White Stag by Kara Barbieri

White Stag by Kara Barbieri
Series: Permafrost #1
Published by Wednesday Books on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Goblins
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: NetGalley
Purchase on: Amazon// Barnes & Noble
Add to: Goodreads

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


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.


The notion of becoming what you despise most is one that is so appealing to me. Add in goblins and the threat of reality ending, and I’m sold. White Stag by Kara Barbieri definitely ticks all the boxes for things I wanted when I went into this, though I can readily admit this will not be for everyone. Please be warned, this is a dark fantasy novel. As such, there are cruelties involved that play a big role in the story.

Before touching on the warning bits, let me talk about what I loved. The world-building was really great. I loved how goblins differed from humans and the bits Barbieri added to give them her own twist. The fact that running water affects goblins (not just ghosts and vamps anymore!) and that violence and just razing in general is so ingrained in the essence of a goblin that they can no longer create anything that isn’t meant for destructive purposes is such fantastic little things that really add to the culture and world. The melding of Norse berserkers with goblins was a great touch to flesh out exactly why they’re viewed as monsters. The human world does need fleshing, but considering we haven’t spent any real time there for White Stag, it didn’t matter much.

Pacing was quick but smooth. There was never a moment where I thought okay, this is lagging and taking too long, let’s just get to the point. Every part gets to the point, whether it’s a major plot point or a character development point. At the same time, we’re never left hanging for the sake of moving things along. It was actually really refreshing to read a debut novel that didn’t have tremendous issues with pacing.

The relationships Janneke builds are interesting and feel fully-fleshed. I say interesting because there is something that reminds me of the post I made the previous week asking whether certain aspects of YA romance were creepy. The non-creepy first, Janneke’s friendships first with a young goblin and second with a halfling were incredibly sweet and clever ways at showing Janneke not every goblin is a monster. It helps answer the underlying question throughout the novel, are monsters made or born.

Now, we can get to the creepy part of the relationships and also the warning bits. The creepy part comes with the possible romance between goblin Soren and protagonist Janneke. The major dilemma I’ve faced with this is the Stockholm syndrome aspect of their dynamic. Janneke has been under his service as a thrall for 100 years. The power dynamic in that relationship isn’t on equal footing. But, like so many other “is it creepy” moments in ya fiction, this is something I can overlook because dynamics do change. The second bit that can introduce the creep factor is how long Soren has known Janneke — the first time he met her. That gave me some serious reservations and Barbieri is really smart to reveal this incredibly late in the novel, yet it still gave me pause. I really don’t understand why this was needed unless it plays a bigger part later in the series. It works only to confuse readers that were already on-board with this romance and put off readers that were iffy.

What I’ve seen many people complain about, and it’s a completely valid complaint, is the TRIGGER CONTENT WARNING HERE NOW part which deals with the aftermath of Janneke’s rape that happened prior to the start of the series. It is graphic and it is repeatedly brought up throughout the book. For some, especially those that went into this novel with no forewarning, this can be too much to bear and can definitely feel as though Barbieri is doubling down for shock. However, I never felt this way. I felt that, as a survivor of sexual assault with absolutely no outlet or assistance on mentally coming to terms with what happened, what Janneke experiences throughout the book makes sense. It isn’t overly done or done to shock (if you want to see what that looks like, take a look at the latter seasons of GoT.) It is brought up in story during incredibly appropriate times. When Janneke feels threatened, when she comes into contact with her abuser, when she thinks about her body, she remembers. She is thrown into a PTSD loop, reliving the trauma. It reads as so very real. Now, if Janneke in the second novel never processes what happened and is magically cured of that worry, or if it is still brought up constantly, then I can agree with detractors. But the way it is utilized in this novel definitely makes sense and feels valid. I definitely think readers should be forewarned that this is something in the book and I’m not sure the age rating on amazon is the right one as it mentions an intended age as low as 12…

White Stag by Kara Barbieri is a fantastic debut novel written by an incredibly promising author. I sat down after reading to think about what was wrong with it and how to mark this novel, and realized I didn’t really have anything I could mark it down for. I really enjoyed the story and the world, the pacing was spot on, and I’m truly excited to see what happens next.


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