Title: Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Page Count: 353 pages
Genre: young adult, fantasy, paranormal romance
Copy for review was purchased by this writer
I'm not even going to attempt a 50 word summary, for this book, you get the whole enchilada, compliments of 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.
Daaaaaaaang. After enjoying the bejesus out of Lament and Shiver, I started Ballad feeling pretty confident that I'd enjoy it. And enjoy it I did; so much so that frankly I'm at a loss for how to adequately describe the experience.
James is a heartbreaker of a character. He's like the onion from Shrek (or the parfait, if you prefer,) with layers and layers and layers. I really enjoyed watching him grow as a person and evolve into someone entirely unique. His counterpoint, Nuala, certainly is prickly, but only out of self-preservation, which is certainly something James can understand. I really enjoyed the fake drunk scene with Peter because Peter was able to articulate respect for James in a way that James had never really experienced before- certainly not in his relationship with Dee.
Oh, Dee. Everyone hates you, and from your performance in Ballad it's not hard to see why. Dee comes across here as neurotic, emotional, and nuttier than the proverbial fruitcake, but the unsent text messages give a little bit of insight into why she does some of the painful things that she does (and Lament provides a much deeper explanation.)
My favorite character in the book though, besides James, is definitely Nuala. She's creative, sassy, bold, and doesn't take what most would consider to be an extremely shitty and dysfunctional life script sitting down. No, she decides to do something about the chaos in her own life, even if it's crazy, and that's something I can admire in anyone.
James and Dee go through their share of ups and downs, and even without the supernatural elements of the story, theirs is a story that resonates with pain and loss, with love and meaning, and is generally about moving on and growing up when it becomes apparent that things are not turning out the way you expected or wanted. Everyone learns some tough lessons and ends the story in a different place emotionally than where they were at the beginning; it will definitely be interesting to see where the characters go in future books.
Maggie Stiefvater's prose here is lyrical and poetic, with just enough angst and emotion to make the writing flavorful and rich without being cumbersome and/or boring. My only criticism of the book, and it certainly is a minor one, is that the faerie politics percolated for a really long time and then BAM jumped up and bit me on the nose. It's like the story unfolded at one pace and the conclusion unfolded at another, with a mashup in the middle where the two elements collided. The story ended the way I wanted it to, however, so cheers to getting my own way.
If you're looking for a young adult book with nuance and atmosphere enough to appeal to readers of all ages, then Ballad is a good bet.
Overall Grade: A
Blog with Bite Grade: 4
- James is a flawed and heart broken character, do you find his mental peculiarities charming or annoying? Please do explain. I found his quirks and coping strategies to be endearing for the most part. I think that he perceives the world in a different way and consequently has to find a different way of expressing himself. I liked that the author found a way to make James unique without making him.....weird. Does that make sense?
- What did you think of James and Dee's kiss? This being a pivotal moment for their relationship, how do you think it changed James? For me, this was the moment when James realized that he was only ever going to be Dee's friend, and that it was up to him to decide if he was okay with that or not. Prior to this, I don't think it occurred to James that Dee could not be interested in him romantically, but when she basically admitted to kissing him as a test to see if she'd think about another dude while she did it, the romance basically died. Unrequited love is pretty uncool, all things considered.
- Whom do you prefer Dee or Nuala? As a fit for James? Nuala, because she's actually emotionally available, which is always a good thing. I also enjoyed her tenacity and sense of humor, her resiliency and her refusal to accept defeat or less than everything she wants (once she realizes what that is, of course.)
- What's your verdict on the best way to read Ballad? Is it a stand alone book or do you need to read Lament first? If you read Lament, what did it add/not add to Ballad? If you haven't read Lament, do you think it would have added to your reading of Ballad? I think that Ballad can be a standalone book but that reading it like that gives a different perspective than the one you get from reading Lament first. The biggest example of that is definitely in how you see Dee: if you read Lament first than some of her neuroses stand explained; if you just read Ballad then you kind of want to smack the crap out of her. I read Lament first and I'm glad I did; I want to know what happened between her and Luke, among other things.
- We've been reading a lot of stories with fairies as the central paranormal creatures. What are your thoughts on the "Fair Folk". Do you believe in faeries? I think that stories that center around fae worlds and fae characters have to be really well-crafted or they don't hold my interest. I love political powerplays as long as they're well done, I don't mind if characters are, shall we say, unorthodox-looking, and I always enjoy when a book combines myths and new ideas in unconventional ways. I do think that fae worlds are tricky though, as they require a lot of setup, so when I read a book with fae in the story it's important for there to be a good balance between worldbuilding and character development.