Monday, January 7, 2019

White Stag by Kara Barbieri

Janneke has been trapped in the Permafrost for almost a century. Thrall to the goblin Soren, she's lived this long through a determination to survive. And it's made her change. Now, as the anniversary of her capture draws near, she finds she's becoming more like the monsters she's been trapped with than the humans she longs to return to. 

The death of the Erlking brings on the Hunt and an opportunity, Janneke thinks, to finally escape. But she must live through the Hunt first. Alongside Soren as his trusted companion, Janneke fights to protect herself, killing as needed. And then she learns a terrible truth, one that might force her to finally decide where it is she really belongs. 

This first in Barbieri's Permafrost series reminded me oh so much of Labyrinth. Obviously the story is quite different: Janneke lives in a village close to the border of the Permafrost and is taken after her village is decimated and she's the only survivor. (Quite different from a petulant teen who wishes her brother would be taken by the goblin king.) But the goblins themselves and the rules of their world brought that classic film to mind in such a fabulous nostalgic way.

The story itself begins a bit bumpy. We're dropped right into it as Janneke is plotting revenge in the Erlking's court and it takes a while for to be able to fully catch up to the politics and the hinted at past that drive the tale. By the time the Hunt actually begins, the story does pick up and both the characters and the plot begin to develop more smoothly, drawing the reader in fully.

The really strong point, though, is the imagery in Barbieri's world. The vividness of the Erlking's court, the Fire Bog, and even the memories of the village Janneke once called home were so well built that I could see them as clear as day.

White Stag is a dark fairy tale great for fans of Labyrinth and the like. It's also, again, the first in a series with at least one more book to go and it'll be interesting to see where Barbieri takes the story.

I should note here that this is a revised and expanded edition. Barbieri originally released the story on Wattpad, gaining a ridiculously fabulous number of reads and prompting a deal with Wednesday books. So if you've heard of it or maybe even read it there, know that there's probably something new here for you.

White Stag officially hits shelves tomorrow.

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