Book Review: Ballad

Spoiler-filled post about books one and two in Maggie Steifvater's "Books of Faerie" series.

I hate it when a character disappoints me. Especially when the character is from a book that has already given me a book hangover; it only makes that hangover worse! Because, not only do I keep thinking about the book and the story and the world the author created and transported me to, I'm stuck thinking about how I wish said character would have done something (or some things) differently.

I've been on a spree of reading books by Maggie Stiefvater of late. In her Books of Faerie series, the first book is Lament. Stiefvater introduces us to Deirdre Monaghan, a very gifted musician (she plays the harp), but a girl who is also painfully shy. In preparing to perform at a musical festival, Dee meets Luke Dillon, another gifted musician who is just a little different - in a lot of ways. Right after meeting Luke, strange things start happening to Dee. Not only is she seeing things, but she's finding clover all over. Dee falls hard for Luke, not knowing that her best friend, James Morgan, has really fallen hard for her.

As it turns out, Dee is a cloverhand - a human who has the power to summon faeries and even control them. Luke was sent by the Faerie Queen to find and kill Dee but, instead, he falls in love with her and can't kill her. But when the faeries capture James and Luke both, Dee has to make a decision: just who is she going to save?

Now is a good time for me to say SPOILER ALERT. If you don't want to know what happens in "Lament," stop reading now. Simply go to your nearest library or book seller and pick up the book. Okay . . . for those of you still with me . . . we'll carry on.

Dee has a heavy choice to make - save the life of James, her best friend of nine years who has recently just admitted to her that he's in love with her, or save the life of Luke Dillon, a soulless faerie assassin who was sent to kill her. Luke has actually found and saved James . . . well, "saved" as in made sure that the fae haven't killed him yet. Dee chooses James. She trades Luke's life for James's. When the fae destroy the Queen and "elect" a new Queen to take her place, the new Queen, Eleanor, gives Luke back his soul. (The old Queen had captured Luke's soul and used it to control him and force him to kill for her.) Luke, newly gifted with his soul once again, is allowed to live, but he joins the faeries who are music. Once a year (at the summer Solstice) he can appear and be with Dee. Otherwise, he's invisible in the faerie world and Dee is without him.

Okay, so, somewhat happy ending, yes? Luke has a soul again and he's alive - both good things! And James's life was restored - another good thing! But, let's face it, Dee's still heartbroken. She traded the life of the guy she loves for the life of her best friend. Both are still alive, but she can only have one of them - James - in her life on a day to day basis.

Now we get to book two: Ballad. Whereas "Lament" was told from the perspectives of Luke and Dee, "Ballad" is told from the points of view of James and Nuala, a muse. Nuala can only live by taking years from her marks. In exchange, she grants them inspiration . . . and also maybe possibly drives them mad. Nuala has chosen James - a very talented and gifted piper (as in bagpipes) - as her next mark. He will be the last before she burns. She only lives for 16 years and then, on Halloween, must throw herself into a bonfire and burn alive. She is then "reborn," sans any memory of her previous lives or marks.

James is still recovering from the accident caused by the faeries in "Lament" and is still smarting from being rejected (as a love interest) by Dee. Both he and Dee have enrolled at Thornking-Ash school - a high school for musically gifted kids. And it's pretty clear right from the first day that things are not quite normal. As a cloverhand, Dee has drawn the faerie realm to Thornking-Ash and they are all gathering there for Halloween. Estranged from her best friend and separated from the guy she loves, Dee is quickly spiraling down . . . but James doesn't really seem to notice. He's licking his own wounds and nursing his own ego . . . oh, and falling in love with Nuala, too.

Again, I'm calling SPOILER ALERT. I'll be releaving more of what happens in "Ballad" and surely will not be offended if you stop reading now.

So then, this time it's Dee that the faerie have captured and James is the one who must save her. The new Queen, Eleanor, plans to cut out Dee's heart and insert it into the heard of Karre, her consort, to create a new King of the Faerie. Unfortunately for James, all this is going down at exactly the same time that Nuala is burning and he has promised to stay, watch her burn and repeat her name seven times uninterrupted so that she can be reborn a human.

Now, I understand. I get it. He's in lust with Nuala and desires her. He's been hurt by Dee and feels resentful towards him. But when James reluctantly leaves Nuala in order to save Dee from having her heart cut out, I can't say that I support his acting like a petulant child. I kind of wanted to smack him upside the head and say, "Um, hey, remember a few months back when Dee, you know, your best friend of nine years, gave up the guy she loved so that you could live? Maybe now's a good time to repay that favor without saying the words, 'you owe me and you know you owe me.'" I'm just saying! So, yeah, yeah, Dee is saved, Nuala's reborn and James is "doing all he can" to help Dee recover from the trauma and events that she's just been through. But I can't help feeling upset with James and his behavior - it just feels to me like he pushed his best friend aside because she couldn't love him back the way he wanted to be loved. A friendship that long-lasting and close shouldn't just be dropped - not even for romance. But, hey, maybe that's just me.

Regardless, I'm totally looking forward to the next book in the series; Requiem is scheduled for release in 2013.

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