“For the monstrous and those who love us” Review: Shadowsong, by S Jae Jones

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I have been sitting on this review, and by sitting I mean it’s been rolling about the mess that is my head, for roughly two months now. I am finding it difficult to put into words, but make no mistake, Shadowsong was achingly beautiful. It buried itself into me, and spoke to my soul.

Shadowsong was nothing of what I expected in the absolute best way, and everything I could have hoped for without knowing it.

About the book:
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 Her younger brother Josef is cold, distant, and withdrawn, while Liesl can’t forget the austere young man she left beneath the earth, and the music he inspired in her.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?

If you are looking for the romance you craved from Wintersong, then I am going to have to disappoint you. While The Goblin King and Liesl are connected throughout the story, Shadowsong primarily focuses on Liesl  (and her brother).

Before the story even starts, JJ (S. Jae Jones) provides an author’s note. The note itself feels like she reached into the very heart of me. It is a very personal note, and yet, it resonated straight to the core of me.

Madness is a strange word. It encompasses any sort of behavior or thought pattern that deviates from the norm, not just mental illness. I, like Liesl, am a functioning member of society, but our mental illnesses make us mad. They make us arrogant, moody, selfish, and reckless. They make us destructive, to both ourselves and to those we love. We are not easy to love, Liesl and I, and I did not want to face that ugly truth.

 

And the truth is ugly. Liesl and Josef reflect both the manic and melancholic parts of myself, and they are dark, grotesque, messy, and painful. And while there are books that offer up prettier pictures, windows into a world in which things are healthy and whole, Shadowsong is no one of them. I kept the monster at bay in my first book; I would claim it as my own for my second.

I insisted upon myself to share that part of the author’s note, because when I read that I knew, I knew, this story was going to be so much more to me than just a conclusion to Liesl, Josef, and the Goblin King.

Sometimes, I fear there is a maelstrom swirling within me. Madness, mania, melancholy. Music, magic, memories. A vortex, spinning around a truth I do not want to admit.

Shadowsong is just as ethereal, and more eerie than Wintersong. Many times, I felt myself questioning Liesl’s reality, and whether her memories were her own or perhaps a distant dream. Her madness, mania, and melancholy were so real. I found myself relating to the things in Liesl’s mind with a strange yet comforting kind of familiarity.

But what about the story, April? Enough about your feelings.

Minor spoilers ahead

We follow Liesl through the consequences of her decisions at the end of Wintersong. We watch her struggle with her music, with her reality. She both longs and wants to run from the Underground, from the Goblin King. She searches, aches for the music trapped inside her. When she plays, she feels connected, as if the tether to her monster is there if she’ll just tug hard enough. We follow Josef, who is far away from where he deeply desires to be. He is fighting the monster within himself, and it is like watching someone we love, slowly fading away. Like Liesl, Josef learns to claim the monster within himself and we can’t help but cheer through mixed tears of grief and a certain kind of rightness.

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The Goblin King. What his is name? The one question that left me grabbing for any kind of lifeline at the end of Wintersong. Interspersed through Liesl and Josef’s story is one about a boy. A wolf boy with no name. It is told as lore, and yet…

Liesl finds herself a pawn in a dangerous game, a wild hunt. There is mystery, deception, uncovered truths, and at the end of it all, a finality that feels like the hundreds of pages leading up to it were just a dream.

…and yet…

 

This review (of sorts) was one of the hardest I have ever tried to write- simply because the story enveloped me.  It won’t appeal to everyone, nothing ever does, and that is okay. It can almost stand on it’s own, (but then you’d miss the magic of Wintersong and that is a damn shame- don’t do that to yourself), which is in large part to the way JJ writes. The poetic, sometimes haunting, prose takes us on a journey of self acceptance, and self love. Of admitting the truth of ourselves to ourselves. Of claiming the monster within us.

Sanity was a prison and now I am free, free to be shapeless, free to be formless, free to be nonsense. 

 

 

 

 

One thought

  1. Great review! I found this a really difficult book to review as well (here’s my attempt: https://miriamjoyreads.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/shadowsong-by-s-jae-jones/) — for me, I felt like as a book about mental illness in a fantastical setting, it was great, but as a sequel to Wintersong, it was… less good? Because as you say, it has a very different focus, and people who come to it looking for a direct sequel might not find what they’re looking for

    Like

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