Book Review: Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

Ballad: A gathering of faerie is the sequel to Lament by Maggie Stiefvater. It was released in the US in October 2009 and on 5th May 2011 in the UK by Scholastic. Ballad is 336 pages long.

Plot
James is an extremely talented musician and along with friend Dee, they go to a prestigious music school, Thornking Ash, to better their skills. James is finding life there a little too easy at times, not being able to make anything better out of what he can already do. He also finds that there isn't a bagpipe teacher there that can teach him anything apart from what he already knows. His English teacher, Mr Sullivan sees something special in James, apart from his over cockiness and cheek, and tries to persuade him to learn the piano too.

While Dee and James were close before, the events from last summer have put a barrier between them and things aren't the same anymore. Their friendship is struggling and James has no idea what to do, considering that he is in love with her.

James has also attracted the attentions of Nuala, a Leanan Sidhe. A Leanan Sidhe is a soul snatcher and a faerie muse. Nuala is deeply attracted to James' piping skills and like others in the past, she wants to take his life so tries to make him a deal. She will take years of his life in order to make him a better musician but he isn't interested. Nuala's life semi depends on her job and James is making it hard for her. No matter how many times that James tells her no, she sticks around, helping him anyway. As he and Dee grow further apart, James finds himself growing closer to Nuala and he knows it shouldn't be happening.

What I thought
Me being the silly girl that I am, read this book before Lament. I had both sitting on my bookcase, not in an order because I hadn't read them yet and picked this one up first. If you are going to read this then please do so in the right order or you will find yourself quite confused for a while.

The beginning of the book was quite confusing for me, as I hadn't read the previous book but for anyone who has, it will make complete sense. James and Dee are having problems since they came to Thornking Ash and they don't really talk much anymore. You know from the start of the book that Dee is desperate to talk to him but doesn't have the guts so she writes him a load of text messages that she never sends. I think this was useful is two ways. We get to see what is going on in Dee's mind without her overpowering the story but it was also a way to make the story extremely current and relatable to teenagers. Who hasn't written a message that they don't dare to send.

On the outside, James is arrogant and extremely cocky which were some of the things that I loved about him. He is also sarcastic, funny and makes jokes all of the time. While he does seem like a typical teenage boy a lot of the time, the nature of the story lets us see deeper into his personality and how much he cares about the people around him. There is so much about this character that makes you want to know more as you turn each page. The little things about James are what interested me the most. When something is bothering him or he wants to remember something, he writes little notes on his hand, although he doesn't always know what they mean. He comes across so realistically and this was why I could feel everything that he was going through.

As I hadn't read the first book, I didn't really see the attraction with Dee. This was mostly due to the fact that I didn't know a lot about her or understand where she was coming from. Reading the first book would have been a big help here and would have made her a bit more understandable. What I did learn about her though was that she wasn't really very nice. She uses James a lot throughout and even thinks about another guy when they finally kiss. Throughout the story, this is a bit of a will they, wont they thing going on and I was really hoping that she didn't end up with him.

Nuala was my second favourite character, next to James. She changes every 16 years so this name is one that she gave herself when she meets James. It becomes clear that she appears to be everything that he could ever want and that is part of the reason for the attraction between them both. Nuala originally starts off as the bad guy because she only really wants James for his talent but as she spends more time with him, she realises that she doesn't want to do her job anymore. She actually wants to be with him, even though she knows that it isn't possible. Nuala is extremely feisty and gives James just as much cheek and one liners as he gives to her, finally meeting his match. I think this was one of the things that he ends up really liking about her.

The story moves along at a really nice pace, with something always going on. It is also told from three points of view, James', Nuala's and Dee's (hers through text messages) and it was a great way of knowing how each of the main characters are feeling. Different things are happening to each of them at different times so this way a really interesting way of making the different parts fit together.

I really wish that I had read these books in the right order because it was quite confusing once I got into the story but I soon got over that. Maggie Stiefvater never fails to amaze me with each book of hers that I read!

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