Thursday, November 19, 2009

Brrr ...

I wonder if author Maggie Stiefvater is tired of hearing her werewolf book Shiver compared to the Twilight vampire saga. There is no comparison, Shiver is much better. The romance is still a bit too brooding for my jaded taste (I find Cathy and Heathcliff to be a bit much as well), but it is completely teen friendly. Dare I say that it is even slightly feminist: the heroine does fall drippingly in love, but she fully retains her sense of self. I also enjoyed Stiefvater's twist on the legend: It's not a full moon that brings out the lycanthrope, it's the temperature. If it gets too cold ... . And the cold plays a constant, and very effective, role in this story.

In the small town of Mercy Falls, Minnesota, Grace Brisbane was dragged off her backyard tire swing by a starving wolfpack when she was six years old. They were preparing to devour her when one of the wolves challenged the pack and took her -- dazed and bleeding -- back to her home. Grace has watched that wolf -- the one with the yellow eyes, feeling a kinship with it, for the past ten years.

Sam Roth is that wolf. He was bitten by a senior member of the Mercy Falls pack as a young boy, and endures the cycle of man and wolf each year. He knows, though, that the time always comes when you don't become human again, and he's feeling that this time is close. This winter, another young man has been attacked by the pack, and the community begins hunting the wolves. Sam is shot, and transforming back to human, he manages to get to Grace's backdoor. She gets him to a hospital, and learns that she must keep him warm to keep him human. The kinship they have always felt turns into love, and Grace becomes a fighter to save Sam's humanity.

Aside from the paranormal aspect, this is a romance novel, pure and simple. There are lots of long looks, sighs, intimacy, and even some sincere song lyrics. Grace and Sam are truly soul mates, so it's just a question of getting that pesky wolf thing out of the way. I will refrain from sharing the ending, but suffice to say that Stiefvater already has another book on the way.

If the romance is a bit too ... well, too, the setting is very evocative. Stiefvater's writing brings a Minnesota winter to frigid life. I particularly enjoyed the temperature readings that were provided at the beginning of every chapter. The weather is the lovers' enemy. You feel the chill just by listening.

Shiver has two perspectives, and fortunately, there are two readers taking the roles of Grace and Sam: Jenna Lamia and David Ledoux. Lamia is so good here. I have long been impressed with her talent (heard here most recently), particularly her ability to sound authentically youthful. In interpreting Grace, she has added another layer onto her performance: her ability to translate Grace's emotions to her voice is exceptional. Grace's feelings throughout this story are vividly clear. The increasing tension of the plummeting temperatures is mirrored in Lamia's voice.

She's also pretty skilled at portraying the story's other characters. She can read male characters creditably, and does so with both teen boys and adults. Grace's girlfriends are also nicely limned. I particularly enjoyed her portrayals of ditzy Rachel and alpha girl Isabel.

I've never heard David Ledoux before, but he makes a fine soulful and sensitive Sam. Sam is a poet, and I sense some discomfort when Ledoux reads his song lyrics (and chooses not to sing one of them). But both he and Lamia really hit the right notes as the star-crossed lovers of this particular romance.

The audiobook includes a visit with the author who -- while not interviewed -- seems to be answering the usual questions about the origins of the story, how she became a writer, etc. Stiefvater is lively and informative in a slightly stiff format. I appreciate the opportunity to get to know her. If you check out her website, you can see that she's a musician and artist as well.

No comments: