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.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review through Netgalley. This was my first read of 2019, so I wanted to make it a book that really interested and excited me. The story of Janneke and the goblins sounded some fantastic and unique to me, that I decided to give it a try for my first book review of the year. I was hoping to find a fresh protagonist, world and story compared to the books I read last year.
The world of White Stag interested me the most in the book. While parts of Permafrost and the neighboring human realm reminded me a bit of Spinning Silver, I found the contents of the world complete original as far as I was aware. The customs and rituals of the goblins Janneke lives among were also mostly new, though some things did sound like generic fae rules you’d find in other books. But, the focus on goblins, which are usually depicted as ugly and gross, instead of the much more popular faeries was a welcome change. There were also a number of things for me to learn about the human world of this book, which added some excitement to the story.
As a narrator and protagonist, Janneke was interesting as she’s not always a likable character. She’s the victim in a number of situations, but she’s also hardheaded, hot tempered and obstinate. Many times, I found myself wanting her to do something, and she’d do the complete opposite, almost as if to spite me. It was maddening, but also made me feel invested in her. Other times, she’d make decisions that seemed almost out of character, but the author does a good job of working these decisions into the character so they’re at least believable. Additionally, Janneke’s chemistry with Soren is enticing and delicious. I adored their scenes together more and more every time they happened.
The story of the book, while exciting and fun, was also confusing at times. It was odd for the book to begin with Janneke already having been in the Permafrost and separated from humans for 100 years. That fact, although it is somewhat important to the plot, was disorienting to learn within the first few pages. It made me question whether Janneke was human or extremely old or enchanted, the answer to which came much later. Additionally, the book jumps between present action, flashbacks and dream sequences often, which were at times hard to keep track off. I appreciated each scene as they happened, though, and they were all well written and added to the plot.
If you’re a fan of The Cruel Prince and Spinning Silver, you’ll love this debut book by Kara Barbieri. The world is interesting and unique. The protagonist, Janneke, is complex and fun to get to know. The story, which disorienting at times, is compelling and kept me glues to my kindle screen until the final page. I’m delighted to know this is the first book in a series and will be eagerly awaiting the next book.