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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Book Review: All the Crooked Saints

Maggie Stiefvater weaves metaphors like a spider weaves silk, and she filled this brief, slim novel to the brim with them. There are so many to examine, but I think I’ve picked out the main one…

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All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Synopsis

Here is a thing everyone wants: A miracle. Here is a thing everyone fears: What it takes to get one. Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

(Via Book Depository)

My Impressions

Here at last, I thought as I began reading All the Crooked Saints, was a Maggie Stiefvater book I wouldn’t love with all my heart. That’s a natural thing; no reader will adore every single piece a writer sends out.  I was prepared to accept this and look forward to her next book while rereading her previous ones.

The tone of All the Crooked Saints is more fanciful than usual, for starters, presented like an old folktale, with sparkling liveliness glinting in its eye. Also, it’s told in third-person omniscient, a style that I tend to dislike, as it jumps point-of-view too often for my taste.

But this, it turns out, is because while there are a dozen characters, each with their own wants and fears, darknesses, miracles, and personal arcs, there are really two characters in this story: the Saints and the pilgrims.

In a Facebook post prior to the release of All the Crooked Saints, Stiefvater alludes to last year, when she became inundated with requests for advice. “I found myself with a Tumblr inbox overflowing with readers asking me for #dubiouslifeadvice. But even as I answered the questions, I asked myself: what qualifies me to answer? Aren’t I imperfect, too, maybe more than the seeker?”

That very question shapes this story. Stiefvater weaves metaphors like a spider weaves silk, and she filled this brief, slim novel to the brim with them. There are so many to examine, and I very well may in the future, but I think I’ve picked out the main one.

Once, in an article for Jalopnik, for which Steifvater writes pieces about cars that are actually metaphors for life, she pointed out something about my generation that stuck with me:

…young people can be anxious and say they’re anxious. There’s no longer a stigma to admitting it. On the one hand, this is beautiful. Name the monster and you can kill it. But on the other hand… people aren’t killing it. They’ve named it and now they’re keeping it as a permanent fixture of the household. It lurks in the living room with its pretend immortality. Will you kill it for me, please? They ask.

That’s us. We’re the pilgrims, asking the Saints for a miracle, then finding that once we’ve named the monster, we must be the ones to kill it. No one else can do it, because they’re all wrestling their own darknesses. “This is one spider you’ve got to kill on your own,” she writes.

The takeaway here, I think, is that we cannot cease solving ourselves. To work through our own problems (instead of setting them on the mantelpiece) is to help others with theirs. But, as in the tale, one follows the other. Perhaps it also returns on itself.

So, in conclusion, I loved this book. It’s filled with tasty morsels for my mind to chew over a good week after closing it. I identify with Beatriz Soria, who struggles with a darkness that gnaws at my own heart at times. I’m sure readers can find themselves somewhere inside this story, too. But will you be a pilgrim, or will you be a Saint?

Goodreads rating: 3.93 stars
My rating: 5/5 stars

Pre-Ordered Books of 2017

I’ve waited all year to read both of these.

I’ve waited all year to read both of these and they each arrived in the mail at the same time today. 

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater and What the Hell Did I Just Read? by David Wong

Reviews will be forthcoming. (Happy, spazzy dance!)