So I knew this was inspired by Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. That’s partially why I picked it up, as I love that movie and David Bowie as the Goblin King. I didn’t expect to get, basically, Labyrinth fanfiction. That was my first impression. As the book carries on, though, and especially as you get into the second book, it’s more like a musician’s fever-dream of their favorite childhood movie. There are so many elements taken from the movie, but they are deconstructed and put back together in such unexpected ways.
You’ll recognize a line or two from the movie. The fairies still bite. The Goblin King is still beautiful and angular and strange. Liesl’s after a stolen sibling. But Liesl and her family live in rural, probably 18th century Bavaria. She is not a spoiled, baby-sitting half-sister. Her grandmother has taught her the old stories, and unbeknownst to her, she’s played music for The Goblin King her entire childhood.
The first book concerns Liesl’s first foray into the Underground to save her sister when The Goblin King steals her to be his bride. This is where the acid trip starts. If you’re familiar with Labyrinth, remember the ballroom scene? With people whirling about and appearing and disappearing and mirrors and the sense of disorientation as it all falls apart? Yeah, that’s basically the entire time in the Underground. Though there is a ball scene, and it is especially trippy.
While Liesl manages to save her sister (that’s a spoiler, but it isn’t much of one), she has a harder time saving herself. Whether she actually does or not could be debated.
The second book of the duology, Shadowsong, has an interesting author’s note in the front of it. The author first gives a content warning for self-harm, suicidal ideations, addiction, and reckless behaviors. She goes on to say Liesl has bipolar disorder, and further, that so does she. (The author.) She says Wintersong was her bright mirror, and Shadowsong her dark one. I can see that. Wintersong is a much happier book than Shadowsong, but the story would be incomplete without both books. Wintersong does end in a satisfactory conclusion, but Shadowsong just completes the tale in a way that I, at least, really enjoyed.
Shadowsong also contains more throwbacks to the movie – she falls and is caught by goblin hands; goblins form a giant face that talks to her about the old laws. These things don’t happen in the same scene, though.
I loved the elements of music woven throughout the story; Liesl is a composer, and music – her music – is almost a character in its own right. It’s definitely a huge plot element. It’s in her connection to her brother, and her connection to The Goblin King. It’s her way into the Underground, and her way out, and her way to reach back in.
It’s an enchanting duology; I don’t know if it would be as good for someone who didn’t love Labyrinth the way I do. If you dislike the movie, I would probably advise against reading these. But if you like it or have simply never seen it, these would be good, atmospheric books to read in the dead of winter.
From the cover of Wintersong:
The last night of the year. Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride . . . .
All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her mind and spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen and helping to run her family’s inn, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away.
But when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds – and the mysterious man who rules it – she soon faces an impossible decision. With time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.
Dark, romantic, and powerful, Wintersong will sweep you away into a world you won’t soon forget.