So I finally feel like I'm at a place where I can talk intelligently about it (SQUEEEE!!!) and find I have to start here: Maggie Stiefvater is a master at sequels. Okay, so that's not to say she doesn't completely rock at first novels (she does) but I can't remember the last time I read such a well-crafted second book with an unforgettable character like James (SQUEEEE!!). In Lament, we got snippets of James, enough to see what a freaking cool guy he happens to be but little enough compared to the screen time he richly deserves. Thankfully, Ms. Maggie Stiefvater fully satisfies every wish for more James in this lovely, haunting book.
Following on the heels of Lament, Ballad finds James and Diedre at the music conservatory Thornking-Ash with the faerie problem still dogging their every move. James still hasn't quite gotten over his last encounter with the faeries or the fact that when he finally worked up the nerve to tell Dee that he loved her, he got no such answer in return. Ouch. Their resulting encounters are awkwardly painful meetings between to incredibly broken people dealing with extreme heartache.
James is already a bit fragile when the soul-sucking faerie Nuala stomps, swears, and generally insinuates herself into his life. Nuala is a fae muse for only the most talented artists and musicians, helping them to create beautiful pieces far beyond human capacity, only asking for something small in return: years off their life. Not about to let Nuala anywhere near his golden years, James is determined to keep his distance but the smart-mouth Nuala fits perfectly with his cocky persona and he just can't forget about her.
Nuala turned her head just enough for me to get a good whiff of her breath, all summer and promises. "I can't play anything. I can only help others. It wouldn't matter if I thought of the best song in the world -- I couldn't play it."For someone whose entire life is music, Nuala is basically irresistible. A couple of their exchanges are some of the best I've read, even if they were just sitting around, banging about. Of course, the faerie court hasn't forgotten about Dee and James, forcing James to work every bit of magic he has to protect his life-long friend while trying to figure out how to help Nuala avoid the same fate.
"You physically can't?"
She turned her face back away from me. "I just can't. Music doesn't happen for me."
Something stuck in my throat, uncomfortable. "Show me."
She slid one hand off mine, pressed a key down with her finger. I watched the key depress -- one time, two times, five times, ten times -- nothing happened. Just the small, muffled sound of the piano key being depressed. She took my hand and dragged it to the same key. Pressed my finger down, once. The piano rang out, a sullen bell that stopped as soon as she lifted my finger back up again.
She didn't say anything else. Did she have to? The memory of that single note was still singing in my head.
Stepping into Maggie Stiefvater's world of faerie is like stepping into an alternate land where the colors are brighter, the people more compelling, and the music..? The music is achingly beautiful. Ballad is ultimately a world apart from Lament. This second book is a tighter, more coherent and more soul-wrenching book than it's predecessor. Everything about James combines for a seriously compelling character: his snarky one-liners; his oddball T-shirts; his wicked command of the BAGPIPES; his very own (very OCD) hand-writing complex?! Freaking-Fan-Tastic. If you haven't had a chance to read part of this breath-taking series, please do yourself a favor and track one down: borrow it, buy it - whatever, just get a copy and get ready to fall in love.
series reading order:
Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Crooked Shelf review
In Bed With Books review
Library Lounge Lizard review
Pure Imagination review
book source: my local library