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, her 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. And with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.
Well I didn’t really know what to expect going into this book but I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s a beautifully dark tale of tragic romance and learning to love oneself.
First of all, I have to say how much I loved the prose in this story. It’s not all that often that I comment on the writing itself but I just loved it so much here. The prose and the way the story is told with what the writer reveals vs what is being left unsaid is just so well done here and it lends the story a gothic atmosphere even though the story isn’t typically gothic. Love, love, love the prose. *chef’s kiss*
This is very much a dark fairytale and the darkness comes from within the characters and their internal struggles, but also how those struggles manifest in fits of passion intermingled with violence. And although there are some moments I would consider violent in this, it’s never cruel. The main character, Elisabeth (or Liesl) is a plain young woman who is resigned to always be the practical one of her siblings. While her younger sister is beautiful and holds the attention and admiration of suitors and her entire family’s hopes are pinned on her younger brother’s musical talents, Liesl has allowed herself to become unnoticed. She’s been told by her father that her own dreams don’t matter as she’ll never amount to anything and all the praise is heaped on her siblings. She tells herself she’s content but clearly, deep inside, the part of herself that she’s locked away is miserable and biding its time. The Goblin King and his bid to catch her attention is the catalyst that will finally make her want to feed her dreams again.
So let’s get to The Goblin King and this dark fairytale. The book starts with a tale of two children meeting in the Goblin Grove and becoming friends, playing children’s games, and it’s told in the style of a fairy story. The players are clearly The Goblin King and Liesl. Although now much older Liesl doesn’t really remember those days, if they were real. The Goblin King once again shows up in her life and she pays him no heed, after all fairy stories aren’t real. But when he fails to catch her attention he takes her sister instead and makes a bargain with a now desperate Liesl to get her back. Even though I’m a HUGE fan of Beauty and the Beast, I don’t love it when characters implement these types of bargains even if they have good intentions because, well, they’re trying to take away any agency from someone they’re ultimately trying to gain the affection of. That is kind of fucked up when you think about it. As a plot point it works really well and it’s a bit of a tradition but I’d really love to see that trope subverted more. That being said, I don’t have any major issue with it being used here either, because it is such a common element in fairy tales.
The Goblin King was a fascinating character. He’s very mysterious as is the whole history and myth behind his character. I loved the way bits and pieces were revealed over time. All of the guessing helped with the cloudy atmosphere of the story. In the Underground things felt very off-kilter and his character is no exception. Just what is he? He seems to be more than one thing at the same time. I love that there’s a character within the character–he and Liesl have that in common in some ways although his is more literal while hers is more figurative. I feel like it not only helped make their relationship work really well but also seeing this ‘person within’ in the Goblin King gives some understanding to Liesl’s own struggles with her self and the way she’s locked a part of her self deep inside.
Now this story does get dark at times–Liesl is dealing with a lot of internal pain and recognizing her own worth. When things start coming to a head she doesn’t always deal with assigning value to herself in the most healthy way. This is something that has a huge affect on her relationship with The Goblin King as she can’t understand why he wants her and there’s this almost violent push pull. They’re both quite broken in their own ways and that doesn’t always make for the healthiest of relationships but there is a genuine love that forms between them and it felt beautiful and angsty and a bit grotesque at times.
Overall, I really loved this story. The prose was great, and these kinds of dark fairytale romances are just my thing. Very much looking forward to reading the sequel. 4.5/5 stars.