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Forever – Maggie Stiefvater

This is the perfect ending to an exceptional series.

There will be some spoilers below if you haven’t read the first two books, so if you intend to – stop reading now (and read my Shiver review instead).

So…  In Forever, Grace is now a wolf and Sam is a boy, who may or may not be cured from turning into a wolf again.

Life is more complicated than it’s ever been for the pair because not only is Sam the prime suspect in Grace’s disappearance, there are also plans for Mercy Falls’ wolf population to be culled – using helicopters and rifles.

And while waiting for Grace to return to her human form, Sam is also missing his wolf family, and wrestling with the truth about his past – and Beck’s role in it.

Meanwhile, Cole keeps working to find a cure – mostly because the idea of failure doesn’t occur to him – and Isabel still oscillates between lust and loathing for him.

For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of Forever, is the respective emotional journeys of Sam and Cole. They are polar opposites in pretty much every way possible, but their transformative moments are equally rewarding.

The series is so beautifully written I’ve often had to force myself to slow down and savour the language, but by mid-way through Forever, that’s impossible. As the threat to the wolves builds, the tension and pace demands rapid page turning.

What’s driven this story all along is the beautiful, tender relationship between Sam and Grace, and – since Linger – there’s also the more volatile attraction between Cole and Isabel, fairly humming with raw sexuality.

So, yes, the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy is a love (and lust) story. But it’s so much more than that.

It’s a story about grief, longing and regret … of love, redemption and self-acceptance. It’s about the joy of living and the pain of loss; the need to belong, and the need to be comfortable in your own skin.

All the threads from the past two books come together seamlessly in Forever, but that doesn’t mean everything is wrapped up with a neat bow – and readers who have been paying attention would expect nothing less.

But there’s more than enough resolution to leave fans sighing with satisfaction.

I had such high expectations for this final instalment and it impresses me so much that Forever exceeded them.

So, yeah. I loved this book as much as the others. Maybe even more.

And in response to Place’s request below, here’s the trailer:

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Linger – Maggie Stiefvater

I was looking forward to this book so much I almost couldn’t bring myself to start it, for fear it wouldn’t live up to my expectations.

But Stiefvater has managed the near impossible: created a novel even more compelling and heart-breaking than Shiver, the first in this series (released last year – my review and Stiefvater’s atmospheric trailers for both books can be found here).

(If you haven’t read Shiver and intend to, stop reading here because there are unavoidable spoilers for that book below).

Linger continues the story of Sam and Grace: “a boy who used to a wolf and a girl becoming one”. In Shiver, werewolf Sam becomes human in the middle of winter and falls in love with Grace, the girl he rescued from his pack years before. But their relationship is overshadowed by the fear Sam may not be able to hold his human form for long, and that he may have turned human for the last time. Sam must fight his nature – and the dropping temperature – to stop himself returning to the wild forever.

If Shiver was all about love, loyalty and freedom of choice, Linger is about grief, loss and escape. But despite the themes, it’s far from depressing. Rather it is beautifully and poetically melancholic, in that wonderful way only Stiefvater can deliver.

Sam is now firmly in his human skin, but it’s Grace whose future is in doubt as it seems the wolf bite from her childhood may finally be claiming her. And into their world comes a new wolf named Cole, a young man full of hurt and anger. He’s desperate to remain in the oblivion his wolf form offers, until Isabel – in her indomitable way – challenges his weakness.

Each character faces intensively personal battles: For Sam, it’s dealing with the loss of his “family”, most of whom he’ll never see in human form again, as well as his fear of losing Grace. For Grace, it’s the fear of what she’s becoming and the real possibility she may die. For Cole it’s finding the courage to stop running away from the carnage he’s wrought in his life and others; and for Isabel, it’s allowing herself to connect to others.

Sam and Grace’s story is still the heart and soul of Linger, but Cole and Isabel’s antagonistic attraction – two incredibly selfish people desperate to keep the upper hand – is a compelling counterweight.

And as Cole’s background unfolds, it’s obvious he’s been a prize tool as a young rock prodigy caught in the world of sex and drugs, which makes his small steps towards the redemption at the end of Linger so rewarding.

Music again plays a strong part in this story, even though we can’t hear it. And the poetry of Stiefvater’s writing – and her gift for unsentimental poignancy – continues to set her writing apart.

Hers are stories to savour, not devour, and – like Shiver – Linger is a wonderfully tactile reading experience.

This second instalment ends on a note of hope, leaving much to be resolved in the third (and final) novel, Forever, due out next year. It’s going to be a long wait…

Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater

When Shiver came out last year, it was embraced by many readers as some sort of antidote to Twilight mania.

Unfortunately, that may have deterred Stephenie Meyer’s fans, which would’ve been a shame, given the rich and rewarding reading experience Shiver offers.

Maggie Stiefvater has created a beautiful, touching and haunting story about love, loyalty and freedom of choice.

As a child, Grace is rescued from a wolf attack by a pack member. She grows up watching him in the woods behind her house, sharing an unspoken bond with the wild animal.

That animal is Sam, and – just like the other wolves in his pack – he’s a werewolf. In winter he takes on his lupine form but in summer, returns to being a teenage boy.

Sam has watched Grace as closely as she’s watched him, but never approached her in either of his forms. Until he’s shot and, despite the chilly season, turns human. On Grace’s back step.

The pair’s mutual obsession quickly grows to be something far more substantial. But their relationship is overshadowed by the fear Sam may not be able to hold his human form for long, and that he may have turned human for the last time. Sam must fight his nature – and the dropping temperature – to stop himself returning to the wild forever.

Stiefvater’s writing has a wonderful sense of poetry to it, like when Sam describes the intensity of his first kiss with Grace: “I was wild and tame and pulled into shreds and crushed into being all at once”.

It’s almost as if Stiefvater has gone out of her way to break the paranormal romance mould. Grace doesn’t fall for a hot guy who turns out to be more than he seems: she falls in love with the wolf first (not as weird as it sounds…).

In Shiver, humans are humans and wolves are wolves, even if they carry traces of their other selves when they transform. When Sam is a wolf, his behaviour, instincts and world view are all wolf. He’s not just a teenage boy with fur.

And Sam isn’t all broad shoulders and invincibility. He’s masculine and sexy in an understated way, but constantly vulnerable to the falling temperature.

I really loved this book.  Stiefvater’s narration (alternating between Sam and Grace’s perspectives) is so beautiful I frequently had to force myself to slow down savour her words and the mood she so skillfully creates. It certainly transcends its YA tag.

And, of course, there’s the tactile experience of the book itself. It’s rare to find a hardcover on paranormal fantasy shelves, and this one invites the reader to endlessly run fingers over the beautifully designed and embossed cover. It marks this book as being something of substance, and – after devouring this story – I have to say the impression is not unfounded.

Shiver is the first in a trilogy (of course), with the next instalment, Linger, due out in July. I’ve got a long list of series books to look out for this year, but this one is now – without challenge – on the top of my list.

Check out Maggie’s excellent book trailer for Linger (her own work):

And for context, here’s the original trailer she made for Shiver: