Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

So I read Shiver and really enjoyed it.  By a stroke of luck that rarely occurs for little old me, I won a copy of Ballad from the wonderful Angieville.  Intrigued, I grabbed Lament from the library (Ballad‘s predecessor, although both can be read as stand-alones without too much confusion, I think) and got reading.

Lament was great, although I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Shiver – it just seemed to be missing that unidentifiable something.  I enjoyed the Celtic edge it had to it, and Stiefvater’s use of faerie lore.

After reading so much about Dee and Luke, I was disappointed to find that we really don’t get much about them in Ballad, except through Dee’s unsent text messages to James.  I know this is supposed to be his story, and more of a companion novel than a sequel, but I found myself wondering about them quite a bit.  Also, although I really liked Dee in Lament, I found myself disliking her a bit here – from James’ point of view she seems incredibly selfish.

For whatever reason, I wasn’t a huge fan of reading from James’ POV – I’m not really sure why, since I love him as a character.  I have a tendency toward the bad boy rather than nice guy characters, but Luke (although I did like him) just seems so superficial in comparison to the depth and character that James has.  Nuala’s POV was always entertaining, especially as I watched her go from thinking about James as a victim to thinking about him as someone she cares about.

It also seemed like all of the action and all of the big reveals were clumped together at the end – there were some great scenes, but they might have been a little more effective if they were spread out.  I love the world she’s created though, as well as her characters – Mr. Sullivan in particular.  I’ll be interested to see where James and Dee’s relationship goes from here – it seems to be left a bit open for another book featuring them (perhaps the events of Ballad from Dee’s point of view?), and if there is another, I can’t wait to read it.  As it stands, Dee’s entanglement with Faerie as the cloverhand doesn’t seem like it will be over anytime soon.

Overall, an enjoyable read.  Great ending, too.  If you like Stiefvater’s style, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

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Great story, fantastic premise. It really got going at the end, and I had a hard time putting it down. The whole alternate mythology of the unicorns was very well done – I found myself wondering if I’d be laughing at images of killer unicorns, but Peterfreund really makes them frightening and horrible creatures (even little Bonegrinder).

There were a couple of things that bothered me, though. I’m older than the target audience, so that may have something to do with it, but I thought the whole virginity thing could get a bit preachy. If you look more closely at the whole “hunters must be virgins” thing, and the powers that hunters have, it has some interesting implications. We see what happens to girls who aren’t hunters: vulnerable to attack, lessened physical abilities, etc. So, (and perhaps I’m looking too far into this, but I can’t help but look for this kind of stuff) as soon as you lose your virginity, you lose your strength and power as a woman. You can no longer fight for yourself. Hunters (virgins) do not need men, do not need to be protected.

Then there was Astrid’s character. She was a bit too wishy-washy for me. One minute she’s on the phone begging her mom to let her come home, even willing to sleep with a guy she barely knows to get out of her “duty” (another interesting facet of the virginity thing) whereas two months ago she had zero intention of going all the way. And then all of the sudden, she’s off enjoying the rush she gets with hunting.

Now what I had some serious issues with was her mother. At the beginning, yeah she’s a bit kooky, but then again it turns out all her stories about unicorns are true. Okay, that’s fine. When she doesn’t let Astrid come home, it’s a bit mean, but she’s a mother living vicariously through her daughter. Happens all the time. Doesn’t make it right, but not uncommon. And then, she comes to be the temporary donna while Neil is away. And we discover that she is, apparently, absolutely psycho. Sure, you can be a bit more rigorous in the training. But having no problems with the other girls dying so Astrid (aka she herself) can get the glory? Mocking Phil, her own niece, being downright cruel, and TORTURING her own daughter to get a promise out of her???? Really?? This lady has some serious mental health issues! And even that doesn’t tip Astrid off. On the next page, she’s defending her by saying that they’ve become better hunters since Lilith became the donna (hmm, her name is Lilith as well. How interesting). And then we’re supposed to be ok with all of it because she grieves when she thinks Astrid is dead. I mean, yes, she’s your mother, but after what she did, you should probably disown her and stay as far away from her as you can.

Ok, I’m done with my rantings. It would have been 4 stars if it weren’t for these problems with characterization, etc. It had a great story, turned out not to be as predictable as I thought it would be, and really drew me in. A great twist on a myth, that, for the most part, was executed very well. It ended a bit abruptly with some loose ends, which I think points to a sequel. I may not go rushing out to get it, but I’ll absolutely read it.