This sequel to Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception switches the focus from Deidre to her good friend James, another gifted musician. Typically it takes me a little while to accept a transition from one POV character another in a series, and I tend to do so a bit reluctantly. But with James, I was in from the beginning. I loved him in Lament, so I was more than happy to spend some quality time with him.
His narration switches back and forth with a new character's, a faerie named Nuala, who is complex and interesting and very, very dangerous, particularly to skillful musicians like James. Dee is still present in the story, and we get snippets from her point of view in the form of text messages she writes but does not send to James, a technique that I found didn't work so well for me. It seemed not quite believable that she would pull so far away from James like that and cease confiding in him, after everything they went through in the first book. Her motive of keeping him safe didn't seem wholly believable to me - it felt more like the annoying withholding information gimmick that too many novels seem to use to hinge everything on.
However, that is a minor quibble. I loved this book! It takes place at a private school for musicians. James has applied there so he can be with Dee, whom he has loved unrequitedly since the first book. The school doesn't have much to offer him - he is a music prodigy, and there are no bagpipe teachers that can really teach him anything more. He doesn't mind - he just wants to be near Dee. However, as Dee withdraws from him, he finds himself in the company of Nuala, and she has plans for him that he finds incredibly tempting. To complicate matters, there is the music he hears coming from the woods every day near twilight, an unearthly, compelling melody that sings of the dead. It calls to him.
James's voice, his wit and sense of humor, and his intense emotions all pull the story along. It increases in tension and pace as the plot progresses. The Celtic mythology and the other-worldliness of Faerie make for an evocative setting and fascinating interplay among characters with very different cultural backgrounds.
I found Dee's character to be disturbing, though. It was as though she's become a different person in this book. In my review of Lament, I wrote:
It was refreshing to see a protagonist so infatuated with someone, yet still able to maintain her sense of self; Deirdre is strong on her own because of who she is, not because of who she is when she's with Luke.It feels to me as though Dee is a completely different character in this book, weak and self-deluding, withdrawn and even a little mentally unbalanced. I had the impression from the first book that she is a survivor, and I didn't like seeing her so diminished in this book.
At any rate, I highly enjoyed this novel, and I think fans of Holly Black, Melissa Marr and Charles de Lint would enjoy it as well. It is best to read Lament first, though, because it contains the entire set-up for Ballad.
Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie (sequel to Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception) by Maggie Stiefvater (Flux, 2009)
Source: My local public library
Also reviewed at:
Angieville: "Ballad is a love letter to James fans. Period. If you liked yon lanky, loquacious lad before you will fall head over heels in love with him in this installment."
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "Reading Ballad is like being somehow in the middle of a complex dance between two talented, occasionally unpredictable partners."
The Well-Read Child: "As I've come to expect with Maggie Stiefvater's works, Ballad is beautifully written. The plot is fast-paced and heart-pounding up to the end, and Stiefvater has a way for making you truly care for all of the characters you're supposed to care for..."