Review: White Stag – Pretty and Air-Headed

white stag

Title: White Stag
Author: Kara Barbieri
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 8th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Goblins, Norse Mythology
Page Count: 368 (hardback)

Rating: 5.0/10

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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


I’m keeping this one short(ish). Because turns out I have even less to say about the book than what the book has to say to me. And that’s a bit of an achievement.

I went into this expecting something similar to Labyrinth. A gritty norse-goblin story dressed ill-fittingly as YA and dripping berserker rage–minus elements that would actually make a gritty norse-goblin story with berserker rage interesting–wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

First of all, I don’t think this should have been labelled as YA. They don’t show anything, but there’s graphic talk of how the main villain had raped the protagonist insensate over three months and mutilated one of her breasts. And there’s no point to this detail aside from hammering home the fact that the villain is, indeed, truly villain-y.

Aside from that, “hazy” is the best word to describe this book. The overarching plot? Hazy. The worldbuilding? Hazy. Character development (aside from the MC)? Ha-zy.

The relationship between Soren and Jenneke starts out in a skin-crawling place, with Soren determined to turn her fully into one of the goblins because he knows what’s best for her and apparently what’s best for her is to have no say in whether or not she loses her humanity.

“You’re still human enough to think I’m doing this to hurt you,” he said softly. “But I’m not. This is because I care for you.”

Uh huh.

It gets better as the story goes on but not because of any real effort on Soren’s part. Really, any character becomes a saint when placed next to Soren’s uncle and Soren is no exception.

I think the worldbuilding is what frustrated me the most. The premise gives you such an interesting foundation to work with and yet the end result is like low-budget play that comes with only a handful of background scenery–wintery trees, generic stretch of land, generic castle/mansion interior, and a dark cavernous area. And when you point to the space beyond the trees and ask, “What’s over there?” the book shrugs and goes, “I don’t know.” And that’s never fun.

It’s not a badly written book, but with a world that’s sorely underdeveloped, secondary characters that are just merely present, and a plot that sits around twiddling its thumbs, White Stag made for a curiously hollow and stagnant reading experience.


Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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Priyasha February 6, 2019 - 2:15 pm

Great review ❤

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 9, 2019 - 1:26 am

Thanks, Priyasha! <3

Aurora Librialis February 6, 2019 - 2:47 pm

I enjoy reading your reviews so much, even when they shatter all my Labyrinth-inspired expectations like this. Your description of generic YA fantasy world building is so on point. I always want to know what’s beyond the trees!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 10, 2019 - 9:08 am

Hehe sorry but not sorry? 😀 And one day, ONE DAY, I will come across a Labyrinth-y story that I actually like. Though I still haven’t tried Wintersong! I’ve heard…conflicting things about it.

acquadimore February 6, 2019 - 3:02 pm

Great review!
This… sounds bad. I always dislike when a book idea’s of “character development” involving somewhat bad characters is “let’s introduce someone who is far worse. [Character 1] looks good now and you should like him!” I want to either see the development or see the character own that they’re terrible and go with that. I don’t want to be told I have to like them now because there are people who are worse. To me it feels very… manipulative?

“what’s best for her is to have no say in whether or not she loses her humanity”

I… quote your “uh huh”. This is the trope I hate the most in fae books, and this one managed to have it even though it’s not even a fae book.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 9, 2019 - 2:18 am

I kept forgetting that these characters are *goblins*, not fae, because the book goes on and on about how beautiful and ethereal they are. 😛

And YES it absolutely does feels manipulative! Though, in this case, that feeling kind of gets smothered by the sheer blandness of the story. So that’s um…something.

And to make matters worse, the synopsis for book 2 STRONGLY suggests an “abuser returns and finds understanding and redemption” arc and I just…WTF??

acquadimore February 9, 2019 - 4:52 pm

That’s… ugly. I don’t think it’s the kind of story we need, at all.

(Also, I love this new post-Maas YA trend of “I’m writing about fae but let’s pretend I’m totally not writing about fae”)

Tammy February 6, 2019 - 3:03 pm

Uh yeah. I definitely won’t be reading this one! Hope your next book is better😁

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 9, 2019 - 1:26 am

This was actually my first read of the year! I just couldn’t muster the motivation to actually sit down and write a review. And the next books were LOADS better. 😀

MetalPhantasmReads February 6, 2019 - 3:27 pm

I feel the same as you and I DNF’d it halfway through. This was definitely underdeveloped for all the reasons and I think “hazy” is the best way to describe it 🙂

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 9, 2019 - 1:24 am

I totally speed-read through the last 1/4! 😛 There’s just so much of NOTHING happening from beginning to end

MetalPhantasmReads February 9, 2019 - 6:56 pm

Ah I was getting that vibe earlier in the story before I ended up DNF’ing it. I just never felt like her abuse/torture was impactful but kept being shoved down my throat instead… :/

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 10, 2019 - 5:39 am

It definitely felt like it was mostly there for shock value. And I read the synopsis for book 2 the other day and it implies that Lydian will return to life and go through a redemption/forgiveness arc, and I just…..WHY?

MetalPhantasmReads February 12, 2019 - 10:50 pm

I saw that too and I was confused from what I knew about the story. Oh well, I know I’m not gonna read it :p do you think you’ll try the sequel?

waytoofantasy February 6, 2019 - 4:49 pm

Yeah, I had a lot of problems with this one. Hazy is spot on. Great review.

Sionna (Books in Her Eyes) February 6, 2019 - 6:37 pm

I enjoyed reading it but the more I think about the book the more I feel… odd about it. I didn’t even catch how manipulative he was being.
And I read the synopsis for the sequel which just really made me not want to read it. :/

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 7, 2019 - 8:13 pm

I just checked out the synopsis for book 2 and uh…”When Janneke discovers the truth of Lydian and his madness, she’s forced to see her tormentor in a different light for the first time…must bring her tormentor back to life if she has hopes of keeping her world alive.”

I’m sorry, what??? That sounds worryingly like an “abuser finds redemption and forgiveness” arc D:

Sionna (Books in Her Eyes) February 8, 2019 - 12:58 am

RIGHT?! I was on the fence about reading the sequel UNTIL I ACTUALLY READ THE SYNOPSIS FOR IT. So, no I’m not going to read about how the abuser was right and we have to forgive him.

Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum February 7, 2019 - 2:12 am

Damn, how disappointing. I have this one lined up to read too because I received an ARC late last year, but now I’ll know to go in with my expectations in check.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 10, 2019 - 9:06 am

I hope you enjoy it more than I did! It’s got all the component that would make for a great book, but they just…didn’t gel together for me.

Gerry@TheBookNookUK February 8, 2019 - 12:36 pm

I love when you review books you don’t like, I just love it!!! Not that I want to wish bad books on you but I do hope you review more books you don’t like 😛

sjhigbee February 9, 2019 - 11:34 pm

Detailed and well written review – how disappointing that it had so many issues…

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 13, 2019 - 3:33 pm

it’s such a shame because I think it’s got so much potential and I *do* actually like the writing style!

sjhigbee February 13, 2019 - 3:59 pm

Maybe the next book by this author will hit the spot…

Marie February 10, 2019 - 5:52 pm

This was such a fantastic review to read – I’m so sorry that this read wasn’t such a good experience overall though. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about White Stag so far and I think I will stay away from that one. I hope your next reads have been better! 🙂

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 14, 2019 - 4:19 am

Aww thanks, Marie! I didn’t read any reviews beforehand so I had no idea what to expect, but it definitely seems to be a mixed bag with a lot of people…which is a shame b/c the premise has so much potential!

Captain's Quarters February 10, 2019 - 10:00 pm

Ummm yeah. Won’t be reading this one at all. Nice review though.
x The Captain

@lynnsbooks February 11, 2019 - 11:30 am

Oh dear – this is my next book. Well, reality check safely in place! At least my expectations are now somewhat lowered.
Lynn 😀

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 14, 2019 - 4:29 am

Oh gosh, I’m hoping you’re enjoying it more than I did!!

Lace the Pendragon February 12, 2019 - 1:21 am

Oh yikes! This does not sound like something I’d be interested in. Taking this one off my TBR – not in the mood to deal with overbearing men and gross mutilation – thanks for the review!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky February 13, 2019 - 10:17 am

Yeah…it wasn’t the best. Though I guess I found it more boring than problematic. But the sequel somehow sounds worse, so that’s a no for me on this series!

Norrie February 12, 2019 - 8:14 pm

Hmm, i don’t think i’d like this book, but i certainly enjoyed your review of it 😀


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