WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones. Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

October 21, 2018 - 9:43 pm No Comments

WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones. Titan Books, London, UK. £7.99 paperback. 508 pages. ISBN: 9781785655449
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

Folk tales and fairy tales have long held a place in popular culture. They were the stories told around fires on dark cold nights. Some contained hidden messages, especially for young girls, others were just to delight and rouse the audience. As many were not written down, it is often difficult to decide when the tale was created. These stories have been a source of inspiration for modern writers such as Angela Carter. The best of these adaptations take the heart of the story and reconfigure it for the modern reader. Others, less successfully, merely retell the tale.
In 1859, Christina Rossetti composed a poem called the Goblin Market. The elements within it were likely culled from earlier stories. S. Jae-Jones has taken the essence of Rossetti’s poem for Wintersong. It tells the story of the sisters Kathe and Liesl. Kathe, the younger, is wilful and feels that the world revolves around her. Liesl is the more practical of the two. They have a brother, Josef, who is a talented musician. At a time when women were not expected to have accomplishments, Liesl would compose scores for him. As the time approaches for Josef to perform for a master who their father hopes will take him on as an apprentice, the sisters head into the local town to collect a repaired bow for Josef to use. It is market day. While Liesl knows the danger of tasting the fruit the goblin men tempt them with, Kathe ignores her sister’s warnings. As a result, she will be claimed by the Goblin King as his bride. Unless Liesl can find a way to free her sister, this is a death sentence.
The setting for this story is unspecified. It is sometime in the past, in mid-Europe in a rural community. This makes it slippery, not knowing the context of the events. A hundred years after Rossetti’s poem was written, various critics have tried to analyse it, putting interpretations of it that may or may not have been there. Some suggest it is an exposition against Victorian marriage practices, others that it was an early feminist tract. Whatever the truth, Jae-Jones has missed the opportunity to lace her story with hidden meanings. True, Liesl is denied the opportunity to compose and play in her own right as this was regarded as a male preserve but this is not a startling observation.
If the reader is looking for a retelling of The Goblin Market, then they will be satisfied with this book. I would have liked to see more layers to the events.

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