Book review: Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

Ballad is the second of Maggie Stiefvater’s Books of Faerie.

The book focuses on James, who we met briefly in the first book in the series, Lament, which focused on his best friend Dee. She is a cloverhand, someone who can see faeries, and fell in love with Luke, a kind-of faerie gone bad but not quite, all while James loved her from the sidelines.

Having been badly injured towards the end of Lament, James, and Dee, are now both at a boarding school for musically talented young people. Their friendship has largely broken down, and James is still heartbroken over Dee.

Step in Nuala, a faerie who has her sights set on James, and who starts the book as a really annoying character, and who I grew to really like, which mirrors the way James feels about her. Nuala needs talented humans to stay alive, and she initially picks James, before falling in love with him and discovering that she’d rather give up her life than the person she loves.

Ballad is a really layered book, there’s not a huge amount going on when you look at the surface, but as usual with a Stiefvater book, there are plenty of feelings floating around, adding a depth to the storytelling.

James is a compelling character, and one I wanted to see more of in Lament, so I’m glad Ballad focused on him. This book switches chapters between James and Nuala, meaning we get to know both characters really well. There are also pages of unsent text messages from Dee to James, which at first seem odd within the novel, but actually form a crucial part of the storyline and reveal a lot of what is to come later in the book.

Unlike in Lament, there are also a couple of secondary characters who we come to know and like – James’s roommate Paul and his teacher Sullivan, and their role in what happens in Ballad is significant.

Ballad‘s strength is its characters rather than its plot, which gets a tiny bit confusing at times – I still can’t get my head round the way everyone just accepts the faerie world with no questions asked – but Ballad is a good read and, unusually, a sequel that’s better than its original.

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