love the entirety of Wintersong––I loved the first half but thought the second was a little slow––but I always thought that S.Jae-Jones’ writing was beautiful and spectacular. Her writing shone in Shadowsong. The images she creates with her words are utterly beautiful, forming Liesl’s world for the reader in a very poetic way. It’s perfect for the setting of fairy-tales and goblins and music. S.Jae-Jones is someone who can create a world with her words that I just want to immerse myself in. Couple that with the fact that Shadowsong is a fantasy novel with a historical setting and I’m hooked.

Although Shadowsong is fiction, S. Jae-Jones gives her readers an author’s note at the beginning warning that not everything inside of this novel is so easily read as a fiction. Shadowsong deals with the very real subjects of self-harm, addiction, reckless behaviors, and thoughts of suicide. The author is open with her own diagnosis of bipolar disorder and how she gave it to Liesl. There were moments that were difficult to read because of how Liesl was struggling. I could relate to certain thoughts she had regarding creation of art and fear of failure and doubt. I thought it was wonderful that S. Jae-Jones was completely open about this at the beginning of her novel.

I waited for some mood or inspiration to strike me, for the desire to play to overtake me, but there was nothing. Solitude around me and silence within me. I had not dreamed once since we came to the city. The voice inside me––my voice––was gone. No ideas. No drive. No passion. My nights were quiet. Blank. The dullness was seeping into my days.*

It’s a very common idea that madness and genius are connected. Musicians and composers of Liesl’s time suffered from mental disorders that many may have attributed to the madness/genius of creation. Mental disorders were not understood in Liesl’s time, and that reflects onto her own confusion as she tries to navigate the waters of her own depression while simultaneously trying to understand and be there for her brother, Josef. There’s a darkness and loneliness that is present throughout the whole novel as Liesl explores who she is after becoming the Goblin Queen. Up in the Above, away from the Underground, she’s once again a normal woman. Where before she had a focus––composing––now she can barely manage to play. Her mental state was in the forefront of the novel and sometimes even Liesl didn’t know how to address it.

It’s even more complicated because Liesl finally has what she wants and yet she still feels this unrest within herself. I thought it was important that S. Jae-Jones made that point. Being successful doesn’t always lead to happiness. There’s no 1+1=2 solution to being happy or even being calm. Liesl’s struggle with the pressure to compose––to heal––is something that S. Jae-Jones carefully weaves throughout the story. The fear of failure. This is revealed through both Liesl and Josef, the two musicians of the family. It’s something that Liesl thinks she has to bear alone, so she’s blind to the people who are trying to help her.

A harpsichord, a similar instrument to what Liesl may have used.

Perhaps I was afraid I had nothing left to say.*

I loved that S. Jae-Jones showed that conflict within Liesl––and how it sometimes led to hatred of herself––in this novel. It wasn’t resolved in a neat and tidy bow, either. It was realistically explored, with Liesl understanding that she couldn’t always do it on her own. Only when she had this realization did she find some measure of peace. What I liked the most is that S. Jae-Jones didn’t make Liesl her disorder. She had it, but the disorder did not have her.

I could rise above this. I would rise above this. This life was what I wanted. This was the culmination of all my wishes, all my desires. I just needed time. I would be myself, whole and entire, once again. I would. I would.*

*

She carries the imprint of the Goblin King’s touch upon her soul.*

The line between sanity and madness is played up in this novel. When Liesl left the Underground, she thought that was the end of it. But when things begin to leak into the world above, Liesl realizes that she never truly left the Underground. But she doesn’t know if it’s real or not. She keeps thinking that she’s seeing her lover or her companions from the Underground. It’s making it really hard to forget about her life below, to move on.

As a result, Shadowsong was about far different things than the first novel. I feel like Wintersong was about the importance of family and finding a place for yourself on your own, mixed in with romance and the world of the Underground. In contrast, Shadowsong was about finding out who you really are––even the parts that you don’t necessarily love about yourself––and understanding that one part of you is not who you are as a person. It’s far more internal than the first. I don’t know if that’s the reason why I enjoyed Shadowsong more––it’s certainly part of the reason––or if the reason is because this is S. Jae-Jones’ second novel and more streamlined than the first.

What was real and what was false was as unreliable as memory, and I lived in the in-between spaces, between the pretty lie and the ugly truth.*

*     *     *

But what about the Goblin King? Her love interest whose name has been forgotten by the passage of time? While he is present in Liesl’s thoughts, he’s hardly in the novel at all. The romance in the first novel was something I didn’t particularly like, so his diminished presence was fine by me. I’m sure many readers expected the opposite; I certainly thought Liesl was going to return to the Underground immediately. It was a pleasant surprise that she didn’t. I enjoyed that their love story wasn’t the center of everything. It was like Liesl was the center, and there were a bunch of webs spreading out from her to create Liesl, entire.

While Liesl drove this story, Shadowsong is also about the Goblin King, Josef, Käthe, and François. There’s other characters as well, but these are the four that are most important in Liesl’s life. I enjoyed that S. Jae-Jones used a different point of view to show how these characters’ storylines were advancing. It kept it separate from Liesl but still showed how it all was connected. These asides allowed the past of the Goblin King to slowly grow into a bigger story without swamping Liesl’s growth. It was really interesting to see how the narrative of the Underground was shaped in this one when most of the time was spent Aboveground.

No two stories of the unholy host agree. It is said that their appearance presages some unspeakable catastrophe: a plague, a war, or even the end of the world. Others say the Hunt rides abroad when there is an imbalance between heaven and hell, between the Underground and the land of the living, sweeping through the world above to claim what is rightfully theirs. The old laws made flesh: given steel and teeth and hounds to reap what they are owed.*

When people begin to die under mysterious circumstances, she wonders if it’s her fault for leaving.  I loved that there was a new element to Goblin lore in the Wild Hunt. It was a scary force that lingered at the edges of the story while Liesl battled her own internal demons. Adding the Wild Hunt but not making the entire novel about them was brilliant. Again, maybe other readers thought it was going to be more about the Goblin world and were disappointed, but I loved that S. Jae-Jones kept the novel centered on Liesl while everything else moved on in the background.

I want to keep talking about this novel, but a lot of my thoughts are still jumbled and incoherent because of my love for it. Shadowsong is a great fantasy book that gives representation to a lot of marginalized characters and people both of the past and of the present. I think that this sophomore novel is the better of the duology, but without the first the second wouldn’t exist. S. Jae-Jones is going to be an author I watch because she has a truly splendid way of storytelling.

The queer, the wild, the strange, the elf-touched––they are said to belong to the Goblin King. Their gifts are the fruits of the Underground, their genius, their passion, their obsession, their art. They belong to him, for they are Der Erlkönig’s own.* 

5 stars.

I received a copy of Shadowsong from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Shadowsong was published on February 6th, 2018.

*I went a bit overboard with the quotes because I love S. Jae-Jones’ writing a lot. The quotes were taken from the advance reading copy I received, so some of the quotes may have changed slightly in the published edition.

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[Girls Made of Snow and Glass] Melissa Bashardoust

There are worse things in the world to be than delicate. If you’re delicate, it means no one has tried to break you.*

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a unique retelling of the tale of Snow White, with a princess and a queen who struggle to find their place in the kingdom. Though based on Snow WhiteGirls Made of Snow and Glass doesn’t fall into the fantasy tropes of evil queen v. young princess, age v. beauty, or wondering who the princess is going to marry. In fact, I feel that there’s very little about Snow White that remains in this debut novel, other than the queen and the princess element.  It truly feels like its own story.

“It was only the dead mothers who were perfect–the living ones were messy and unpredictable and selfish.*”

The main conflict of the novel does set up Mina–the Queen from the South–and Lynet–the princess who is soon to come of age–against each other, but not in the way that I expected. Girls Made of Snow and Glass puts their relationship at centerstage and explores how it has flourished and changed over the years. For Lynet, Mina has been the only mother she has known. Her own died when she was too young to remember, so when Mina enters her life–first as a friend and then as a mother–it fills a hole in her life. For Mina, Lynet has always been the one who will take over her position one day–so she tries to keep her heart from loving the girl.

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[Shimmer and Burn] Mary Taranta

Even the damned get a choice, or at least the illusion of one. I’m proof enough of that.*

Shimmer and Burn‘s beautiful cover caught my eye when I was requesting ARCs a few months ago, and I’ve only just finished it now.  A debut novel from Mary Taranta, Shimmer and Burn takes readers across Avinea as Faris travels with a tyrannical princess, one who will not hesitate to hurt Faris or threaten the sister Faris left behind. If Faris wants to survive and save her sister, she must listen to the whims of a princess who doesn’t think about consequences. They may be traveling companions but they both have their own end goals.

I really enjoy books that put characters who are essentially opposites together. It instantly sets up tension between them and the reader, which allows for events to unfold differently than if everyone was working together. Faris and Bryn are like that. Faris’ mother died when she was young and she was left to raise her younger sister Cadence in the slums of Brindaigel. The only time she feels powerful is when she’s fighting in the fighting pits. Bryn is the opposite, with everything that she could ever want–but she still wants more. When Bryn decides that she wants to be more than the princess of Brindaigel, Faris realizes that she has an opportunity to save her sister.

Naturally, it’s not as simple as that. Faris’ naivety and moments of clarity were a little frustrating at times, but despite that I really enjoyed her character. I liked that she fought–literally–for things in her life and that she wasn’t a weak person. She wasn’t normally involved in political machinations, but when she found herself in the middle of one she proved that she could handle it. I enjoyed reading how–despite the fact that she didn’t have a political background–she even found ways to gain supporters even as Bryn was controlling her with the spell that connected them. Faris isn’t a strong character. Nor is she a weak character. She had moments of both, mostly centered around her sister, and I thought it was really well done. I enjoyed reading how she was so conflicted with the situations she found herself in. She really had to pull herself out of darkness at times, which made her more unique than the standard heroine who just struggles.

I killed a man to save my sister, trading virtue for vice, compassion for selfishness. There’s no going back from that kind of imbalance, and unless I harden myself into iron, the sacrifice will be for nothing.*

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[First We Were IV] Alexandra Sirowy

The Order, its power, it’s a high. I feel it. But it’s also like this shadow I keep seeing out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head and it’s gone. It’s there. Dark. Waiting.*

It’s senior year, and Izzie, Harry, Graham, and Viv are the center of their universe. Self-made outcasts, they love each other fiercely and defiantly, ignoring the insults of their classmates. As the year begins, fear that their friendship will disintegrate after they go their separate ways begins to burn through Izzie. On a whim, she suggests that they start a secret society to stay together–no matter what. When the other three agree, they draft a secret society modeled after the ones they determine to be great. The Order of IV becomes their way to get back at their classmates and their small town, righting what they perceive to be injustices and doing it anonymously. There’s a certain power to invisibility, and they relish in how they can control it. When their rebellions are noticed by other classmates, the four of them realize that their power extends even further than they thought. Power is all-consuming. And it can get away from you.

Never lie.
Never tell.
Love each other.

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[The Disappearances] Emily Bain Murphy

 

The Disappearances is a magical-realism, historical novel rich in character and story. The novel primarily follows Aila, whose life has been uprooted following the death of her mother and the deployment of her father. At some point I had forgotten that this was also a historical novel, so that gave it a nice unexpected flavor when I first started reading it. The Disappearances is about a set of three towns that have been struck by strange Disappearances that no one can explain. With a focus on Sterling, the town that Aila’s mother grew up in, The Disappearances probes the events of the past: possible Catalysts, what has disappeared, and how they’ve unlocked some of the secrets of Sterling. When Aila and her brother arrive it’s like the past has come to Sterling; Aila’s remarkable likeness to her mother, Juliet, the only person who escaped Sterling, sets the townspeople on edge. With the next Disappearance coming up, Aila strives to clear her family’s name by discovering where the Disappearances came from. But there are those who may not want the Disappearances to stop.

“We call them the Disappearances.”*

‘The Disappearance affected everyone, young and old, and every thing: fruits and flowers, perfumes and shampoos–even those things that make people sentimental, like the smell of a child’s hair, or scents linked to important memories.’* 

Disappearances. Catalysts. A mystery that has affected Sterling since 1907, with something new disappearing every seven years. It’s something small, something mundane that you don’t think about until it’s gone: the smell of baking bread and flowers, your reflection in mirrors or lakes, the stars. It’s only when it’s gone that you realize what you’ve lost. With the Disappearances affecting everyone for most of their lives or since birth, living with them has become the norm. The townspeople have adopted rules regarding outsiders and the Disappearances, so when Aila and her brother come to live in Sterling with an old friend of their mother’s and her family, it causes problems within a community where tensions are already high. Their mother is called a Catalyst, a witch, and other things,  and it falls to Aila and her brother to deal with the accusations of the townspeople. Aila knows that the only way to clear her mother’s name is to discover the truth about the Disappearances. Continue reading

[The Last Magician] Lisa Maxwell

I love the ouroboros element on the cover.

Find the Magician. And stop him before he destroys our future.*

The Lost Magician starts with a connection, though they don’t know it yet. Esta is a thief who uses her old magic to manipulate time, slowing it down and even jumping to the past and present. Dolph is the leader of a gang of Mageus who use their powers to protect those who cannot. And Harte is trying to blend in as a Sundren magician, hiding his Mageus powers in plain sight in a time when having old magic marked you as a target for the Order of Ortus Aurea in their climb to power. Their stories are connected by the Ars Arcana–a book that was thought to be lost. A book that is said to hold the secret to magic itself. A book that they all want.

Lisa Maxwell has created a story full of fascinating characters, a vivid setting, and an interesting plot. At 512 pages, it may seem a little long, but it kept me fascinated the entire time. As the story progressed and the twists began to show themselves, I seemed to read it faster, hurtling toward an end that made me angry–because it was over and I wanted to read more! While I initially thought The Last Magician was a stand-alone novel, it turns out that it’s the first part of a duology. I’m so glad I get to spend more time with the people and places of Maxwell’s Mageus society, even though I’m not happy about having to wait. I will just have to practice my patience.

The bulk of The Last Magician is set in the world of 1900s Manhattan, in the city before it became soaring skyscrapers and cacophonous noise at all hours of the day and night. The Manhattan of The Last Magician is full of the clip-clop of horse drawn carriages through cobblestone streets, the sickly-sweet smell of opium nests, and the thrill of living in a city that looks toward the future. The city has elements of hope and fear as the Sundren and Mageus live together, sometimes unknowingly. For the Mageus, having the old magic means that you have an affinity: power that allows you to manipulate time, know someone’s thoughts, or kill someone without touching. Naturally, the Sundren fear this, because people often fear what they don’t understand. The old magic is palpable in the air, with a warmth and a hum that is so different than Esta’s Manhattan.

In present-day Manhattan, the old magic–the magic that Esta and the rest of the Professor’s Mageus crew have–is nearly dead. The one thing that connects the two times, other than the magic flowing through their veins, is the Brink. The Brink, to those without magic, is nothing. To those with magic, it is terrifying. If they get too close to the Brink, it seems to pull at the magic in them, desiring to take it from them. To get close is to feel like you are losing part of yourself. To pass through means the loss of your mind and certain death. The Mageus have been trapped on the island ever since the Brink was created by the Order. And in 1902, more and more Mageus flock to Manhattan and the promise that they will not be persecuted there like they have been in their old countries, only to find that they are trapped there by the Brink.

A view of the Brooklyn Bridge, where the Brink is located.

Maybe it was because the Order of Ortus Aurea and all they’d done so long ago seemed more like myth than reality. The stories had been so monstrous, but in actuality, the Order itself had always been little more than a shadow haunting the periphery of Esta’s vision, the boogyman in her unopened closet.* 

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[Emma in the Night] Wendy Walker

There are so many pieces to our story, pieces that, if taken away, might have changed the whole course of it. […] And…it took all of us, our flaws and our desires. My hunger for power, which I will get to next. It was all in it, in our story, like the ingredients to a complicated recipe.*

Daughters of Mothers with Narcissism: Can the Cycle Be Broken?*

That is the name of the fictional paper that Emma in the Night keeps going back to explore: Can daughters escape a narcissistic cycle when it’s the only thing they’ve known their whole life? Three years ago, Cass and Emma Tanner disappeared. When Cass comes back this cold case reopens, and with it comes things that Dr. Abby Winter tried so hard to forget. It was the case that stuck with her and now she has a chance to solve what happened the night that Emma and Cass disappeared. Something didn’t add up to Abby then, and it doesn’t add up now. As Cass weaves a story of betrayal, kidnapping, and lost time, Abby has to untangle the truth from Cass’ words. Her return doesn’t mean it’s over.

I think there are two types of people. Ones who have a scream inside them and ones who don’t. People who have a scream are too angry or too sad or laugh too hard, swear too much, use drugs or never sit still. Sometimes they sing at the top of their lungs with the windows rolled down. I don’t think people are born with it. I think other people put it inside you with the things they do to you, or say to you, or the things you see them do or say to other people. And I don’t think you can get rid of it. If you don’t have a scream, you can’t understand.*

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