Returned to her family, Liesl pines for her austere young man and for her brother. But from Vienna to the Bavarian forest, people are dying with mysterious marks on their lips and throat. The old laws cannot be broken. The Underground must have it due. Someone must die if spring is to return…
Shadowsong picks up a little while after Wintersong ends (…and if you haven’t read Wintersong, it will be a confusing read, so do start there) and spins out the consequences of thwarting the unnatural laws of the Underground: the Goblin Queen was permitted to live. The Goblin King refuses to take another to wife. And now the Wild Hunt rides the nights, stealing souls without spilling blood.
Liesl’s grandmother Constanze has some idea of what this means; like others of the Erlkönig’s own, she scatters salt to ward the Hunt off. But Liesl is preoccupied by her erratic emotions and the pressure of trying to keep the failing inn open. She writes endless letters to Josef instead of composing music, but Sepperl has his own problems, his talent withering the longer he spends from home. Only when he plays Der Erlkönig – which his master has forbidden him to do – is he able to summon any hint of emotion.
If Liesl knew, she could tell him why. But Josef’s nature remains her most closely-guarded secret. Which is just as well, because it isn’t Josef who has been reading her letters.
Shadowsong is one of those books which spends a lot of pages building up atmosphere before anything really happens. Thankfully, like Wintersong, it’s a delight to read, the prose rich and rewarding as it sets the stage. The spice is in the hints of danger – the elfstruck dead, Josef’s spiral into laudanum and hopelessness, their mysterious new benefactors, the notorious Procházkas, and the occasional glimpse of the monster the Erlkönig has become for continuing to defy the old laws.
Once the plot kicks in in earnest, there are echoes of Wintersong throughout in the use of flowers, mirrors, music, balls and the complexities of human emotion. Just as Liesl was by turns intoxicated and deadened by her surrender to the Underground, now she continues to pendulum from mania to misery. She has become estranged from her brother, bitter about what he perceives as a series of betrayals, while she is ruled by her emotions and her secrets. She can be frustrating at times, but she’s mostly heartbreaking in her fear and isolation. She vowed to live out her life Elizabeth, entire – instead, she is more fractured than ever.
Käthe – older, wiser and more caring after her own adventure Underground – is an unexpected mirror, finding paid employment to keep them in Vienna and dedicating herself to saving her siblings (taking Liesl’s role from Wintersong). I enjoyed seeing more of both Käthe and Josef’s lover Franćois, and I would have preferred the narrative to focus more on their time among the Faithful than the flashback chapters, which seemed like unnecessary padding. We don’t need to know about the Erlkönig’s childhood to keep up with Liesl, and the history of Bohemia largely told us how quickly villagers apparently were to start killing their neighbours in the face of hardship. Both were overshadowed by the fabulously cold Countess Procházka, who had menace and tantalising possibilities firmly in hand.
But it’s a minor gripe. I tore through Shadowsong with a full heart and finished it with tears in my eyes, thoroughly enjoying the way it extended its own mythologies and played out its emotional arcs. I highly recommend this duology for all romantics with Gothic tendencies and an appreciation for Fae with proper bite.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.