Even when der Erlkönig lets you go, the old laws still demand a sacrifice.
After a year Underground, a changed Liesl returns to her family’s rural Bavarian inn. Longing for her beloved Goblin King, missing her violinist brother, Josef, and constantly slipping between the mundane and the uncanny, she lives haunted by a “maelstrom…[of] madness, mania, melancholy” that frustrates her efforts to compose music. Meanwhile the Wild Hunt relentlessly pursues her and Josef from glittering Viennese salons through crumbling Bohemian ruins to the dark labyrinths Underground. Plot threads from Wintersong (2016) resolve satisfyingly, leaning heavily upon 19th-century Romanticism (including the problematic linkage between genius and insanity). Jae-Jones’ author’s note makes explicit her reliance on her own experience of bipolar disorder, lending authenticity to Liesl’s mercurial moods: her alternating lassitude and frenzy, her intense self-absorption and self-loathing, and her dreamlike blurring of reality and fantasy. Liesl’s narration is interspersed with additional viewpoints (all white, except for Josef’s “Negro” and purely “metaphysical” lover), but they still feel remote, more totems of her mental state than fully fledged individuals. As the tone slowly develops from quotidian meanderings through nightmarish dread to a final phantasmagoric climax of terrible beauty and pain, the relentless richness of the lush, overripe prose will leave readers either swooning or exhausted.
A harrowing, surreal catharsis of mental illness framed as a steamy fairy tale. (Fantasy. 14-adult)