Book Review: Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

Sometimes you find a book that’s just about you, about the things you love and the longing in your heart and the fears that consume you at night, and Ballad is of all that for me.

Ballad Synopsis

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.

(Via Goodreads)

About Maggie Stiefvater

I am Maggie Stiefvater. I write books. Some of them are funny, ha-ha, and some of them are funny, strange. Several of them are #1 NYT Bestsellers.

I play several musical instruments (most infamously, the bagpipes), I make art, and I sometimes write about cars for magazines like Road & Track and Jalopnik.

I live in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with my husband, my two children, some cows, five dogs who fart recreationally, a horse of many colors, a criminally insane cat, an interminable number of miniature silky fainting goats, and one 1973 Camaro named Loki.

I like things that go.

(Via Maggie Stiefvater’s website)

My Thoughts

Every year in October, I reread Ballad. I even just saw a photo in my Facebook memories of when I was reading it this time three years ago. Sometimes you find a book that’s just about you, about the things you love and the longing in your heart and the fears that consume you at night, and Ballad is of all that for me.

What I Liked

Plot

The synopsis, in my opinion, does not quite do Ballad justice. As a sequel, one which could almost be read alone, so untethered does it become from the prequel, Ballad does not waste time on convincing characters or the reader of the reality of faeries. They exist, are deadly, and intermingle with the cast on the regular. Like wolves wandering around in sheep folds but not quite making meals with lamb chops because some of the sheep know what’s up.

While Lament focused on Deidre and her absorption into the world of Faerie, Ballad switches to the point of view of her best friend James, a piper with incredible talent and a smart mouth, very human and with no interest in the faeries who shattered him in the previous tale. His self-absorption with the pursuit of greatness draws Nuala into the mundane, awful, magical reality of being plain old human.

Also, for those of you who have read Maggie’s Stiefvater’s later (and unrelated) series The Raven CycleBallad carries the embryos for many of the characters and concepts explored by way of the raven gang.

Characters

Used to be, I really disliked this representation of Deidre, even though I’m always on board with her when I read Lament. Only in this reading did I catch the moment when James understands why she behaves so terribly throughout Ballad, in such a way that I understand, too. It doesn’t help that she’s clearly wrong for James and everyone but he can see it, and she’s still falling apart from the ending of Lament, which went not at all well for her.

Also, maybe I grew up a little more.

I identify with James so much. He’s a raw version of the artist, the musician, the creative of any stripe dying for more, yearning for meaning, desperate to untangle the inner mess. Nuala, in addition, represents all of us who want greatness but do not try for fear of pointlessness. These two kill me every time I read them.

Theme

Metaphor, baby. Ballad practically drips with ways to say one thing while meaning something else, or something similar, or the opposite. The characters all disguise their truths, other characters misjudge based on appearance, some of them even compare each other to characters in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, which also threads its way throughout the narrative.

Ending

The ending is an ending is an ending. While it hints at a possible third book, it neatly wraps up all the loose threads dangled before the reader. I always want it to continue, but I also close the book feeling satisfied with the completion.

What I Disliked

Nothing, really. After 5+ rereads of Ballad, it’s a little easier to pick out the minuscule flaws, but I love it so I can forgive them.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 3.79 stars


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