White Stag, the first book in a brutally stunning series by Kara Barbieri, involves a young girl who finds herself becoming more monster than human and must uncover dangerous truths about who she is and the place that has become her home.
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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.
In this brutal fantasy (originally self-published), a young woman who's spent the past century serving as thrall to the goblins who slaughtered her village must now fight for her life during a contest to determine the next Goblin King. Janneke has lasted this long by learning to rise to every challenge, and her master, Soren, chooses her to help defeat his loathsome uncle Lydian her original master, who raped and mutilated her. The first goblin to hunt down the fabled white stag will rule the rest, and Soren, to whom Janneke is increasingly attracted, is one of the strongest contenders. Janneke realizes that her time in the goblins' land of Permafrost has changed her, and as the hunt progresses, she must choose between her fading humanity and the goblin spirit she has developed. Barbieri's tale, which blends Norse folklore and Goethe's Erlking, features an emotionally raw tone and dwells on survivor Janneke's pain and trauma. Though the intense tale weaves together romance, action, and magic in sometimes compelling ways, the worldbuilding is atmospheric without detail, the plot sprawls, and elaborate portrayals of violence and assault contribute to a problematic, possibly distressing novel. Ages 14 up.