Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

BalladI had heard a lot of great things about Maggie’s Stiefvater’s first book, Lament.  Bad faeries, celtic music, romance – sounded right up my alley.  But I admit it – I am a deeply shallow person.  I couldn’t get past the cover.  After reading and enjoying her second novel, Shiver, I heard that Lament had been reissued with a new cover – still not one that I loved, but at least I’d be willing to read it in public.  So I gave it a shot, and found a beautifully written book that didn’t really do it for me.  Just one of those books where I didn’t make a connection with the main characters – happens to us all.  But there was this one character – James – who I couldn’t get enough of.  Great snarky voice, loaded with insecurity and unrequited love, wicked sense of humor that he uses to mask his vulnerability, plays the bagpipes – admit it, you love him too.  And now Maggie Stiefvater has given him a whole book of his own.  Excellent choice.  This is a main character who can carry a book in a way that Dee never could, and James makes Ballad shine.

Dee and James are now attending Thornking-Ash, a school for students with exceptional skills in music performance –  a school that has the added task of protecting especially vulnerable teenagers from the faeries who found Dee and James in Lament.  Fortunately for the readers if not the students, the school does not do an especially good job at that task.  James quickly attracts the attention of a leanan sidhe, a faerie who feeds on the creative energy of geniuses.  A collaboration with Nuala guarantees that James will use his talent to it’s fullest – she acts as a muse, inspiring her partners to works of creative genius.  On the other hand, it also guarantees his early death.  Nuala and James are both characters who are working through a multitude of insecurities, vulnerabilities, and other issues, and their growing genuine care for each other is tentative and fraught.

While telling the new story of James and Nuala, Ballad also shows Dee and James dealing with the repercussions of the traumatic events that they experienced in Lament.  Both characters are hurting, and lingering underneath the distance between them is a strong desire to reconnect with each other.  Stiefvater uses Dee’s unsent text messages to James to bring this to the surface – a device that works well here.  And James still feels deeply for Dee – sometimes seemingly against his will.  It’s a difficult, testy relationship, shown right at the moment when all the things that have been buried deep in the past are right on the surface.  Stiefvater does not shy away from the difficulty of it, letting her characters be awkward, contrary, and downright cruel to each other.  Assuming that there will be another book, I looks forward to seeing their friendship continue to grow and change.

Maggie Stiefvater on the web.

Review copy provided by publisher at BEA.