Series: Permafrost #1
Published by Wednesday Books on January 8, 2019
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
White Stag is the first installment in an exciting new fantasy series by author Kara Barbieri. I’ll admit right from the start that I first became interested in this book because I was drawn to its stunning cover and especially because the white stag on it brought to mind Harry Potter and his patronus. Cover love aside, once I read the synopsis and saw that the book was actually about goblins, I knew I had to read it!
Barbieri gets her story off to a strong start by tossing her readers right into an action-packed fight scene in the Goblin Palace. In one fell swoop, we meet the main character Janneke, learn that she is a slave who has a complicated relationship with her captor, Soren, and that she is also a pretty badass fighter. We also meet the heinous and sadistic villain, Soren’s uncle Lydian, and learn that he has a history of violence with Janneke that still haunts her to this day. In addition to all of this, we also see the Goblin King slain before our very eyes and learn that there will be a stag hunt to determine who the next King is. Talk about starting off with a bang! I was thoroughly engaged from that first scene and wanted to know more about Janneke, how she ended up where she is, and why Soren and his uncle seem so completely different from one another even though they’re both Goblins, and then of course I wanted to know more about the death of the King and the stag hunt to crown the new King.
The only survivor when the Goblins burned her village to the ground, 17-year-old Janneke is a character I was drawn to immediately. The Goblins took her into their world, and for the past 100+ years, she has been their slave, first to the repugnant Lydian and then to Soren, once Lydian grew tired of her. Consider yourself forewarned that Janneke’s history with Lydian is dark and violent (Trigger warnings for rape, sexual abuse). I had a somewhat difficult time reading about her time with Lydian and how it still torments her, but it is portrayed realistically and it does shape the person that we meet in the book so I think it’s well done. Janneke is definitely a survivor in every sense of the word and it’s easy to feel sympathetic toward her as she realizes and becomes conflicted by the fact that the more time she spends with the Goblins in their land, the less human she has become. She fears turning into a monster, and it’s easy to understand why she feels that way knowing her history with Lydian.
Soren is also a very likeable character. Even though Janneke is technically his slave, it’s clear from the opening pages that their relationship is anything but Master and Slave. I found Soren to be very intriguing, and I liked how protective he was of Janneke. It often felt like he’s trying to make up for his uncle’s cruelty. Soren stands as a reminder that Goblins aren’t necessarily monsters, and throughout the course of the novel, I think he and Janneke learn a lot from each other about the nature of humanity and monsters.
Another aspect of White Stag that I really enjoyed was that there were two equally compelling plotlines. Janneke’s journey is an emotional one as, caught between the human world and the world of the Permafrost, she battles her inner demons and tries to figure out who she is and where she belongs. Janneke’s plight is one that is easy to get caught up in and she’s such a likeable character that I just found myself really wanting her to find a resolution that would make her happy.
In addition to Janneke’s emotional story, however, there is also the very exciting stag hunt, which will determine the next Goblin King. In many ways, this was actually my favorite part of the story because it was just so action-packed and fraught with danger, not to mention all of the backstabbing and conniving behavior! The stag hunt is basically a free-for-all, and even if you form alliances with other goblins, it’s fully with the understanding that all alliances are temporary the closer everyone gets to the stag. Barbieri does a very nice job of crafting these two separate plotlines and then seamlessly entwining them by way of Janneke, who has a tremendous stake in who becomes the next Goblin King since the main two contenders are Soren and Lydian.
Another strong point of the novel is the worldbuilding. I just loved the wild and wintry setting of the Goblin’s Permafrost. It’s filled with danger and excitement, myths, ancient rituals, and magical creatures and was just everything I hoped it would be.
Although I enjoyed the novel very much overall, I did run into a couple of issues while reading White Stag. One was that I was not completely sold on any kind of a romantic relationship between Soren and Janneke. I’m not even sure why honestly. I enjoyed their banter, especially when Janneke was trying to teach Soren how to appreciate sarcasm and use it properly, but I guess for me, their chemistry felt more friend-like than it did romantic. For that reason, it threw me for a bit of a loop when things started to heat up between them.
A second issue was that there were a couple of times when I just felt like I wanted more information, such as the idea that Janneke is still technically 17 years old even though she has been with the Goblins for over 100 years. I would have liked a little more explanation as to how that was possible.
Overall, I found White Stag to be a very impressive debut from Kara Barbieri and I look forward to seeing where she takes the story in her next book.
The first book in a brutally stunning series where a young girl finds herself becoming more monster than human and must uncover dangerous truths about who she is and the place that has become her home.
As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.
Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.
Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling.