Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, is the sequel to Lament, a story about a girl named Deidre which I reviewed enthusiastically a while back, and Isabelle reviewed just a little bit ago. Yes, it’s good enough that we both took a shot at it.
Somehow I was taken by surprise when I started reading this and found myself seeing through the eyes of James, Dee’s neurotic-but-quietly-awesome best friend. I’d even read that it was from his POV, but that had been before I’d read either book, and some hopeful forgetful part of me had blanked it out and was waiting for more Dee. It didn’t take me to see that Stiefvater definitely knew what she was doing when she decided that James was certainly capable of carrying his own novel—not to mention more than worthy of his own happy ending.
James is barely there in Lament—or really, no, he’s not, but it feels like he is, as the reader, through Dee’s perspective, generally takes him for granted, enchanted as she is by Luke and her own developing possibilities. Ballad starts as James and Dee are starting their first year at Thornking-Ash, a musical conservatory that sneaking suspicion says has more to it than meets the eye. Well, sneaking suspicion and that nightly song of the dead.
It doesn’t take James long to wonder just what the hell he’s doing there—he’s already the best piper (yes, bagpiper) in the state, and no one at the school—or even the surrounding area—has the expertise he’d require in a teacher. He’s not kidding himself, though. He knows he’s followed Dee there. Dee, his best friend, who he carries a tortuous unrequited love for. Dee, who saved his life from homicidal faeries the year before—but who still chose Luke, in her heart. Dee, who refuses to talk to him about any of it, and avoids his company unless she’s looking for a distraction.
Meanwhile, someone else is distracting James. Not an altogether welcome someone, either. Nuala is a muse, offering unparalleled inspiration in exchange for very little—just the years of your life. James is still pissed at what the faeries have done to both him and Dee, though, and isn’t about to make any deals, even if he is bored out of his mind. Nuala sticks around regardless, though. Even at a school full of musical talent, no one can grab her attention like James. Eventually they start making music together anyway, with no deal being made, and James can’t help but be struck with how human Nuala is. Well, not human. But human-ish. And as a side-bonus, she’s a slap in the face to Dee, which James can’t help but enjoy, just a little bit. Things come to a head on Halloween night, though, when both Nuala and Dee are faced with death—and James can only choose to save one.
I can’t tell you how awesome this book is. For some reason, I’m a bit fonder of Lament, but when the pure Awesome in the two books are compared, Ballad blows Lament away. James is the most fascinating narrator I’ve encountered in a long, long time, and what he says out loud is only half as funny as the things he stops himself from saying. As a reader you’ll find yourself fluctuating between hopeful and frustrated with his encounters with Dee, and I think the best scene in the book is the one where James realizes that there are different kinds of love, and that you can’t change that, even if you want to sometimes. I won’t even start on the side story with James’ teacher, Sullivan, which I loved as much or more than the rest of it.
Besides all that, this book has the best ending line I’ve read in some time—a line I’ve been wanting to hear from YA fantasy for a long time, and one I wholeheartedly agree with. A definite A+.
And so you know, we’ll be interviewing Maggie Stiefvater here for Fun Friday this week! We’re so excited!