But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.
Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.
In nineteenth-century Bavaria, the old legends still hold sway even as an era of enlightenment dawns. Liesl, oldest of three, has grown up on her grandmother’s tales of goblins and beautiful maidens, although it is Liesl’s sister, Käthe, who is the beautiful one. For Liesl, magic is the music she composes and plays with her violin-virtuoso brother, Josef. It’s Josef’s talents that will save the family, as Liesl, gifted composer though she may be, is only a woman. But when the Goblin King, austere and clever and strangely familiar, surfaces and steals Käthe away to be his bride, Liesl travels to their underground world to save her sister. When she comes face-to-face with the Goblin King himself, odd, unlovely Liesl and her odd, unlovely music are both woken in entirely new ways. But there are forces at play that she doesn’t understand, and sacrifices to be made that she could never imagine. There are plenty of nods to Labyrinth, but atmospherically, this first novel is most similar to another debut: Robin McKinley’s Beauty (1978). The plot sometimes stalls, overwhelmed by the language, but this is an exquisitely and lyrically crafted tale of longing, sibling loyalty, and the importance of women in a time when women were so often overlooked. Eerie, unsettling, and, above all, full of music.
— Maggie Reagan