I knew that I was going to like Ballad. I hoped I was going to like Ballad. I was worried about being disappointed by Ballad because it was the second book in a series by Maggie Stiefvater. Linger, her second book after the brilliant Shiver, left such deep scars of disappointment that it took a book like Insurgent to make me trust that second books could be wonderful.
The first few chapters felt jumpy and a bit disjointed, especially when a third narrative was woven into the story. I almost put the book away on the bookcase, but then I remembered that I’d felt the same way about Lament at the beginning and I kept reading.
I am so glad that I did!
Ballad is the story of James, the dependable friend and sidekick of Lament’s heroine who stands by her side and helps out, loving her completely even when she falls in love with the Faerie who has been sent to kill her. By the end of Lament, James comes to understand that Dee will never feel the same way about him that he does about her.
Ballad opens with a strange, unsent text message as Dee’s narrative, then jumps into the story from James’ point of view. He is studying at the Thornking-Ash School of Music on a special scholarship, but soon discovers that he is surrounded by more faeries than ever before, especially one who seems almost human. Will he lose his heart… or lose his life?
Once you get past the slow pace of the first few chapters, the story develops into something so captivating and satisfying that you are loathe to put the book down for mundane things such as eating and sleeping. The book and its amazing characters race towards one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve enjoyed in a book in recent memory.
KUDOS to author Maggie Stiefvater for this brilliant and enjoyable tale. I adored how this second book made the series stronger instead of weaker. The ending was unexpected, touching and terrific!
Paperback format, 388 pages, Copyright 2009, Scholastic Canada Edition (2012)
It was with some trepidation that I opened Lament after my youngest daughter finished reading it. Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver was one of the best new books I’d read a few years ago in the YA category, but the mucking about that she did to the story line with the rest of the trilogy left a bad impression to say the least. In my opinion, Shiver remains strongest as a stand alone novel and I felt totally disenchanted by the thought that a trilogy was more marketable and profitable. Shiver’s story was so strong, the ending so startling that I felt in awe of all the possibilities that lay before the amazing characters. Then the two other books totally ripped apart what I had hoped and imagined, culminating in one of the most dissatisfying conclusions to a series I’d ever experienced.
Given this bias, I am amazed that I added Lament to my challenge list. The first few chapters were hard. I found myself thinking that the “impossible odds love story” was just too formula, too predictable and too “young”. Slowly, Stiefvater’s incredible style and descriptive prose drew me in. I fought it. I didn’t want to be drawn into another tale only to hate where the author would lead me. When the love triangle emerged, I nearly groaned. Is there no other plot line for young women to read these days? Visions of Team Edward and Team Jacob began to blur my vision. Luckily, the swift pace of the plot pulled me on and I ended up finishing 3/4 of the novel in a single gulp.
Lament’s ending is wonderful, poignant and satisfying. I was also surprised to discover that this novel was actually written BEFORE Shiver, Linger and Forever. The writing seems as mature and polished as in Shiver, so it didn’t feel like a “younger” work. The novel didn’t try to wrap everything up in a neat package and allowed me to imagine how the story would unfold after this glimpse. The fact that there is another novel written about one of the characters now intrigues me rather than filling me with dread, so I may see if I can find a copy of Ballad to read before the year is out.
Maggie Stiefvater has plenty of talent to share with the world and with her readers. Whether or not she can thrive given the current market pressure of selling stories as trilogies remains to be seen. I blame editors and publishers for that more than the authors. When compared to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books, all of whom could stand on their own if necessary, or even Sherrilyn Kenyon’s passionate tales that keep each book self-contained but within a much wider world behind it, I can’t help but feel as if the YA format is missing out on an important lesson…
Just tell one good story at a time.
Paperback format, 356 pages, Copyright 2008, Scholastic Canada Edition