Germanic legends and the Persephone myth blend with the Labyrinth film to deliver a torrid fantasy romance.
When der Erlkönig (or “Goblin King”) ensnares a Bavarian innkeeper’s daughter for his bride, her sister, Elisabeth, dares to rescue her—and take her place. “Queer and strange and unlovely,” Elisabeth devoted most of her 19 years to supporting her younger siblings. Now she can finally indulge her secret longings to compose music…and for the Goblin King himself. But at what cost? Elisabeth’s first-person voice is all extreme passion: jealousy, self-loathing, frustration, rage, desire, rapture, and grief, expressed in lush prose that feels poetic in small doses but eventually becomes exhausting. Despite all the physical sensuality, it is the descriptions of music which are most compelling; perhaps because der Erlkönig (an explicit David Bowie insert) remains shallow wish fulfilment, transforming from “austere young man” to mischievous playmate to rapacious lover to devoted swain, all with exquisite tortured angst. The remaining characters barely register; a hinted same-sex relationship between her brother and a black slave (seen as exotic in this white European setting) seems to serve mostly as a counterpoint to Elisabeth’s romantic arc. Structured as a sonata, the final movement culminates in a bittersweet sacrifice that will leave readers either savoring the delicious tragedy or irked by the unresolved plot holes.
Like fruit from the Goblin Market: luscious at first bite but ultimately overripe, cloying, and empty. (Fantasy. 14 & up)