Sunday, April 15, 2018

Shadowsong - S. Jae-Jones

Title: Shadowsong (sequel to Wintersong)
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Publisher: Wednesday Books (St. Martin's Press), 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 387 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Fantasy
Started: April 6, 2018
Finished: April 13, 2018

From the inside cover:

Six months after the end of Wintersong, Liesl is working toward furthering both her brother's musical careered her own. Although she is determined to look forward and not behind, life in the world above is not as easy as Liesl has 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 Her younger brother, Josef, is cold, distant, and withdrawn, while Liesl can't forget the austere young man she left beneath the earth, and the music he inspired in her.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 mysteries 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 of the ones Liesl loves - is in her hands?

I read Wintersong last year and loved it to pieces, so of course when I found out there was going to be a sequel I knew I'd have to read it. Unfortunately, Shadowsong is a bit of a mixed bag; it didn't focus on what I loved in the first book (Liesl's relationship with the Goblin King), but instead was an amazingly intricate look into Liesl's growth as a character, including her (and by extension, Josef's) struggle with mental illness.

Shadowsong begins in winter, six months after the events of Wintersong, with Liesl, and her family struggling to keep the inn afloat after her father dies and Josef is away in Vienna. After a mysterious benefactor and patron of the arts offers to send Liesl and Kathe to Vienna to reunite with Josef, the siblings and Francois struggle to adapt to society there. When the Wild Hunt comes to make Liesl pay for defying the Old Laws and escaping the Underworld, she tries to come out of it alive while also trying to save both Josef and the Goblin King.

In the forward to the book, the author explains that like herself, Liesl struggles with bi-polar disorder. Although Josef's depression and self-harm are explained as an aspect of his changling status rather than mental illness, they are present as well. The book is a testament to madness: both for the people who experience it and those that love them. Although that aspect is truly touching and unique, I think the book suffered as a result of its inclusion: the book has pacing issues, it moves along so slowly since it is mostly introspection and the same character interactions over and over rather than anything really happening. In terms of atmosphere, it's dark, deranged and creepy; a big contrast from the fire and passion from the first book. I applaud the author for including mental illness as a focus in this context, but unfortunately I don't think every reader will be willing to trudge through the novel to really appreciate the underlying message.

I did enjoy the inclusion of the Goblin King's backstory, it all leads up to the ending where Liesl needs to divine his true name. This I feel ties up the plot from the end of Wintersong nicely, I just wish there had been more of a focus on this to balance out the heavy introspection from the first three quarters of the novel.

Well-written and a powerful insight into mental illness, but does suffer from pacing and dark intensity  that not all readers might be willing to stick it out for.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity from Wintersong's cover, this time substituting poppies rather than a rose, and having the glass orb breaking rather than intact.

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