Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie is the sequel to Lament and follows James’ story. While it can be read on its own, I suggest that Lament should be read first because certain events from that book are brought up in this one.
Here’s the summary from Maggie Stiefvater’s website:
Nuala is part muse, part psychic vampire. While the freedom to sing or write or create is denied her, her mark across history is unmistakable: a trail of brilliant poets, musicians, and artists who have died tragically young. She has no sympathy for their abbreviated life spans; every sixteen Halloweens she burns in a bonfire and rises from her ashes with no memories of what has come before other than the knowledge of how her end will come.
James is the best bagpiper in the state of Virginia—maybe in the country—plus he’s young and good-looking: just Nuala’s thing. But James, supremely confident in his own abilities and in love with another girl, becomes the first to ever reject Nuala’s offer. He’s preoccupied with bigger things than Nuala: an enigmatic horned figure who appears at dusk and the downward spiral of Dee, his girlfriend-who-isn’t.
It becomes obvious to James that Nuala’s presence, the horned king of the dead, and Dee’s slow self-destruction are all related, and that Dee is the center of a deadly faerie game. While James struggles to unwind the tangled threads of the story, Nuala shadows him, seeing her conflicted, dual nature reflected back at her in him. She finds herself lending him inspiration for nothing. Not quite for nothing—for the hope of requited affection. But even as James begins to realize his feelings for both Dee and Nuala have changed, the sixteenth Halloween descends, with its bonfires and rituals for the dead, one deadly to Nuala and the other to Dee. James can only save one.
For some reason, the website says thirteen years instead of sixteen. I edited that part because Nuala burns every sixteen years. I was really looking forward to reading this because I like James’ character in Lament and I wanted to read more about him. Plus, I was hoping to find an urban fantasy series to love in Maggie Stiefvater’s books. James is pretty easy to like. He’s smart, funny, a musical genius when it comes to bagpipes and he’s good-looking too. Nuala is a muse, stuck in the middle of two worlds: she’s too human to be completely fey but she’s also too much of a faerie to be human. Ballad is the story of how these two characters are reluctantly drawn to each other. The narration of the book changes from James to Nuala, with unsent text messages from Dee (the female protagonist of Lament) to James in between chapters.
I was starting to feel bad while I was reading the first half of the book because I really wanted to like this story but I’m not a huge fan of love triangles and James was still in love with Dee. The earlier chapters were filled with so much longing and wanting. Here’s a perfect quote from the book to summarize that part:
“I sat on the hill, the wind whispering through the long grass that surrounded me. I stared at the stars and wanted more than what I was and more than what the world was and just – wanted.”
Well, I can certainly relate to that. I just didn’t want James to feel so hopeless because he certainly deserved better. I kept urging him to move on already because he knows that Dee loves Luke. It didn’t help matters that Dee kept stringing him along. I think it would’ve been better if they both tried to work on reviving their friendship. I’m glad that things picked up in the middle of the book when James started to let Nuala in. I enjoyed the latter part of the book much more than the first part. Both Nuala and James are interesting characters and I like how they are when they’re together. By the time the climax rolls around, you’ll be rooting for both of them and you’d want them to get what they desire the most.
All in all, I enjoyed reading this book enough to get the next installment in the series. Although there are still no announcements, I have a feeling that this faerie story hasn’t ended. Now I have to decide if I should go ahead and buy Shiver. I’ve heard mixed reviews of Shiver, some liked them better than both Lament and Ballad, while others have said that the faerie books are better.