“Cellist Jenny Go has one thing on her mind: getting accepted into her dream music school in Manhattan. After receiving a critique about lacking artistry, she gives in to a moment of insanity and spends the night roaming the streets of Los Angeles with a boy she’s just met at her uncle’s karaoke bar. The night ends as quickly as it began, but the pair exchange contact information. When Jaewoo stops responding to her texts, she does her best to forget him and focus on music . . . until she moves to South Korea for a semester and finds out he’s a student at her new school. Not only that, he’s a member of XOXO, a new K-pop band taking the world by storm. Now a relationship is a possibility, but it means sacrificing their respective music paths. Will Jenny choose cello over Jaewoo, or is she willing to give up her dream for the boy she’s falling in love with?”
I don’t consume contemporary romance on a regular basis, but I turned to “XOXO” to fill a hole left by the disappointing romance in my last read. Unfortunately I didn’t fully connect with Jaewoo and Jenny as individual characters therefore their romance did not interest me in the slightest. Jaewoo was fine but not particularly interesting; he actually reminds me of myself which makes sense because I’m pretty boring. I didn’t like Jenny’s irresponsibility every time Jaewoo was in the near vicinity, missing cello practices and cancelling plans with friends. I understand this behavior is normal for a teenage girl with a boy on her radar, but it always irks me.
Setting my romance disappointment aside, the writing is well done, and I flew through every single chapter. My favorite part was Seoul Arts Academy. I was fully invested in the goings-on at SAA and might’ve given this book a higher rating if it was centered around the school and students. I also loved all the mentions of food, even though it made me insanely hungry. Every single dish sounds delicious, and I need to find a local Korean restaurant ASAP. Those factors saved this book, bringing my rating to a total of three stars. I think “XOXO” will appeal much more to readers of this genre who are used to cute romances and young adult behavior. I can only handle so much before I’m annoyed so I’m definitely not a member of the target audience. However, the friendships and school shenanigans won my heart so I will be rereading this book in the future.
Dieting: In Chapter 13, eBook page 99, Angela asks why Gi Taek isn’t eating. He replies that he’s on a diet, & she remarks that he shouldn’t skip meals. On eBook Page 120, Gi Taek mentions being on a diet again.
*Disclaimer: I am very thorough so just know that this section might contain SPOILERS.
Grammar & Spelling
eBook Page 75 – “ . . . having never been this situation before” instead of “. . . having never been in this situation before”
eBook Page 82 – “A familiar figures steps from the wings . . . ” instead of “A familiar figure steps from the wings . . . ”
eBook Page 184 – “An hour and half later . . .” doesn’t make as much sense as “An hour and a half later . . .”
eBook Page 193 – “ ‘Okay, now I think that everyone’s,’ Ian says . . .” instead of “ ‘Okay, now I think that’s everyone,’ Ian says . . .”
B*tch – Said twice
B*llsh*t – Said once
D*ammit – Said 3 times
D*mn – Said 8 times
G*d – Said 19 times
Scr*w [everyone else] – Said once
Sh*t – Said twice
Sh*tty – Said once
Sl*t – Said twice
Chapter 27, eBook Pages 192 to 196 – During their camping trip, some of the Seoul Arts Academy students hike up the campsite mountain to a shrine dedicated to the located mountain sansin (deity).
Chapter 16, eBook Pages 113 to 116 – While alone in a closet, Jaewoo & Jenny almost kiss before the door abruptly opens.
eBook Page 168 – Jaewoo & Jenny kiss on a swing set while alone in a park at night. On eBook page 181 Jenny says that they “made out for half an hour.”
eBook Page 177 – Sori tells Jenny that there will be very little adult supervision on the school camping trip so she might have a chance to “get into Jaewoo’s pants.”
eBook Page 208 – Kissing
eBook Page 210 – Jenny tells Jaewoo all about her first experience at a bathhouse, humorously saying her friends Angela & Sori saw more of her than her mom in recent years. He suggestively texts back “I wish I could have been there.”
eBook Page 214 – Jenny runs off to meet Jaewoo, & Gi Taek says “Have fun. Don’t get pregnant.”
eBook Page 215 – Jaewoo & Jenny hug & kiss in a fifth floor corner of the school, a blind spot from the security cameras.
eBook Page 229 – Jenny tells Sori to cover for her at the dorms because she’s staying at Jaewoo’s mother’s apartment due to the rain. Sori suggestively texts back “GET IT GIRL!!!!!”
eBook Page 231 – Jenny falls in asleep in Jaewoo’s bed. He eventually wakes her up, & she goes back to his sister Joori’s room.
eBook Page 248 – Kissing
eBook Pages 248 to 249 – Jaewoo & Jenny reserve a karaoke room for thirty minutes, Once they turn on some music, they spend the whole time kissing. Aside from removing each other’s shirts, nothing else happens.
“Though 18-year-old Serilda Moller has lived in the town of Märchenfeld her whole life, most of the townsfolk choose to ostracize her. Cursed by the god Wyrdith before her birth, Serilda’s eyes are covered by the golden wheel of fate and fortune, and she possesses the ability to spin fantatsical tales, earning a reputation as an impulsive liar. One night under the Snow Moon, she lies to the wrong person, the Erlking, and changes the trajectory of her small town life. Now she is at his mercy, forced to answer his call every full moon to enter his haunted castle and spin straw into gold. A mysterious boy comes to her aid the first time, but even though he’s slowly falling in love with her, his magic cannot be given away for free. It’s apparent that the Erlking will never be satisfied, and Serilda is quickly running out of currency to continue paying the price of magic. Will she find a way out of her predicament, or will she be forever bound to Erlkönig and Adalheid Castle?”
The beginning of “Gilded” was promising, so much so that I was prepared to hand out a five-star rating. I would highly recommend the audiobook, which I listened to all the way through; Rebecca Soler did a fantastic job as the narrator, making me feel like I was being read a fairytale before bed each night. The winter setting is cozy, and the darkness of the story kept me on the edge of my seat. I also appreciate the way foreshadowing was used. In chapter two, Serilda’s students comparing her storytelling to spinning straw into gold, transforming their dull lives in the town of Märchenfeld into something special. A second example is the moss maidens Meadowsweet and Parsely gifting jewelry to Serilda in chapter five; the crest on the ring and picture in the locket end up being significant clues that tie everything together.
I was enchanted and ready to be taken on a immerisve journey for 500 pages . . . until chapter ten. Despite dark subject matter that toed the line, it’s the romance that lost me. It fell into the insta-love category and took me out of a world that had previously enraptured me. Never once did I feel a spark between Gild and Serilda. I wasn’t invested and found myself reading at a slower pace whenever they shared a chapter. I understand that his century-long loneliness as a poltergeist and her past with bullying gave them a connection as outcasts, but their intimacy progressed too quickly. The ending was wrapped up in their relationship, and I’m not sure there’s any part of it I liked. I sincerely believe a slow-burn romance would’ve suited this dark fairytale; instead an insta-love story weighed down an otherwise promising book.
Despite my disappointment, I’m giving this book 3 stars, and the completionist in me plans on reading the sequel. If you’re looking for a wintery read and like the idea of a Rumpelstiltskin retelling, give “Gilded” a try. Maybe the insta-love won’t bother you as much as it bothered me. Beware, this book is heavily inspired by German folklore and extremely dark. I’m shocked that there are no trigger warnings and did my best to cover everything down below so you’re fully prepared for the amount of blood & violence.
Abandonment – Serilda’s mother left when she was a young child. It’s mentioned throughout the book but addressed directly in chapter 17, starting on page 154.
Abortion – Though an abortion is not performed, it is used as a threat.
Bullying – Serilda’s experience with bullying due to her appearance is mentioned throughout the book.
Blood & Violence – If you can’t stand even a hint of blood, don’t read this book. There is blood and violence in most of the chapters.
Death & Suicide – Death is a major theme throughout the book, including the death of children. Chapter 49 is the most disturbing in my opinion because it deals directly with children’s dead bodies. There is a brief mention of suicide on page 178 and miscarriage and stillbirths on page 325.
Discipline – I know this isn’t always a bad or triggering subject, but on page 10, Madame Sauer grabs a willow branch and threatens to strike Serilda’s hands, bringing back painful memories from her school days. It’s briefly mentioned again on page 170. I wanted to note this because in my opinion, it’s a controversial and borderline abusive method of discipline.
Hunting& Trophies – There are frequent mentions of the Erlking hunting for magical creatures as sport; he mounts some of them on the walls of his castle and keeps others chained in cages.
Kidnapping & Missing Children – The Erlking is known for luring children from their homes & leaving their lifeless bodies at the edge of the Aschen Wood, sometimes keeping their spirits as prisoners in his castle.
Supernatural – If you’re easily creeped out, be aware that there are mentions of demons, appearances by ghosts who bear the wounds that caused their death, & eery creatures such as the Nachtkrapp, a raven with no eyes.
*Disclaimer: In order to be thorough, there will be spoilers in this section.
Alcohol – There are approximately 10 pages that mention alcohol and drinking, possibly a few more, but nothing too extreme – Pages 3, 103, 112, 134, 269, 280, & 326
Blood, Violence, & Death – There are approximately 132 pages that mention blood, violence, and/or death, ranging from brief to descriptive & disturbing.
Page 2 – The Erlking shoots an arrow that pierces the wing of the god Wyrdith in beast form; there’s mention of bloodied feathers.
Page 12 – Serilda is daydreaming about the Erlking’s Snow Moon hunt, imagining that “after their demonic ride, there will be feasting on what beasts they’ve captured, and drinking of mulled wine spiced with the blood . . .”
Page 14 – Serilda tells the children “”the only way to kill off a Nachzehrer is by putting a stone into its mouth. That will keep it from gnawing on its own flesh while you cut off the head.”
Pages 17 to 20 – Serilda tells a story about the Erlking bringing lost children to his queen Perchta who longs to be a mother. Once they grow out of babyhood, she tires of them, & he takes them to the forest & kills them. The child in this particular story has his throat cut by a hunting knife.
Page 37 – A female ghost riding with the Snow Moon hunt has blood stains down the front of her tunic, seemingly from the gash in her throat which was the cause of her death.
Page 41 – Brief mention of a hypothetical bargain signed in blood
Page 43 – Serilda is thinking about the rumors that the Erlking murders children, how in the past children’s corpses were found at the edge of the forest, often picked clean by crows.
Page 47 – Brief mention of Serilda’s story about a water nix who bites off fingers
Page 48 – Brief mention of Serilda’s story in which she brandishes a lethal fire iron & stabs her enemies, including one of the Erlking’s hellhounds
Page 55 – The first appearance of the Erlking’s servant Manfred, a ghost with an iron chisel sticking out of his left eye socket & a beard soaked in blood. He appears frequently so his appearance is described more than once.
Page 59 – The carriage Serilda rides in is made of a beast’s ribcage, the lantern out of his jaws & skull.
Page 65 – A young ghost servant of the Erlking is noticed by Serilda. She speculates that the bruises on his neck might be evidence of abuse from when he was alive or his cause of death.
Pages 65 & 66 – One of the Erlking’s hellhounds breaks loose and attempts to attack Serilda so he puts it down with an arrow which strikes through one of its eyes and jaw.
Page 71 – The Erlking’s castle is full of taxidermied creatures; the different heads & bodies are discussed throughout Chapter 9.
Pages 73 to 74 – There is mention of tapestries depicting the brutality of the Erlking’s hunts.
Pages 76 to 77 – If Serilda cannot spin straw into gold, the Erlking threatens to mount her head and that of her father on his castle walls.
Page 80 – Brief mention of bloodstained walls which is what Serilda thought the Erlking’s dungeons would have
Page 83 – A panicked Serilda wonders how the Erlking will cut off her head, with an axe or a sword?
Pages 103 to 105 – Serilda tells another story in which the Erlking kills a child, this time by stabbing with an arrow.
Pages 118 to 119 – Mention of a tapestry depicting a stag bleeding from multiple arrow wounds
Pages 122 to 123 – Serilda is attacked by a creature with a demon face, something known as a Drude; his claws draw blood.
Page 125 – Mention of bloody footprints & a pool of blood in the throne room where Serilda is walking
Page 134 – Mention of the dried blood on Serilda’s cheek
Pages 140 to 141 – Serilda & Leyna talk about Nachzehrer, creatures that eat people & their own body
Page 161 – Serilda has a beautiful dream about some kind of celebration at a castle which suddenly turns into blood spilling from under the gates and into the lake
Page 165 – Brief mention of a wolf pack taking chickens & goats from a local farm
Pages 177 to 178 – Serilda starts to tell the school children a story about seeing a Nachzehrer, freshly risen from the grave, who had already chewed off his burial shroud and right arm
Page 178 – Brief mention of suicide, Fricz explains that someone who commits suicide could potentially become a Nachzehrer
Page 178 – Brief mention of Serilda remembering the screams & bloody footprints from Adalheid Castle in Chapter 14
Page 194 – The Crow Moon hunt catches up to a red fox who is swiftly killed with a cudgel. Serilda mentions that the hunt will end with a feast of their kills served on silver dishes in a pool of blood.
Page 194 – Back at the castle after the Crow Moon hunt, the hellhounds are lured back to their cages by bloody meat.
Page 195 – The Erlking grabs Serilda by the hair & threatens her with a blade against her throat.
Page 198 – The Erlking strikes his blacksmith, throwing him into a wall.
Page 198 – After his latest prank, the Erlking gives orders for the castle poltergeist to be strung up with rope in the dining hall.
Page 199 – The Erlking theartens Serilda, saying “Either this straw will be gold come morning or it will be red with your blood.”
Page 209 – Serilda continues her story from chapter 12, mentioning once again the prince who is badly wounded and bleeding while watching the Erlking continously stab his little sister with an arrow.
Page 210 – In that same story, the great huntress Perchta is bleeding from an arrow wound inflicted by the prince.
Page 228 – The Erlking remarks that he won’t be gutting Serilda since all the straw in the dungeon has been spun into gold.
Page 231 – Two brief mentions of blood
Page 232 – Serilda mentions that if the Erlking finds out about her lies, he will kill her and mount her head on one of the castle walls.
Page 237 – A man appears in front of Adalheid Castle, seemingly wounded with blood spilling out of his mouth
Page 238 – Serilda runs into a goblin in the castle who begins to bleed from his neck; on that same page, Serilda mentions the stench of blood in the air.
Page 240 – Another mention of the smell of blood in Adalheid Castle
Pages 241 to 242 – Serilda runs into a woman who isn’t wounded at first, but suddenly a red line appears across her throat.
Page 261 – Serilda wants to know more about Adalheid Castle & “what had happened to leave its walls haunted by so many brutally murdered spirits.”
Page 261 – Brief mention of the Erlking killing mortals & stealing children
Page 266 – Serilda considers how she might kill the Erlking; she certainly can’t walk right up to him & stab him with his own hunting knife.
Page 268 – For the Spring Equinox celebration, the citizens of Adalheid decorate their doors with garlands made of animal bones.
Page 269 – A man with a cart full of live animals passes Serilda; the animals are left caged or tied to posts to await their fate during the Erlking’s Spring Equinox hunt. A cart of rabbits is added on page 272.
Pages 272 to 273 – Lorraine tells Serilda that trying to have a conversation with the Erlking during the Feast of Death will be “ . . . asking for him to skin you alive! To pluck out your eyeballs and feed them to the hounds. To tear your fingers off one by one and . . .”
Page 273 – Brief mention of the innocent children who disappeared because of the Erlking
Page 275 – Leyna tells Serilda that the live animals will be let loose for the hunt to chase down & kill; the meat is then thrown upon the likeness of the god Velos where the hellhounds feast upon it.
Page 279 – Serilda recognizes two ghosts riding with the hunt, describing them as “covered in their own blood”
Page 280 – Music is being played at the feast by “gore-splattered musicians”
Pages 280 to 281 – The live animals are let loose, running as fast they can from the pursuing hellhounds & hunters who are cheered on by a crowd of ghosts
Page 286 – Serilda sees a tapestry in Adalheid Castle that depicss a skeleton dressed as royalty and a small body ripped in two, identified as a female child from the pink dress & ringlet curls
Pages 287 to 288 – When a drude attacks Serilda, it gives her horrible visions: the Märchenfeld school on fire with children trapped inside, her father’s body being scavenged by birds, three of her young students being poked & prodded by goblins while locked in a cage, two other students being ripped to shreds by hellhounds, Leyna and her mother being attacked by Nachtkrapp, & Gild pinned like a moth to a spinning wheel.
Pages 288 to 289 – Gild fights with two Drudes, & there’s mention of blood & entrails.
Page 289 – Gild is bleeding from a wound on his scalp.
Page 290 – Gild explains to Serilda that Drudes can torture you for hours until your heart stops, when you can’t handle any more terror & give up.
Pages 292 to 293 – Gild drags his hand through his hair which smears his fingers with blood from his head wound. Serilda cleans the wound as best she can.
Page 304 – Another mention of the Erlking’s Spring Equinox hunt throwing the captured animals’ carcasses onto the effigy of Velos for the hellhounds to feast upon
Page 306 – Serilda catches a glimpse of the hellhounds fighting over the meat hanging from the likeness of Velos.
Pages 314 to 315 – Serilda cleans her shoulder wound caused by Drude talons, gouges caked in dried blood.
Page 325 – Mention of children dying from disease as well as mothers suffering a miscarriage or giving birth to a stillborn baby
Page 334 – Brief mention of blood
Page 364 – Serilda passes by two ghost gardeners, the man with shears sticking out of his neck & the woman with a crooked head, possibly from a broken neck.
Pages 365 to 366 – The Erlking shows Serilda his collection of caged beasts, looking miserable in their confinement; some even have untended wounds.
Pages 367 to 370 – The Erlking’s fellow hunters drag their latest catch into the gardens, a chained Tatzelwurm who is promptly put into a cage.
Page 405 – Brief mention of blood
Page 409 – Mention of the great huntress Perchta liking to toy with her prey, both animal or human, no torment enough to satisfy her bloodlust
Pages 414 to 417 – Serilda’s father returns as a Nachzehrer, a zombie covered in blood with visible bones. When he can’t get ahold of Serilda, he starts to eat his own finger. Madame Sauer suddenly appears and decapitates him with a shovel.
Page 417 – It is explained that Nachzehrer come back to life to eat their family members.
Page 420 – Brief mention of blood
Page 423 – Serilda asks a Nachtkrapp if he’s found any plump mice this morning, & then tells him to stay away from the hearts of the local children.
Page 425 – A Nachtkrapp scratches Serilda’s hand & draws blood.
Chapter 49, Pages 433 to 442 – This might be the most disturbing chapter in the whole book. Five of Serilda’s favorite young students go missing after the Awakening Moon hunt. After a town-wide search, their bodies are found at the edge of the Aschen Wood. Sadly they are not peaceful & untouched; they all have holes where their heart should be, bones sticking out & covered in drying blood.
Chapter 50, Pages 443 to 454 – Serilda continues her search because the fifth child’s body was not found. She ends up in Adalheid Castle, telling a gruesome story about a massacre from the past that killed all its inhabitants. That story triggers a pool of blood that opens a door into The Veil where the Erlking resides after dawn. Right before entering, Serilda sees a horrifying sight, a little girl’s body hanging from the throne room chandelier.
Chapter 51, Pages 455 to 461 – There is mention of blood at the very beginning of the chapter, & the four children’s ghosts are by the Erlking’s side when Serilda finds him.
Page 463 – Mention of ghosts with “battered bodies & bleeding wounds”
Pages 466 to 467 – The Erlking hung Gild outside the castle with chains, non-fatal but meant as a punishment.
Chapter 53, Pages 472 to 477 – The whole chapter revolves around the Erlking wanting to abort Serilda’s unborn child.
Page 475 – At the prospect of Serilda’s magic not returning, even if the fetus in her belly is removed, the Erlking says it would be better to slit her throat and be done with both of them.
Pages 477 to 478 – The Erlking shoots his barber in the heart, black blood spilling down his convulsing body.
Pages 482 to 483 – The Erlking stabs Serilda in the wrist with a gold arrow to curse her, putting her under his control; there is mention of blood from the wound.
Page 487 – Serilda once again notes the appearances of the ghosts around her at Adalheid Castle, each of them bearing the wound or wounds that killed them.
Page 490 – Gerdrut is revealed to also be a ghost with a hole where her heart used to be.
Gods & Magic
There are heavy magical themes, mentions of curses, potions, & witches. There are seven (mostly) fictional gods who are mentioned frequently: Eostrig-god of spring & fertility, Freydon, Hulda-god of labor, Solvilde-god of sky & sea, Tyrr-god of war & hunting, Velos-god of death & wisdom, and Wyrdith-god of fate, fortune, lies, & stories.
Grammar & Spelling
Page 140 – “It was a far cry tastier that the buttered rye bread . . .” instead of “It was a far cry tastier than the buttered rye bread . . .”
By the old gods (as an exclamation) – Page 41
Damned – Page 312
Gods alive (as an exclamation) – Page 140
Page 227 – A brief kiss
Page 312 – Extended kiss
Pages 358 to 361 – A kiss that turns into touching which leads to something more but fades to black. The only additional information is that he helped her get dressed before they fell asleep side by side.
Page 363 – She briefly daydreams about her night with him, imagining his body, his hands, & his mouth.
Pages 376 to 377 – She considers the opinion of society concerning unwed couples sleeping together & ponders whether or not she feels shame for sleeping with him; she concludes that she does not.
Page 469 – She realizes she’s with child after missing her period.