[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.*

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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.*

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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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Top Ten Tuesday: Relationships in Young Adult Novels

Although the prompt for this week is romance, I wanted to focus on other relationships instead. Relationships often drive the story of young adult novels, whether it’s a contemporary romance or a subplot in a fantasy. There’s nearly always a relationship. Romantic relationships fill readers’ hearts with joy, anger, and hope as they read about their journeys and wonder if they’ll ultimately end up together. But love comes in many forms. To say that friendships are any less important than romantic relationships means that you’re missing out on a lot of vibrant relationships and books.

So for today’s Top Ten Tuesday, I wanted to focus on different types of relationships in young adult novels. So without further ado, the relationship post!

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Best Female Friends

In young adult, there’s a ton of times that women are often super catty toward each other. It’s a common trope, especially in contemporaries set in high schools. Everyone isn’t going to be friends, but I really don’t like when women shame other women. A little bit is realistic, because to pretend it doesn’t happen is naïve, but when it becomes the focus of the novel it’s a little uncomfortable for me. To use the quote from Mean Girls: “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” That quote has really stuck with me. So here’s some novels I’ve loved where friendships between women are displayed.

There’s a little bit of the aforementioned woman on woman hate in this book, but I like how the friendships evolve. This is also a historical fiction fantasy novel, which is one of my favorite combinations.

While I didn’t love this book entirely, I did love the friendship between Hermione and Polly. In Exit, Hermione is date raped. Exit deals with the aftermath of that and Polly is constantly there for Hermione even when she has her own struggles. I loved reading their friendship.

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Best Friend Groups

Sometimes it’s impossible to chose between only one best friend. I love books where friends explore and discover together. Sometimes you love them in ways that are created when you are crushed into the same space, experiencing the same things and bonding over them. Other times you just stumble upon them and a light of connection flares up inside of your chest. I really enjoy the dynamic of a group of friends. Where there used to be one character, suddenly there’s more. These are my favorites.

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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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[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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[Ruin and Rising: The Grisha Trilogy III] Leigh Bardugo

We all die. Not everyone dies for a reason.

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My opinion of this series has changed a lot over the past couple of days. I spent the better part of a day reading through Ruin and Rising in its entirety, even staying up far too late. I was exhausted the next day, but I couldn’t stop reading it when each chapter was filled with action and emotion. Ruin and Rising picks up after the capital has fallen. Alina feels pretty broken, and it’s hard to heal when you’re trapped underground and worried that the Darkling’s forces will find you.

These beautiful illustrations are by Irene Koh.

Beauty was your armor. Fragile stuff, all show. But what’s inside you? That’s steel. It’s brave and unbreakable. And it doesn’t need fixing.

I want to talk about the characters first. I know that this series–and the companion series–has been read and reviewed a lot, so there’s hardly anything new to say. But I’m going to throw my voice in there regardless. I sometimes feel like I’m one of the only readers who likes Mal. I think that his character growth is one of the better things about the series. I’ve heard that readers find him whiny, but I found him very real. He seemed like a real and true person in this fantasy world. He’s presented with so many impossible choices throughout the series and he decides to stay and help Alina, even though he doesn’t know if it will work out for them. He is steadfast and brave even when things are chipping at his resolve and his own emotions. I loved it. Yes, there are better love interests and better characters in other series, but for the Grisha trilogy, I found him to be one of the most changed characters by the end.

You move forward, and when you falter, you get up. And when you can’t, you let us carry you. You let me carry you.

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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