Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
I have received this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
White Stag tells the story of Janneke, a human girl forced into slavery when her village was burned to the ground by goblins. The memories of her first owner still fresh in her mind after a hundred years, she had to learn to adapt to this new, dangerous world in order to survive. She knows how they think. She knows what they can do. And she is losing her humanity in the process. When the Erlking dies, the Hunt begins. The first goblin to kill the White Stag will become king… and Janneke needs to make sure it isn’t her cruel captor who sits on the throne.
I am partial to a good goblin story. There is a lot of fae and vampire stories, so I am quite glad goblins seem to be having their moment, too. This book mixes the German myth of the Erlking (Goblin King) and some North myths too into this fantasy story. The creatures we are presented to in this first installment are so, so interesting! There is also a classic adventure feel to this book when it comes to the way the plot goes, with a few mini-plots in the middle where the heroes must complete dangerous tasks to be granted favors. With such rich background, I had hoped for a more atmospheric read, and the world building done in a more patient way, showing us what to expect of the creatures, of the goblins themselves, of the dangers of the forest. I was a bit frustrated that White Stag basically throws the characters into places and situations and that is all the world building we get.
A short note on the goblins, though: why can’t they lie? I accept that the author made them tall and beautiful for the sake of storytelling, but goblins are supposed to be mischievous creatures, greedy, malicious. So it was strange to see them turned into basically sexy human with powers… like other creatures in YA do when there will be romance with a human later on. *sigh*
It’s a trend in YA to begin the story in the middle of some action scene with high stakes, but that comes with the price of flashbacks throughout the story to fill in the blanks. Instead of easing into the story and warming to the characters, we are told to like them. This also applies to the romance of the book, which is all but explicitly implied already in the beginning of the story and made me wrinkle my nose – this smells like Stockholm syndrome again. And in a YA book, that is very dangerous. I can “accept” that for an adult book, like A Court of Thorns and Roses and Wintersong, but in young adult, I wish the author had been more careful.
Which leads us to: there is a sex scene. It’s not explicit, and it’s quite romantic, but… it felt so strange. Not because of how the scene was described, but the fact that it existed at all. Among the horrors that Janneke had to endure with her first master, brutal rape was the one that stuck to her mind the most. And while it has been 100 years, she talked about it in a way that felt very fresh. I’m not saying it isn’t possible that she would want and enjoy sex with a goblin after one tortured her that way, but for me, the reader, it felt too fresh. I would have preferred that happening in book 2 or 3, so that we had more time to watch her grow more at ease with her feelings and desires.
I really enjoyed the story, although I wished all the things above where different. It’s an interesting young adult book where the main character look and behaves (more or less) like a 17-year-old, but she’s actually over 100 years old when the book starts. Also some things didn’t feel like they belong in YA – there is torture, rape is mentioned very often, PTSD, there’s kidnapping, murder, slavery… the way those things are dealt with is too early to judge – there are a couple more books coming out for this series. While I am curious to see how the open points of this first installment are going to be answered on the next books, I am not sure I’m captivated enough by the story to continue reading.
—– SPOILERS AHEAD —–
Some of the open points I want to see addressed on the next books: will Janneke try to free the humans who are enslaved by the goblins? If so, I don’t think this will be an easy enterprise, and also I don’t know if there will be time in the books for that, as it’s implied they’ll be at war again soon. How much power will she really have as the new stag? Will she just sit there peacefully like the last one? (Of course not). Why did it seem that she had so many open points on her knowledge of the goblins, despite observing them for so long?
Also I’m deeply bothered by the fact that she almost died when going to find the antidote for Soren’s wound and then afterwards he was like “Oh yeah, he was going to try to drag you back afterwards, everyone knows that but I forgot to tell you. Oops, my bad”. Like, excuse me??