From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Book Review: Lament

Amazingly enough, I am not yet tired of faeries (or vampires, for that matter). I’ve always enjoyed comfort foods—once I find something I like, I like it forevermore—and books are rarely an exception. What’s not to like about a sympathetic protagonist being thrown into an ethereal, alien world? Maggie Stiefvater’s Lament has been called a cross between Twilight and Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely; but for a reader who enjoys fae stories and has not yet read Marr’s variation, Lament was thoroughly engaging and interesting.

Deirdre—Dee—is an exceptional high school harpist, although she has typical teenager issues like having to throw up before every performance. In the bathroom before one important competition, she meets a slightly-eerie flutist named Luke. Together they win the competition with a moving rendition of “The Faerie Girl’s Lament”—and of course Luke turns out to be no normal human. The expected complications include Dee’s lifelong best friend James (a piper with poorly-expressed romantic feelings) and a dysfunctional family dynamic. Dee’s aunt Delia is especially creepy as the secondary antagonist; the primary villain is the Faerie Queen, who, contrary to the subtitle, didn’t deceive anyone as far as I can tell.

With regard to plot (fast-paced, easily predicted) and setting (moments of elegance, otherwise skim-inducing), this novel is solidly in the middle—not mediocre-middle, exactly, but unexceptional-middle. It is certainly not a bad book by any standard, but on the whole, neither is it a great book. For me, the characters and the details make it a powerful comfort read.

Here is a love triangle, finally, that works! Dee is immediately infatuated with Luke, an adolescent crush-love with the potential for true love that convinced me of their Happy For Now ending. Yet, she also deeply cares for James, her loyal defender—the bittersweet ending is an obvious sequel set up with several arcs left dangling, but it satisfied me. I loved the deepening portrayals of Sara, Dee’s bubbly cheerleader coworker who becomes much more important, and of Delia’s motivations. Even the characterization sometimes falls into traps, though: the EVIL Faerie Queen’s motivations are a bit cliché and underdeveloped, particularly at the climax. Much is said of her power, yet she wastes several opportunities to just kill Luke or Dee or James.

Stylistically, Lament follows the conventions of YA urban fantasy (mind, the city plays no role in this story) with modern teen dialect and generous doses of coarse language. I would have liked a little more plot wrap-up (i.e. a little less series set-up), and I’m iffy on the prologue—it reveals critical background information about Luke and grabs the reader’s immediate interest but also cuts abruptly to contemporary times with no further explanation. Nonetheless, the story speeds along due to Dee’s pitch-perfect inner monologue:

“So what? Luke was in league with the friggin’ rabbit? Why even bother to tell me about faeries then? To gain my confidence so he could get in my pants?” (107)

Like any other teenager, Dee suffers through insecurity and lack of self-esteem, but with an otherworldly twist. This theme is not exactly original, so the details are vital—and Lament’s musical details, an initial attraction for me, do not fail to deliver. Music shapes the lives of all three characters, as well as certain of the lesser fae—I loved the interspersed parallels to the Irish ballad that brings Dee and Luke together—yet it never feels forced into the service of the plot. The end result: a realistic world spotted with melodic coincidences. Moreover, both plot events and Stiefvater’s upcoming sequel Ballad make clear that music will continue to distinguish Dee’s story from its peers.

While I cannot recommend Lament wholesale, for those not yet sick of faeries, Stiefvater has written a perfectly respectable YA fantasy novel with which to while away a few hours. Like a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup after coughing one’s lungs out, sometimes a comfort read is just right.

Lisa Bao is an aspiring writer, amateur reviewer, and expert reader who loves genre fiction for the extra depth (beyond that of silly mainstream “literature”) of otherworldly alienation. She was born in one country, is a citizen of another, and has currently resided longest in a third. She also maintains an informal booklog at a top-secret location and considers herself perfectly unqualified to criticize—thus, who better to be a critic?

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