My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
For your music was the first and only thing in this world that kept me human, the first and last thing I give back to you. —Josef
This year, it seems that I’m becoming familiar with the disappointment that comes with unmet expectations. I loved Wintersong because of its lush, musical content, so I was super excited to get my hands on Shadowsong. I am sorry to say that this is my second 2-star read of 2018.
Objectively speaking, I think that many people will cherish or resonate with this book, especially those who struggle with grief, loss, or depression. The author disclosed that like herself, Liesl suffers from bipolar disorder. S. Jae-Jones didn’t say anything about Josef, but he overtly struggles with depression and self-harm. “Shadowsong” is the perfect title for this #OwnVoices novel; it is as dark as a shadow and as lyrical as a song. I was saddened by the character arcs, but at the same time, I was amazed by the eloquent writing. It was actually my first time to read such an introspective and melancholic piece of YA literature. And for that alone, I can’t say that I completely disliked it.
Nonetheless, it must be noted that Shadowsong made me yawn so many times. It felt like I was rereading Anna-Marie McLemore’s Wild Beauty, which was my own literary lullaby. A lot of chapters were dedicated to developing the characters, but the pacing was utterly monotonous. It didn’t help that I was negatively affected by Liesl and Josef’s constant squabbles. Jealousy, guilt, and resentment were forcing them apart, and reconciliation seemed almost impossible. Combined with the hopelessness evoked by their respective internal monologues, the stress I felt tempted me to give up on the book.
Ultimately, I decided to give Shadowsong 2 stars because it overwhelmed me with a sense of alienation. I wanted to cheer for the characters as they endeavored to defeat their inner demons, yet I just couldn’t connect with them. Although I’ve read a fair number of mental health novels, it was still hard for me to comprehend the catalyst(s) behind most of their decisions and actions. Does mental illness give fictional characters the right to be jerks to their family? I would’ve liked this book more if Josef hadn’t been so mean to Liesl.
Looking at the bright side, Shadowsong nicely tied up loose ends. Also, it was great that my fondness for the mysterious Goblin King didn’t waver even though he was barely in the story. In a way, this book was less about romantic love and more about brotherly/sisterly love.
With all that said, the fact remains that Shadowsong was not my cup of tea. Unlike the first book, it was slow-paced and downright stressful. Oh well, at least I was able to find closure after the heartbreaking ending of Wintersong.