So last summer I got a copy of Lament (which I had read three years earlier) and didn't read it until January. So in hindsight it's not that surprising that it took me another four or five months to read Ballad even though I really liked Lament, clearly that's just how things go for me with this series. And apologies is this review is slightly more incoherent than usual it's for the usual reasons (school, stress, more school)
Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
Summary: Following the crazy events of the previous summer, James and Dee are now both enrolled in a school for exceptionally talented young musicians, the kind who are most likely to be stolen away by the fey and exactly the reason school was founded. But James feels a little out of place since there's not much more he can learn with his bagpipes and Dee seems distant. But James has problems of his own now, a strange fairy named Nuula has taken an interest in him and wants his soul in exchange for power, something that James isn't really interested in. But as time goes by he and Nuula start to become close to each other and it becomes obvious that there are some major events happening in the background that threaten to engulf them whether they want to be involved or not.
The Good: There are many words to describe The Most Important Person in a Novel; protagonist, lead, main character, hero/anti-hero, narrator, etc. All of these words have slightly diffrent meanings however and this is the first time in a long time, if ever, I've read a book where the lead character is not the Main Character or The Protagonist. To make sure I'm clear, a MC or Protag is important because they are the ones who make things happen and that's clearly what Dee is doing in the background, a lead character is simply someone is there and important, like Jamie (and to a slightly lesser extent Nuula) is. We can only see what is going on with Dee through short text messages and honestly I have been waiting for a story like this forever, a story that features a side character as the lead just because I always wondered how well it would work. And it worked great here, Jamie is more balanced and interesting than Dee, Nuula was a great character as well (and she was a bit of an interesting take on a fairy, I haven't seen one quite like her in my years of reading too many fantasy books) and I wouldn't have liked this book if Dee had been the narrator I think.
The Bad: I really do wish we had gotten more information about what Dee was doing since it was apparently rather important and, while the climax didn't feel like it came out of nowhere, without that information it did mess up the flow towards the end a bit. Also, these are two books in a series, not companion novels, and I'm trying to figure out what the overall theme/larger plot of the series is. I've got a few guesses but for a trilogy (which, IIRC, was what this was originally planned to be, although at this point I'm not sure the last book will ever be written since it's been quite a while. Really that's my biggest problem with the book, I'm just worried that such a great book won't get the follow-up it deserves.
I think I liked this even better than Lament actually and will have to make sure to pick up a copy for myself sometime. Overall I give the book four out of five stars for doing something different with it's structure, a few different thing with the mythology it used, and for just being a fun book to read.