This book enchanted me from the moment I read the description, about how a girl has heard stories of the Goblin King her entire life, and has savored them, but only half-believed until her sister is stolen away to be his bride. Elisabeth, who has always dreamed of being a composer while her younger brother shines as a gifted violinist, is ready to sacrifice everything to save her sister: her music, her life, her freedom. But maybe it's not such a sacrifice after all, because for once in her life, she feels wanted, desired, something that hasn't happened before.
Obviously, there are some parallels here to the cult film Labyrinth, starring the one, the only David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King. The stealing of the sibling, the promise that the heroine and the sibling can be free if they can escape, the goblin ball, the peach. There's clearly a lot of inspiration from the film here. That said, this doesn't attempt to be a novelization of the film--though there is one of those, if you're interested. Rather, Jae-Jones takes some of the most hypnotic elements from the movie and twists them and builds them into something completely different that is definitely an "inspired by" rather than an "adapted from." And people draw inspiration from everywhere, so I have absolutely no problems with that. There's also a pseudo-Persephone story here that was an element I really liked. And the sacrificing of the Goblin King's name...that's a very nice trope, one I definitely favor, that made me want to love this book so badly.
Unfortunately, the romance here just didn't click for me. One of the reasons that Elisabeth agrees to become the Goblin King's bride, in addition to saving her sister and presumably the world, is that he wants her. And while that might have been true--the way he wants her but still tries to protect her seems to indicate that, certainly--I never really felt that Elisabeth truly wanted him. She was attracted to him, yes, but I'm not sure she wanted him "entire," as they said so frequently. What Elisabeth really wanted was to be wanted, and that was the main draw. She wanted to be wanted in a distinctly sexual manner, because Elisabeth isn't pretty. She's downright plain, something that's emphasized again and again, along with that her real beauty is on the inside. But still, being physically desired is something new for her, and I think that was what she wanted, more than anything else. And once she got it, once it was hers...she wanted to leave. Which doesn't exactly ring as a fairy tale love for all time to me.
The end here was also a disappointment to me. While some might feel that it suited the book, which was dark and dreary and I don't think really a "young adult" book at all, despite the heroine's age, I felt like there was a way to make this a true romance with a traditional "happily ever after" ending, but without going beyond the bounds of being realistic for the established universe. There was a pattern of Goblin Kings being replaced, and a precedent of at least one leaving with his bride--so why couldn't it have come full circle? It didn't have to perpetually solve the problem of the sacrifice to end winter, but for this particular pair it could have worked. It sort of makes me wonder if Jae-Jones is planning a second book to possibly resolve some of this, though it doesn't look as if this has been announced as part of a duology or longer series. Of course, it just came out a few weeks ago, so there's still time.
So, yes, there were enchanting elements to this book. The premise, the music, the promise of romance, the looming threat of eternal winter...they all had so potential. Unfortunately, I feel like the romance didn't fully develop on both sides and that the ending didn't suit the established book. I'm all for bittersweet endings, as long as they fit--but this one didn't, and it marred the experience for me.
3 stars out of 5.