Monday, July 9, 2012

[review] Maggie Stiefvater - Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie (Books of Faerie, #2)

Title: Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Series: Books of Faerie, #2
Publisher: Flux
Source: Local library
Format read: Paperback
Buy from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookdepository 
Summary (via Goodreads):
In this mesmerizing sequel to Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception , music prodigy James Morgan and his best friend, Deirdre, join a private conservatory for musicians. James' musical talent attracts Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. Composing beautiful music together unexpectedly leads to mutual admiration and love. Haunted by fiery visions of death, James realizes that Deirdre and Nuala are being hunted by the Fey and plunges into a soul-scorching battle with the Queen of the Fey to save their lives.
Random paragraph: "She was looking at me really intensely then, in the sort of way I had always wanted Dee to look at me. I kind of thought she was going to kiss me, for some reason, because she was looking at my mouth. I had a horrible idea that she would, and then I would think of Dee while she was, and then she would kill me in a long, slow, painful process that would be hard to explain to insurance people." (p. 142, paperback edition)

I think I wanted to shake everybody in this book at least once. Hopefully, I was supposed to feel that way.

I became a Stiefvater fan with The Scorpio Races, which remains one of the best books I've read in 2012. Desperate for more of her works, I read Shiver, which I thought had some interesting ideas but wasn't for me at all. I recently read Lament and really liked it -- it had humor, action, and a faster pace that in retrospect I wish I saw more of in her works.

In Ballad, we get to see Stiefvater slow down and focus more on atmosphere. James, Deirdre's friend from Lament, gets a POV this time; he and Deirdre are studying at Thornking-Ash, a boarding school/conservatory for teenagers with remarkable musical talent. Although they think they're protected from fae, he and Deirdre begin to see them. At night, James hears a strange song at night with a terrible pull: when he's drawn outside, he runs to the hills to see it be performed by a man with large, thorned antlers.

The book also introduces a POV in the form of Nuala. She's a solitary fae who burns once every 16 years, to cinders and back again. She's hot-headed and bitter, and with good reason: too human to be accepted by fae and too fae to be accepted by humanity. She floats along on the thoughts of humans, and needs to feed from their lifespans: in exchange, she fills them with ideas of beautiful music. She discovers James at Thornking-Ash and chooses him as a target, but as they grow closer, she begins to regret her decision -- she begins to feel for him, but as she refuses to take from him, her body grows weaker.

I really enjoyed James' voice. He's a fully-fleshed male character, which seems to be a rare occurrence in YA, and he has a very dry sense of humor. He's a bored, lazy genius: when he goes for piping lessons, the teacher has no idea what to do with him, since he's already the best player in the state. And he has his quirks -- he draws thoughts all over his arms for safekeeping, even if he doesn't know immediately what to do with them.  This is one of my favorite moments, on pg. 63:
I stopped playing and stared at the piano. I couldn't say anything because I wanted it so badly. I wanted what she had to offer and it stung because I had to say no. I squeezed my eyes shut.

"Say something," Nuala said.

I opened my eyes. "Shit. I told Sullivan I didn't know how to play piano."

After hearing such great things about this, I wanted to love it more than I did. I really liked the creepy undercurrent, but the angst began to wear down on me. Every few pages, there's a text message from Deirdre, which she always saves and never actually sends. Then, there's romantic drama: Deirdre misses Luke, but James still likes Deirdre. Nuala likes James and doesn't like Deirdre. There's awkward, fumbling attempts at petty revenge by everyone, and I was getting really tired of it until it came back around to bite them in their collective arses.

However, there's a lot of good about this book. Some minor characters in Lament made a stunning comeback in this one. I always welcome awesome teacher characters in YA, since they also seem to be a rarity (for some reason), and here that was found with Sullivan -- he's almost a typical young, unconventional teacher, but I really liked him and how he slowly connected with James. With Nuala's POVs, I really got a sense of how deeply frightened she was at times: both humanity and the Fair Folk do some horrible things to her. And when the fey politics and rituals come in at the end of the novel, it becomes really good.

Overall: Whether you'll like it as much as Lament seems to depend on what you're looking for. Regardless, it's a solid read.

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