My rating: 4 of 5 stars
You can find this review and all of my other over at www.readbookrepeat.wordpress.com
I received a copy of this book from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press Wednesday Books, and the author via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Actual rating of 3.75
Janneke is a thrall. She has been surviving in the Permafrost for over a hundred years, first as the thrall to Lydian, a mad, sadistic goblin lord. Then by a stroke of luck, she was thrown at the feet of Lydian’s nephew, Soren, probably for the purpose of her death, but that was not what came about. So for the past 100 years, Janneke has lived in relative peace and safety under the thrall of Soren. While attending a ceremony at the Erlking’s palace with Soren, the Erlking is slain, and the white stag runs. This signals the start of The Hunt. Every goblin with power, regardless of the strength of that power, who wishes to have a shot at becoming the next Erlking, takes part in The Hunt, for the one who slays the white stag will be crowned. Soren takes Janneke along on The Hunt with the hopes that she will finally decide whether she wants to hang onto her human roots, or take the plunge and become a goblin like him. A story of survival, tough choices, guilt, humilation, degradation, acceptance and triumph, told against the backdrop of a fight for the crown before the New Moon shows it’s face. Who will kill the White Stag? Who will become the next Erlking?
I first requested white stag for such a superficial reason, the cover. JUST LOOK AT THAT COVER! It’s so beautiful. Yes, I obviously read the blurb as well once I saw that the book was still up for request, but that cover is what sold me mostly. The fact that this is a story surrounding goblins was a massive plus, as I find that goblins are always background characters and creatures, besides the Labyrinth, but that’s honestly the only other story I’ve come across that does deal with goblins as the forefront creature in the story. So that was the other selling point to me. Something different.
I found this story a little slow to get going, I was determined to finish it though. Once we got about a third of the way through, I found myself becoming endeared to the characters of Soren and Janneke. Janneke’s story is one of great loss, pain, and guilt. She still feels guilty over a hundred years after the death of her family and the destruction of her village. She has survivors guilt. It’s a real thing, and I love that this is a cornerstone of her personality. This story definitely shows that time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t specify HOW LONG it will take for those wounds to heal. It may not be in your lifetime, but it will happen eventually. I’ve read other reviews that said how brooding and self-pitying Janneke is. Yes she can be pretty broody, and I have to admit, if I’d been through what she had, I’d probably have myself a bit of a pity-party as well. She was enthralled at the hands of a monster, which this, along with the lessons and information fed to her by her father at a young age completely built her belief of what the goblins were. She refers to them as monster for so much of the book until Soren speaks such a massive truth, I can’t remember the exact quote, and stupid me didn’t underline it but it’s something along the lines of – “the bird thinks the cat is a monster, the cat thinks the dog is a monster, the dog thinks the snow cat is a monster – so who is the monster”. It’s true, she believes that the goblins are the monsters but everyone and everything is a monster to something else, so in turn, one must look at what actually DEFINES the term monster. Once this revelation hits her, things start to change and Janneke starts to open up even more.
I really enjoyed Soren’s character, yes he’s gorgeous but he also has his ‘real’ face, the face of the goblin which comes out in battle. I love that there are the two halves and that we get to see them both. There is romance, but I didn’t find it to be insta-love. At the start of the story we are told that these two characters have been together almost a hundred years (99 if I remember correctly), so they’ve had a long time to get to know the ins and outs of each others personality and being. It isn’t until now that the romance starts to blossom, and I love how innocent and new it is for them both. I found it actually quite charming and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also loved that Janneke is not the stereotypical beauty that we see a lot of in today’s stories. She has many scars and has been permanently disfigured by Lydian, having one of her breasts completely mangled. She doesn’t feel pretty in the slightest, but Soren sees her as beautiful. I love the imperfect perfection that is Janneke. She feels real to me. She has fought tooth and nail to survive and she plans to keep going even if it hurts so much that she can’t breathe.
The story was fun, who doesn’t love a battle for a crown? I also love the way that Barbieri went about the transferal of power. That white stag just adds another dimension for me. I love the characters that we meet along the way, especially Seppo, Rekke, and the wolves, even Skadi, I found to be absolutely fantastic even though we only see a short interaction with her.
I will add a trigger warning in here because rape is brought up a few times. It’s not actively happening in this story, but it has happened in Janneke’s past so it is remembered and talked about. I read another review where the person felt that the rape was added purely for shock factor. I didn’t feel that way at all. I felt that it added something to Janneke’s character, yes it was traumatising, yes she still suffers with the scars and the memory of it, but she hasn’t and doesn’t let it break her, she fights through the pain and learns to live with the awfulness of what happened to her. Janneke is a fighter and I think that’s possibly what I loved most about this story. She never gives up.
For me, I also felt that this story dealt a little with prejudice. Janneke was born human and kidnapped by goblins, so she understandably has a strong hatred for goblin-kind, she finds it difficult when she meets Rekke, and sees how naive and innocent she is. Janneke is completely baffled that she feels some sentiment towards the young she-goblin, because she is a goblin, she’s one of them. As well as when Janneke is dealing with the decision of whether she will try and make a break for it, back to the human world, or whether she will stay in the Permafrost and become a goblin. She’s dealing with a short life time of horror stories and truths told to her by her human father about the goblin’s and their world. So she held a massive prejudice towards goblin kind and felt no pity or sympathy towards them until she started to get to know that they weren’t so different from her. I think when one looks at this as well as the monster thing, a small message can be seen. Whether it was intentional or not, I feel like the message is simple, “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”. One needs to look deeper than the surface to really get to know someone or work something out. And I found that absolutely brilliant.
So in parting I’ll say, yes this book was a bit slow to get moving, I have seen a fair few DNF’s in the review section here. But if you like a slow burning story about growth and survival set against the backdrop of a mystical world filled with goblins, and wolves, and monsters oh my! Give this one a shot. Just stick with it. The story becomes enthralling, I promise.