I decided that I really ought to be as fair to Stiefvater as I had to all the other new authors I’ve read for this blog and read TWO of her books before deciding to pan ALL of her books; as I’ve commented about the mystery series, for all I know, I’d picked the one book or series of hers that I simply could not stand. Nope. Sorry. At the risk of scaring off my friends who suggest their favoritest books evar to put into my blog: I couldn’t stand Lament either. It didn’t have any glaring editorial flaws that I could find, such as referring to a “slathering” werewolf, but it fell far short of the sort of plotting that I look for in books. As with many YA books, the argument that I’m not a member of the target demographic for whom the book is written is quite valid; I don’t expect to like children’s and teens’ books nearly as much as children and teens. That said, I’m a member of the group who’s likely to be suggesting books for teens and tweens to read: a librarian. The author also needs to convince ME that zir books are worth recommending1!.
For devout fans of Stiefvater’s work, the short version of this review: I preferred Shiver.
For fans who haven’t read the book yet, the plot is approximately thus: On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, Deirdre Monaghan discovers that she’s a “cloverhands”, or someone who can not only see but control ‘faeries’. As the book opens, Deirdre, a gifted harpist, is about to participate in a high school audition/competition, and as always happens before she performs in public, she needs to puke. As she’s blowing chunks in the girls’ bathroom, a beautiful boy (straight!) materializes just in time to hold her hair back and present her with water to rinse out her mouth and cool compresses to soothe her aching brow2. Enter Luke Dillon, gifted flautist and ‘faerie gallowglass’; he’s been assigned to kill Deirdre before she comes into her full powers but falls in love with her before he can complete his mission. The rest of the book is a race between Deirdre (and her family) and the Faerie Folk–she attempts to discover the nature of her talents3, they to off her before she becomes the Queene of the Faeries on the Eve of the Solstice when the fabric separating the worlds is most gauzy.
For those not put off by shredding books: Why don’t I like it?
She lobs a number of implausible plot points at her readers. For example, Deirdre and Luke winning the Grand Prize for the competition playing duet for the first time. I can’t believe that two musicians would pull off that impressive a first performance together after only a few minutes rehearsal together; even my husband, half asleep, knew better than that. So did several people over on Goodreads.
She does not give her readers important background information until several chapters into the book. I understand that this is supposed to Heighten the Mystery, fair enough. I understand that Luke is prevented by his employers from telling Deirdre what exactly he’s up to, and that the other Faerie Folk don’t tell her because they like playing with their prey, as cats do, fair enough. However, her mother, aunt and grandmother all know that there’s a real possibility that Deirdre will also be a cloverhands–they all are–but don’t tell her this for several chapters. In the beginning of the book, Deirdre’s grandmother thrusts an iron ring at her for a present, after brandishing it in Luke’s face and signifying at him, but doesn’t then turn to Deirdre and explain “He’s a fairy. Iron keeps them at bay; wear this ring at all times to protect yourself from them during this time of vulnerability while you come into your powers.”
As a corollary to this, she includes several tropes from Celtic lore and music, such as white hounds with red ears, Thomas Rhymer and the like, without elaborating them enough to explain why they’re important. Why would Deirdre rush off to consult with Thomas Rhymer two-thirds of the way through the book, when the first portion is almost relentlessly mundane, from the smell of the school cafeteria to the proper way to make an ice cream sundae4? There’s no indication that she has any idea she is connected in any way with the Faerie Folk. How would she suddenly know whom to contact? Naming the psychic musicians’ school Thornking Ash was just icing.
Oh and “cloverhands”? Where did Stiefvater come up with this term? I know that four-leaved clovers are associated with leprechauns and other Irish spirits, and shamrocks with Ireland, but “cloverhands” sounds like one of those annoying kids who fished around in the boxes of sugar laden kids cereal in search of the best bits. I understand that this is a work of fiction. I understand that authors invent things in fantasy novels, and indeed expect them to do so. Did she have to invent a term that reduces the fairy people to a trinket in a Cracker Jack’s box? To me, it sounds like I should expect a twee little pixie to leap out of the book and cry out “She’s got hold of me lucky charms!”
Lack of character development is something I noticed in Shiver and more so in Lament; she tells us that the mother is bossy and manipulative, and that the aunt is a catty ****, and leaves the poor father no more than a paper cutout. Not even a cardboard cutout, mind. We do find out in some detail just why Luke is ‘bad, mad and dangerous to know’, but why does this not convince Deirdre to run as fast as she can in the opposite direction? What about the statement “I’ve been sent to kill you. Here’s my CV.” wouldn’t convince a sensible person to dump the guy and flee? Frankly, I’d be running thataway for my BFF dude. What bothers me more about Lament, however, is the lack of any development for the Faerie Folk. She tells us that the Faerie are scary, but they don’t seem to do much more than materialize out of the mist, signify in a not terribly eerie manner, and vanish. She doesn’t show why they’re something to be afraid of; indeed, the last scene in the book strikes me more as a savage gang attack rather than a mysteriously mystical magic dissemination. I’m left with questions not answered by the text: Why do they smell herbal, if herbs are supposed to repel them5? among others
Lastly, the publisher of this book is an imprint of Llewellyn Press, home of Silver Ravenwolf and zir ilk. This is not a company I’d trust to print factual information about witchcraft. Why should I trust their subsidiary to produce a quality work of fiction about the fairy world? (sorry, can’t bring myself to spell it ‘faerie’ although I know that’s a legitimate variant.)
1either that or the tweens/teens themselves had better come up with a really eloquent argument for same
2sure, I’d like cute boys to pamper me, but not at such an unattractive moment…and NOT by coming into the girls’ bathroom to do so! Creepy, much?
3aside from being able to manipulate the ‘faerie’, she’s telepathic and telekinetic. Maybe some other stuff.
4incidentally, the protagonist’s job at the ice cream store led me to another vocabulary nitpick: at one point Deirdre is looking out the pane-glass windows. Nope. The term I’ve always heard applied to those large store windows is “plate” glass.
5this is a genuine question: is it only specific herbs that repel them?