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review 2019-01-25 01:05
White Stag by Kara Barbieri
White Stag - Kara Barbieri

TW: Rape, Violence, Abuse

I had to sit on this review for quite a while, because my feelings about this book were all over the place when I finished it. I absolutely adore modern fairy tales. Anything that even hints at a world beyond the veil of our own, instantly goes onto my reading list. I don't shy away from books that are dark and gritty, and I actually often praise stories that aren't full of insta-love and wilting women. So, by all rights, this book should have been an instant five star read for me. It wasn't though, and that took me a while to unpack.

First off, praise where praise is due. Barbieri does a stellar job of dropping the reader right into the fray from page one, and doling out just enough information to really keep things intriguing. From the moment I met Janneke, and realized her plight, I was completely sold on this story line. The idea of a human servant in a world of goblins, a character who is slowly losing her humanness with every decision she makes to survive, was just fascinating. I found myself rooting for Janneke and her inner fire. Here was a character who, despite all the odds stacked against her, was surviving. I wanted to see her burn everything around her, and walk valiantly through the flames.

When I finally got an opportunity to really know Soren, my heart was pretty much given to this book. I loved how he was so at odds with those around him. Any character who is equal parts compassionate and brutal pretty much instantly has my heart. I like to believe that we're all a little bit in the gray area, and Soren definitely fits that bill. As he and Janneke bantered and fought together, I couldn't help but smile that their relationship. There's no insta-love here at all. This is a relationship built on a foundation of trust, and it shows. You would think that these two paragraphs were more than enough to explain why this would be a five star read for me, but here comes the difficult part of this review.

First off, this book relies heavily on flashbacks to Janneke's repeated rape and torture at the hands of our villain, Lydian. I completely understand that the goal was to elicit sympathy for Janneke, and explain the quirks her character displays. However I also believe, strongly, that this could have been achieved by giving a one time rundown of her backstory, and moving on. The repeated flashbacks get really uncomfortable after a while. As I mentioned above, I am not squeamish in the least. I think that gritty and dark Fantasy books are the best. In this case though, I felt like it was really overdone. In fact, it started to chip away at the fierce woman who I originally fell in love with. I think the idea was a fair one, to create a back story to show Janneke rise from the ashes. Instead it almost made her seem broken to the point that Soren was her savior, and I wasn't a fan.

My other big issue with this story lies with Lydian. There's no denying that he's an absolutely loathsome character. If anything, Barbieri should be given credit for creating a character who has not a single redeemable trait. That's fairly impressive. However there is never any explanation for Lydian's madness. There is a prophecy hinted at, and talk of visions, but Lydian never really gets the backstory that he really deserves. Instead he's just a character built of madness and hatred, a completely dark individual. It almost made him feel less scary to me, simply because he didn't feel like a real person. Like I said before, the grayness of the world is what makes it fascinating. Think of the scariest villain you know of, and they probably have at least a shred of humanity in them. Lydian definitely does not.

Well, so there you have it. I apologize that this review is so long but there's even more I could discuss about this book. It really sat on that line for me, where I wanted to love it more but had to be honest about how I felt overall. Perhaps the next book, which I will very much be ready to read, will bring back the Janneke that I loved. Perhaps the next book will have a little more polish, and a little more fairy tale feel to it. If so, that will be a five star read. I can't wait.

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review 2019-01-04 22:37
Brutal but stunning dark fantasy, this chilling debut goblin-king novel has roots in Norse mythology
White Stag - Kara Barbieri

In this dark fantasy, Janneke is the last child in a family of daughters and has been groomed to be the ‘male heir’, having been taught to hunt, track, and fight. When her village was burned to the ground she was the only survivor and was taken captive by the malicious goblin Lydian, who scars her for life, and who then sends her to work for his nephew Soren.

She then has to serve this monster who she is bonded to in the Permafrost. A brutal hunt begins for the beautiful white stag as Lydian and Soren compete for the throne of the next Goblin King. Janneke's humanity comes at the cost of becoming more attached and loyal to the goblin Soren, and as she has to learn to survive in the world she has been made to live in, learning truths about the past and about who she really is.

 

This is the first novel from a talented new author, Kara Barbieri, who brought it to life on WattPad; she has imagined a world called the Permafrost, heavily influenced by Nordic mythology, laden with dangerous monsters alongside the goblins, living in an unforgiving frozen landscape. Set to be the start of a series, ‘White Stag’ is both frightening and captivating.

*Frightening because of the amount of sheer brutality in the novel: there are plenty of references to rape, torture, mutilation, and abuse, as well as all the combat/fighting leading to bloodshed and descriptions of injuries and more. Janneke has been victim to unspeakable acts at the hands of Lydian, and we gradually learn about his true capabilities as the story goes on, making him just about the vilest character you can possibly ever read about. Soren, who she is bound to, is the unlikely antidote to this goblin villain, and ironically becomes the one to bring romance and emotion to her world, despite the ‘humanity’ leaving her life.

*That's your trigger warning, folks!

 

 

What I found most appealing about the book, is the journey that Janneke goes on, both physically and emotionally, which kept me captivated throughout; the hunt and the battles are relentless and test her constantly, and the relationship with Soren gradually changes. I've read some criticism of the relationship between her and Soren (I made the mistake of reading others' reviews, which I don't normally do), and I disagree that it would be unlikely that she would become attached to him, given that she is his charge and bound to him. I wasn't sure whether to attribute her feelings towards Soren to a sort of Stockholm syndrome or because she genuinely developed feelings for him because he seemed to care for her (he became more human as she lost her humanity). The dichotomy here is fascinating. They've been attached for some hundred years or so, and the intensity would undoubtedly bring some connection; why now though is more the question, but it makes for great reading.

 

Barbieri has set the stage for a series in a world that may trigger many readers but evokes images, not unlike the Game of Thrones and is for anyone who loves Viking or Nordic-inspired tales and mythology. I appreciated her sense of humor throughout the novel, and I know there is so much more to come from this bright light that is Kara Barbieri.

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863517-white-stag
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