Title: White Stag
Author: Kara Barbieri
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 8th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Goblins, Norse Mythology
Page Count: 368 (hardback)
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
I’m keeping this one short(ish). Because turns out I have even less to say about the book than what the book has to say to me. And that’s a bit of an achievement.
I went into this expecting something similar to Labyrinth. A gritty norse-goblin story dressed ill-fittingly as YA and dripping berserker rage–minus elements that would actually make a gritty norse-goblin story with berserker rage interesting–wasn’t quite what I had in mind.
First of all, I don’t think this should have been labelled as YA. They don’t show anything, but there’s graphic talk of how the main villain had raped the protagonist insensate over three months and mutilated one of her breasts. And there’s no point to this detail aside from hammering home the fact that the villain is, indeed, truly villain-y.
Aside from that, “hazy” is the best word to describe this book. The overarching plot? Hazy. The worldbuilding? Hazy. Character development (aside from the MC)? Ha-zy.
The relationship between Soren and Jenneke starts out in a skin-crawling place, with Soren determined to turn her fully into one of the goblins because he knows what’s best for her and apparently what’s best for her is to have no say in whether or not she loses her humanity.
“You’re still human enough to think I’m doing this to hurt you,” he said softly. “But I’m not. This is because I care for you.”
It gets better as the story goes on but not because of any real effort on Soren’s part. Really, any character becomes a saint when placed next to Soren’s uncle and Soren is no exception.
I think the worldbuilding is what frustrated me the most. The premise gives you such an interesting foundation to work with and yet the end result is like low-budget play that comes with only a handful of background scenery–wintery trees, generic stretch of land, generic castle/mansion interior, and a dark cavernous area. And when you point to the space beyond the trees and ask, “What’s over there?” the book shrugs and goes, “I don’t know.” And that’s never fun.
It’s not a badly written book, but with a world that’s sorely underdeveloped, secondary characters that are just merely present, and a plot that sits around twiddling its thumbs, White Stag made for a curiously hollow and stagnant reading experience.
Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.