Thursday, February 25, 2010

*book clubbing* Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

We're baaaaaack! And this time Mandy and I have reviewed and discussed Maggie Stiefvater's Lament. I am a little behind on the Stiefvater curve -- I know a lot of people have read both this and Shiver. But better late than never. Head on over to edge of seventeen to check out Mandy's review! I'm always amazed and excited about how we can read the same book and yet get such different things out of it.

My review:

I got totally wrapped up in this book. When I put it down, I was thinking about it. I possibly dreamed about it. I like that in a book, and I've not had it in a little while. There are books that make me gulp them down whole, which is also a good experience to have every now and then; Lament wasn't like that, and now that I'm done I don't feel like I've been gorging myself on slightly too-sweet milk chocolate. This one could be put down -- but not for too long -- and I could, nay, had to slow down to savour the writing, because that's something Stiefvater does extremely well. There's a good balance of suspense and humour and angst.

Lament is the story of Deirdre Monaghan, extreme introvert and harpist extrordinaire, who right around the time of her sixteenth birthday discovers she has a few rather unusual talents. And it turns out faeries are real, but they're not the pleasant, cutesy faeries with gossamer wings and magic wands we might hope. These faeries are immortal, powerful, indifferent (at best) to human suffering, and largely extremely unpleasant. Dee's attracting the wrong attention and things are going to get worse before they get better, if they ever do get better.

First of all, let me say, hooray for inhuman non-humans! Some of the fae might look human, enough to pass, but they're sure as hell not. And they are not nice creatures, either, although some of them are just amoral, as opposed to creepy and awful. Creepy and awful is something that most authors can do, but a decisively, strangely, inhumanly amoral non-human is another thing entirely and Stiefvater pulls it off. I liked Dierdre, too, as a sixteen-year-old girl. She felt right to me, for someone in her situation; I think she dealt with most things like I would expect her to.

There were, though, some inconsistencies that bothered me. Decisions that were made by Dee without me fully understanding how or why those decisions were made, even when I got the feeling that there must be a reason other than plot advancement... There was one thing in particular that bothered me a lot, something I can't talk about because it's a major spoiler, where emotional depth seemed to be sacrificed for plot or pacing. It still doesn't sit well with me. There were a few cases like this where things happened that I think probably should have been acknowledged more by the characters; on the other hand, though, it might have slowed down the book considerably. I don't know if slowing things down a bit would have been a bad thing. Some of Dee's familial relationships, in particular, seemed to be less developed than I might have wanted; but then, her family really is largely background in this story, as opposed to major players. As I read more YA, this does seem to be a bit of a theme across books I've read.

Overall, this is a relatively light book -- having put a few days between reading it and now, I'm not really thinking about it so much, unlike some books which stick with me weeks and months and even years later. I have no hesitation recommending this book to fans of fantasy and YA. This is a romance, and that part of the story gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from me even though it's a triangle again. Although, what is with the YA love triangles involving really nice best friends who suddenly get up the balls to say something once the protag has decided she loves someone else?! I just really don't like them, usually, and even here it made me glower a bit, although the third wheel really never gets rolling.

Ballad is the sequel to Lament, which is kind of crying out for a sequel, if just to see whether Dee's horrible aunt Delia gets hers. I am not chomping at the bit to read Ballad, though -- I'm happy with where I left the characters and the story. I'm more inclined to try Shiver, if I can catch it as it zips off the library shelves. Stiefvater's writing really has potential, and as Shiver is a later book of hers I'm wondering if some of the structural things that bugged me in Lament have been cleared up in Shiver.


Mandy and I enjoyed our Chatzy experience so much last time that we've gone back for more. Following is our discussion, which encompasses fairies, prologues, bad boys who are not bad, problematic relatives and the world of Lament. Enjoy!

Mandy: Have you read any other teen books about fairies? Do you like fairies in fiction? I've only read Wicked Lovely. I can't say I'm a fairy person.

kiirstin: I'm... hmm. That's a really good question. I have, actually. O. R. Melling's books -- The Hunter's Moon being my favourite -- actually stack up quite favourably against Lament. Plus there's CanCon.

Mandy: Oh yeah. I haven't read any Melling. It's good stuff?

kiirstin: Quite. Some better than others, but largely really good. Um, the Spiderwick books too, on a junior fic level, are pretty awesome about fairies. I haven't read Wicked Lovely though. Is it comparable?

Mandy: Yeah, I think I've only read the first Spiderwick book. But it WAS good. Apparently based loosely on a true story. Or at least, Holly knew a family who claimed to see Fairies. Wicked Lovely is pretty comparable.

kiirstin: I did not know there was a kernel of truth in the Spiderwick Chronicles. I love that. I've read other fairy/Sidhe stuff too. Some of Mercedes Lackey's urban fantasies. Oh, and Charles de Lint has to count. Apparently I have read a fair bit!

Mandy: Way more than me! :) You are the fairy expert between us.

kiirstin: What was it about the fairy aspects that turned you off, do you think?

Mandy: Well Fairies in fiction don't turn me off. I just don't look out for fairies. Although I do have that assumption that fairies are going to have sparkles on them.

kiirstin: I think there is a difference between "fairy" and "faerie"

Mandy: Oh, tell me about the difference in spelling.

kiirstin: Okay. Let's see. I think the difference is maybe in my head, but I have perceived that "fairy" is usually used to mean sprites in tutus with wings and wands. And faerie, or fae, tends to be a little more on the human-sized immortal side -- what I would actually tend to call "elves" -- I am really not up on the actual mythology. Although the Wikipedia article uses the "fairy" spelling.

Mandy: Maybe it's like Vampyre? :)

kiirstin: Ha! Yes, almost certainly.

Mandy: I thought Dee's mom was kind of a jerk. And cardboard-y. She really wanted to stunt her daughter into the perfect model of daughter-dom. Kind of freaky.

kiirstin: Yes, actually, I disliked her a lot. I thought there could have been a lot more development around Dee's family situation. I think I could have found her mother an interesting character, but there wasn't enough there.

Mandy: Totally. Even with her aunt and her aunt's fate.

kiirstin: Oh my god. That whole thing, yes. I have to admit, her aunt was pretty fascinating, but how much did I want to punch her. I did like that she went from just being an overbearing, sour, terrible relative to much more sinister.

Mandy: And I like how Dee's grandmother like, knew that her aunt had something wrong with her.

One of the scariest scenes in Lament was when Dee is in bed and kind of wakes up to realize that there's a very present dark shape in the corner of her room. So scary! I thought this scene was well done.

kiirstin: Ugh, yes! I agree. And the sort of thing that keeps people up at night. Just saying. Overall, I was pretty impressed with the scenery and descriptions. Even something as simple as the reception tent, I could identify that space. It grounded the story very well.

Can we talk about the beginning a bit? What worked well, what didn't?

Mandy: Yeah of course! Like the prologue, which was stellar?

kiirstin: One of the best opening scenes of a book I've read, I think.

Mandy: Absolutely. Chilling and kind of perfect.

kiirstin: It opened itself up to so many questions. Who is the boy? What are the nails for? What's the deal with the bird? I couldn't help myself -- I had to keep reading.

Mandy: The ambiguity was perfect. I wanted to dive into the book right away. And I love that, after having read the book, I went back to re-read the prologue and it was even cooler. All of the images made sense in a whole new way.

kiirstin: I should try that, actually. I do think, too, it prepared me a little for feeling somewhat baffled for the first little bit of the book. Which I was.

Mandy: I love reading the beginning of books right after finishing them. I can't explain why it's such a neat experience.

kiirstin: That's pretty cool. I am absolutely going to start trying that. Was it a conscious thing that she did, do you think?

Mandy: I don't know. There's a lot of images at the beginning that are beautifully written without giving anything away. I think this was masterfully done. What was the strongest aspect of the beginning for you? After the prologue?

kiirstin: That's a hard question, because I actually got a bit frustrated with the beginning post-prologue. I think the description of place was very solid. And I did like Dee pretty much off the bat. What about you?

Mandy: I didn't love Dee. And I was like "Why is this guy being so perfect with her? So sensitive and interested in her?"

kiirstin: "And why is she okay with that?"... was my big question.

Mandy: Yeah. Luke kept telling her about herself. I mean, when is this a turn-on?

kiirstin: That's such a good point. It's actually just stalker creepy. And yet, you liked Luke, no?

Mandy: Well, he was okay. He was no Patch from Hush Hush in terms of bad boys with a heart of gold. I would liked to have seen a bit of his worse side, considering his background. There's a great scene halfway into the book where the reader starts to immediatey wonder what Luke really wants with Dee. And I felt that that could have been worked in a little better.

kiirstin: Yeah. I was never really convinced that Dee was ever in any danger from Luke, even though I think I was supposed to be.

Mandy: Yes, that's it exactly. He was too nice. And how could he be?

kiirstin: It's this whole problem of having "teenage" characters who are incredibly old, and yet don't seem to carry the weight of their history at all.

Mandy: Exactly.

kiirstin: He acts quite mature, but undamaged. One would expect someone with his life experience to be permanently scarred by it. If he really was a nice, decent guy, I would think that his experiences would have made him crazy.

Mandy: Like Spike, season 7.

kiirstin: Yes! Yes. Ah, Spike.

Mandy: Incapable of a relationship, really. Or at least really messed up about them. Not the perfect guy that any girl would swoon over.

kiirstin: Yeah. A pretty scary creature, all-in-all. Who probably needs at least 500 years of talk therapy to work his way through his problems.

Mandy: "talk therapy" -- too funny

kiirstin: I did enjoy Lament -- I'm glad I read it. I really think Maggie Stiefvater's writing has a lot of potential, and I'm looking forward to trying Shiver. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I think I had pretty high expectations. Overall, though, the world-building and setting seems to be something we both appreciated.

Mandy: I also liked the "explanation" for how faeries use their powers, based on consuming and manipulating energy. Very smart and unique.

kiirstin: And the way it wasn't Faerie that granted Dee her powers, but rather that her powers made her a target. Like Faerie was a side-effect.

Mandy: Very cool.


And there we are! Thanks Mandy, for the great discussion!

Both Mandy and I are pretty backlogged for books now, but our next book to read together is one we're both really excited about, and something quite different from what we've reviewed so far. In an interesting coincidence, I notice that Katie over at read what you know has just reviewed Lament too, and has yet another perspective on Lament than Mandy and I did.


Felicity Grace Terry said...

For today I'm just stopping by to thank you for your best wishes and kind words. Hopefully I'll be able to have a proper catch up over the next couple of days.

Unknown said...

Petty, thanks for stopping by! I really hope you're feeling better soon, and I'm glad to hear from you.

ClaireLines said...

Another great review, Kirrstin! Structural inconsistencies are something that annoy me too, so I'm glad to have been made aware of them before having read the book. This is an author I haven't heard of, so I'm hoping to track these novels down and check them out for myself.

Unknown said...

Claire - it's mostly about the emotional structure of the book, I think. Plot-wise, things fit -- but emotionally, not so much in some places. It's still a good, quick read.

Katie said...

Aww, thanks for the link! I love reading your book discussions with Mandy -- they're so much fun!

(And I never believed that Dee was in danger from Luke either, haha.)

Unknown said...

Katie, no problem! I'm glad you enjoyed. I enjoyed your reviews of Lament and Ballad, too. :)

Phyl said...

I just love it when you guys do this joint review/conversation thing. It's so enlightening! This was great. I'm getting very tempted to read the book, just to compare what I'm seeing to the impressions the two of you had.

Unknown said...

Phyl, I would *love* to see what you had to say about this one. It's such an interesting case, because while Mandy and I didn't hate it, we didn't love it, and yet so many people really did. I would be really curious to see what you thought!

Phyl said...

My TBR list is getting longer and longer...!