First Lines: Once there was a little girl who played her music for a little boy in the wood. She was small and dark, he was tall and fair, and the two of them made a fancy pair as they danced together, dancing to the music the little girl heard in her head. Her grandmother had told her to beware the wolves that prowled in the wood, but the little girl knew the little boy was not dangerous, even if he was the king of goblins.
This was in a display at my library for winter-themed books and, having been on my to-read shelf for some time, I grabbed it. (It helps a lot that I’m going through a very strong fantasy phase right now–fantasy, paranormal, anything that is vastly different from our world.) The fact that this sort of sounds like a fairy tale sold me on it.
Since she was a little girl, Liesl has heard stories of the Goblin King. Stories of how dangerous he is, of how enticing. At 18 and helping her family run their inn, Liesl uses those stories of the Goblin King to help escape her crushing, hopeless, creatively-draining world. Feeling her chance at composing slipping through her fingers, Liesl becomes bitter toward her family. But that all chances when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, who is very much real. Liesl has no choice but to go to the Underground to get her sister back. The Underground is mysterious, beautiful, terrifying…and so is the man who rules it. Faced with ancient laws that work against her, Liesl will be faced with impossible choices to save her sister and herself before her fate is sealed.
This was really different, and I liked that even if I didn’t always follow what was happening.
First of all, I loved the setting. It just felt different. While the year is never specified, it’s pretty clearly Germany in about 1600s-early 1800s, probably skewing more toward early to mid-1700s. (Composers are mentioned by name, so I used those dates to firm up my idea.) This is such a different setting already that I was pulled in.
The whole Der Erlkonig bit was interesting too, though I admit I didn’t always follow that. Being the Goblin King, he’s got magical powers that he uses to trick and pull Liesl into his traps. Of course, there’s more to him and his world than meets the eye.
The plot stuck with me even after I finished the story. I can’t even quite say why. Well, ok, maybe I can a little. I mean, it sort of has this Alice in Wonderland/Persephone and Hades feel to it, which is a story line I adore. So Liesl gets sucked into an underground world that she doesn’t understand, led by a man she doesn’t trust and creatures that are more than a little scary at times. That basically sums things up and, no matter how many times I read similar stories, I just keep coming back.
And while I kind of understood who he was as a person and what made him tick, there was some distance between me as the reader and him. I felt like the characters–not just him–were kind of closed off from the audience. This book read more like Literature than a story, so maybe that was part of it. The writing felt loftier. Not that that’s bad, but I did find myself skimming at times on accident.
Still, it was interesting and I do want to see what happens next.