White Stag is about goblins and Erlkings and monstrous girls…
So basically a checklist of things I quite enjoy reading. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It had a lot of fae culture woven through a Norse setting, but focusing on goblins, and I’ve been reading SO many fae books recently that this just fit right into what I was in the mood for. Plus it’s bitterly cold and cruelly wicked with knives and claws and fights around every few pages. And it takes the time to really discuss and delve into PTSD and mental illness! Which is something fantasy sorely needs to address.
I am PLEASED.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for the review-copy! This was out Jan, 2019!
➸ Welcome to the haaaalls of the GOBLIN KING.
Ok I freaking loved reading this version goblins! The have glamours, like the faeries, to make themselves inhumanely gorgeous, but when the glamours fade they look like vicious terrible monsters. They’re all SO bloodthirsty. Literally stab your neighbour before breakfast and nobody is shocked. My man, you all need some therapy.
➸ Norse-inspired setting!
I loved the mythology angle it went for, and how Jenneke and Soren met wolf goddesses, mischievous svartelves who’ll drive you mad, and dragons with poisonous fangs. And it was SO COLD. So frikkin’ freezing. I could feel that wrapped around every page.
➸ Jenneke was also a bitter stabby gift to this world.
She’s been abused for hundreds of years (but she’s permanently 17) and she is NOT in the mood for anyone’s shenanigans. She was rescued from her abusive master by Soren, who has always been kind, but she still hates him for owning her. She has severe PTSD and anxiety flashbacks, and honestly I’m just glad YA fantasy is unpacking mental illness more! And after reading the author’s note, you know it’s a really personal story regarding the eating disorders and sexual assault. The heartache is palpable. But so is the healing. I love that about it!
And seeing Janneke thaw as the book went on (like teaching a little goblin girl to be a better warrior and not punching Soren in the face every time he attempts to be nice) was the besssst. At one point Soren lovingly says: “yOU ARE A SMALL DOG THAT BITES ANKLES”. She hits him.
➸ Soooo thoughts on the romance?
I was worried. I mean, Soren is a goblin and effectively her “owner” for most of the book (her abusive last owner, Lydian, gave her to Soren) and even if Soren is heckin’ nice and treats her well — uneven power dynamics (especially between 1000 year old goblins vs a girl) makes my skin crawl. BUT. I think the book did it the right way. There was only romance when they were both in equal positions of power over themselves. Also there’s a reason Soren didn’t free her! I won’t say for spoilers, but it Makes Sense™.
➸ A few things that didn’t work for me:
(1) The language is super modern (aka, Janneke even busts with stuff like “gee thanks”) and they banter back and forth about how Goblins don’t get sarcasm. Yes there’s alwyas been sarcasm but the actual word didn’t exist till the 1500s…plus goblins can’t lie. It’s said again and again! But in order to be sarcastic, you are effectively saying an ironic lie. This rule seemed to bend when later Soren was fluently sarcastic?!!
(2) there are a lot of fight scenes, which just aren’t my favourite oops
(3) mentally ill villains is just a trope I particularly dislike
It’s a story of monsters and mayhem, cruelty and brittle despair. But it’s also about hope. And I loved this balance of mythology, hunts for magical stags, and Erlking’s magic — contrasted with piecing together broken people and loving yourself and believing you are worth love.
As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.
Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.
Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling.