Friday, August 06, 2010

Can't Get Enough Sexy Fairies? Try These Two Books by Maggie Stiefvater

Lament: The Faerie Queen's DeceptionI already think highly of Maggie Stiefvater who has a wonderful writing style I fell in love with when I read her novel, Shiver, (reviewed earlier this year), so when I was looking for more fun summer reading, I decided to go to authors I can depend on.  I had two of her books in my reading pile, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception and Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, but for some reason I had forgotten about them.  In my annual August cleanout, I thankfully uncovered their presence and sat down to see if I was going to like them.  I don't know why I doubted Maggie - I loved them, and in fact read both in about 7 hours, savoring every word.  This author nails romance - real, honest love - and shows how love can not only look different than what you expect, but that true love causes both people to grow as individuals, becoming better people in the process.  Just as with Shiver, Stiefvater's prose can be lyrical at times and particularly in these two novels, her music background comes to the forefront, adding a wonderful dimension.

But let's get down to brass tacks re: the plot.  Here's how the publisher describes Lament:
Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen's sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren't so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn't exactly what she had in mind . . .
Deirdre reminds me of a lot of teens I've known, incredibly talented but with overbearing parents attempting to run their lives.  Luckily Deirdre has James, her bagpiping best friend (she's a harpist), but she knows that her anxiety and worry causes her to miss a lot in life.  At a music competition, Luke appears from seemingly nowhere, and when he encourages her to explore her potential and not play if safe she does just that with wonderful results.  But she is a cloverhand, and Luke realizes that he's fallen in love with her, quashing his ability to murder her on behalf of the fairy queen.  He must help her realize the power that has been latent within her while also protecting her from the fairies attracted to her and her music.

All characters are well-drawn and I'm beginning to think no one does paranormal romance quite like Maggie Stiefvater (that's right, Stephenie Meyer, you heard me - I still heart Twilight, and I really wish you didn't sell the film rights).  That breathless physical contact between two people in love discovering true passion, purrrrr, she manages to get your heart thumping!  The music portion of the book, so often an afterthought for many writers as a way of making their character seem well-rounded, is the central focus here and Stiefvater has the chops to add serious depth.  For those of you who enjoy reading her blog as I do, you know that she has an incredibly strong musical and artistic background and is actually a harpist.  The page on her website devoted to Lament actually has several original songs by her that you can listen to, and I'd strongly recommend it as it helps set the tone of the book.

Ballad: A Gathering of FaerieThe "sequel" to Lament is Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie which actually focuses on James.  He and Deirdre are at Thornking-Ash School of Music, a boarding school that caters to the incredibly talented (and, in turns out, the musicians most likely to draw faerie attention).  I was so glad when I realized that this story would be told from James' point of view - he was a smart, mouthy, loving character in the first book that I wanted to get to know better and that part of me was very satisfied by this novel.  My hat is definitely off to Stiefvater in the characterization department - the two books are totally different in feel as the author truly inhabits her characters.  Here's the publisher teaser:
James Morgan has an almost unearthly gift for music. And it has attracted Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and then feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. James has plenty of reasons to fear the faeries, but as he and Nuala collaborate on an achingly beautiful musical composition, James finds his feelings towards Nuala deepening. But the rest of the fairies are not as harmless. As Halloween—the day of the dead—draws near, James will have to battle the Faerie Queen and the horned king of the dead to save Nuala's life and his soul.
Nuala is the second main character of the book and she can certainly hold her own with the bundle of personality that is James.  In alternating chapters, their story unfolds as Nuala is attracted to James' music and he, unlike any other mark she has known, rejects her offer of divine inspiration as he has more than enough acquaintance with the trouble fairies can bring to one's life.  The more time she spends with him, the more she falls for him, and he for her when he realizes what a bleak and doomed life she has.  Nuala must enter the Halloween bonfire every sixteen years, burning herself in order to be reborn from the ashes, but with no memory of her former lives except the names she has born.  She is an outcast among the other faeries and an easy victim of their cruelty as they consider her, a leanan sidhe, too contaminated by the humans with whom she must associate in order to survive.

Deirdre is a minor character in this novel, although central to the plot, and we see her only through James and Nuala's eyes and the occasional unsent text to James.  If there is any criticism of the book, it's that Deirdre feels a little flat to me, but I could imagine that being from the differing perspectives and the fact that she is devastated by the loss of Luke from her life.  Her grief causes her to be both troubled and selfish, but her absence from James' life turns out to have benefits for him as he begins to heal from his love for her and find his true destiny.

Both books are must-reads for anyone interested in fairy lore, and I put Maggie Stiefvater completely parallel with my other favorite fairy author, Melissa Marr (they are high-fiving each other on tandem clouds) in their commitment to Gaelic folklore and the great combination of sexy menace they give their fairy characters.  I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Linger, the sequel to Shiver, and enjoy this author's unbelievable talent one more time.

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