[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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[When Dimple Met Rishi] Sandhya Menon

I love this cover! It makes me happy.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a novel about a girl meeting a boy. Or a boy meeting a girl, depending on whose perspective you’re currently reading. The novel is split between the perspectives of Dimple and Rishi, two people who couldn’t be more different. It’s a perfect formula for a young adult romance novel. Dimple is an aspiring web developer whose dream is to code apps that will change peoples’ lives; Rishi is hoping to meet his betrothed before heading off to college across the country. Their parents set up a meeting at Insomnia Con–a convention where the number one prize is having your app funded and put out there. For Dimple, it’s a dream come true; for Rishi, it’s a way to meet his future wife, to see if the match is meant to be. There’s only one problem: Dimple has no idea.

The premise of this book is really adorable. I liked that Dimple and Rishi switched the typical young adult roles. Don’t get me wrong, I love contemporary romances (or romance in fantasy or…), but it was really cool to see that Dimple was focused on her future instead of finding a boyfriend/husband. She wants to have a career before she gets married–and she doesn’t even know if marriage is in her future. Menon wove the pressures of what her parents wanted v. what Dimple wanted through the pages of this novel in a way that had Dimple challenging her preconceived notions about relationships.

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[Blackhearts] Nicole Castroman

Literally the first words of this book’s synopsis are “Blackbeard the pirate” but that is not what Blackhearts is about. I kept waiting for pirates to show up! For excitement to happen! For anything other than the flimsy romance that was the focus of this novel. Honestly, I’m quite disappointed. I thought that this was going to be a really exciting, quick read, but I couldn’t really find a point in the early part of the story that was interesting.

When I first started writing, one of my teachers told the class that oft-used phrase: Start in the middle of the action. I’m fairly positive this advice has been given to me every time I had any sort of creative writing class. I wish that Blackhearts had heeded that advice. While Castroman does a good job of setting the scene and giving both Anne and Teach their backgrounds, I thought that there was a bit too much telling instead of showing. I love getting pieces of the setting when it’s mixed in with the story. I love seeing the character of a protagonist when they’re up against adversity. I feel like Castroman should have focused more on showing that as the plot progressed instead of making the first half of the book heavy on the telling side.

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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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[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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[Now I Rise: The Conqueror’s Saga II] Kiersten White

This review contains some minor spoilers for the first novel in The Conqueror’s Saga. This review is also long because I loved this book so much.

One of my minor complaints about And I Darken (the first in the series) was that it got a little long purely because there’s a lot of unfamiliar names, places, and events that I had to first get through in order to get to the story. That was not the case with the second novel. Now I Rise benefits from the world building that was done in the first novel and further expands on locations that had smaller parts in the first novel. It balances character growth with action, creating a thrilling story that had me questioning characters’ motives. It is a a great continuation of a series that is set in a historical context that is real, yet also genderbends a historical figure. It made me more excited about a series that I already loved.

Lada and Radu burst back onto the scene shortly after where And I Darken left them. Radu remains in the Ottoman Empire, and Lada is trying to regain what she believes is rightfully hers: Wallachia. They’ve taken different paths that are still connected to each other, but Radu uses gilded words and Lada uses cold steel. Mehmed remains, but Now I Rise quickly becomes about Lada and Radu. Mehmed takes on a role in the background but occasionally comes back to interact with our main characters. And even when he’s not physically there, both Radu and Lada often think about him. Sometimes he still affects how they act, but gradually that changes.

Shortly into the novel Radu is sent to Constantinople to act as a spy for Mehmed. Although he has quite a bit of worries about going there, he follows Mehmed’s orders because he loves him. In the first novel, Radu learns how to use his skills to further Mehmed and through close proximity, himself. He is very charismatic, and it was interesting to read how he grew into it in And I Darken. This novel finds Radu questioning much of what he believes and who he believes in. Radu is semi-stranded in Constantinople for months. At first, he eagerly awaits a war that he knows is coming, playing his role as defector to the Christians as he secretly plots to bring Constantinople down. The longer he stays in Constantinople, however,  the more he questions the motives of Mehmed and what he’s doing.

He had imagined Constantinople, had wanted it for Mehmed. It had been simple and straightforward. But now he knew the true cost of things, the murky horrors of the distance between wanting something and getting it.*

Radu is becoming a part of Constantinople and being accepted by people there, but he knows that he ultimately will betray them. It begins to wear on him. Reading this expanded his character in a new direction that was so raw I was heartbroken for him. While this series does tend to focus more on Lada as the female Vlad, I feel that Radu has the greater emotional response in Now I Rise.

Radu had seen what it took to be great, and he never again wanted to be part of something bigger than himself.*

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[Shadow Run: Kaitan Chronicles I] AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller

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Shadow Run has been touted as Firefly meets Dune, a space opera that should draw fans of both. The Firefly tease was part of the reason why I requested an ARC of Shadow Run in the first place. Shadow Run had action and adventure, a touch of romance, and the looming threat of an increasingly powerful bad guy. I didn’t find it as episodic as Firefly, but Shadow Run functions as a nice stand-alone space opera novel, with a potential to continue the series.

One of my favorite parts of Shadow Run, and other space opera stories is the world. When done well, they can be rich and immersive. I feel that way about Shadow Run, although I still wish it had gone into more detail. There was plenty of detail to show the world to the reader, but I still wanted more. I really enjoyed reading about it. The few planets that were visited by the characters were described in ways that allowed me to really visualize the setting. When the world isn’t familiar or created entirely by an author, those details must be there. A reader doesn’t know what living on another planet will be like, so an author has to fully immerse them in it.

Unusual Planet wallpapers and images - wallpapers, pictures, photos

The thing that really cinched the world-building for me were the differences between Nev and Qole’s planets. The weapons and clothing differs, the cities on Nev’s planet are unbelievable to Qole who is used to smaller buildings, and the characteristics of the people are extremely different. Qole’s culture shock is believable and expected.

This was helped along by the two viewpoints. Readers are shown both characters out of their element, but Nev’s adaptability is a little better than Qole’s. Although he’s always had everything, he was able to adjust to a lesser lifestyle rather quickly. In contrast, I loved reading Qole’s reactions to the high-fashion and careless lifestyles of the people around her. I feel like their voices–and their speaking patterns–were very clear.

While I have a clear picture of both Qole and Nev, I don’t feel the same about the secondary characters. They’re delegated into roles: Strong-arm, hacker, brother, androgynous member of the crew. I didn’t mind the first person narration because I feel that it showcased the differences between Qole and Nev, but it didn’t help with knowing other characters. I feel that there was a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the world because of the first-person narration; I was in Nev’s head to understand his world, then suddenly in Qole’s–and part of her point-of-view was her trying to come to terms with what Nev had said or revealed. It was a lot of back and forth and I feel like some of the action was lost in it.

However, I did have a favorite secondary character. Basra. I want to know more about him. He seems to be quite a chameleon and even at the end of the novel, still has his secrets. I liked that he actually had a backstory that was more explored (i.e.: shown) than that of Eton’s and Telu’s, who I feel were only marginally explained. I want to know Basra’s history. Story about that, please.

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