Return to shiver (review)

Is the first in a series of three young adult novels by a Maggie Stiefvater of Richmond, Virginia named the "Wolves of Mercy Falls" series. I noticed it and its sequelae, "Linger," and "Forever," was being advertised quite heavily on posters in and around Walthamstow in East London (amongst other places) possibly to push it as the Next Big Thing now that Twilight's all but bled dry (sorry). So I felt a duty to procure it from a library and review it on here, and also to see if it really was as bad as I feared.

It is. Here is why.

Executive Summary

Twilight with fur.

A bit more detail, if you don't mind, please?

Grace is an ordinary high schooler in a small town in rural Minnesota called Mercy Falls who had a run in with a friendly wolf whose pack hung out at the bottom of her garden. Years later she runs into it and also meets a bishie young chap called Sam. Horribly written romance ensues. He's a werewolf. There's some sort of conspiracy plot about other werewolves but this gets lots in the acres of horrible purple fanfic-level prose and complete lack of characterisation.

Hold on a second. If you replace "Mercy Falls, Minnesota" with "Forks, Washington" and "werewolf" with "vampire" you've got the plot of Twilight, haven't you.

At least it's not as hopelessly written as Twilight and they get it on at the end of the first book rather than waiting for over 1,200 pages of arse-pulled nonsense before they make with the boning. But then again, "better written than Twilight" is kinda like saying "I'd rather, given a choice, have syphilis rather than AIDS." And the prose in Shiver is pretty horrible. It uses short, stumpy paragraphs and chapters that alternate between Grace the protagonist and Sam the werewolf boy and are titled with meaningless temperatures in Fahrenheit in a valiant but failed effort to seem original and relevant but which isn't really alluded to. The writing whips between melodramatical and mathematical, like a beige suit with Passion Purple pinstripes. The characters are flatter than anything ever. The protagonists are a pair of annoying Mary Sues who you just want to slap and start pawing at each other (literally) within minutes of first meeting. The other characters are just there to make up the number and fall victim to telling rather than showing. I give you an example. Grace has a friend called Rachel. Rachel is supposedly constantly cheerful and bouncy and effervescent. Until halfway through the novel this was not shown at all until she came out with "I'm hyper, me!" and reference was made to her rainbow tights.

Then there's Wolf Boy, or Sam or whatever he's called. He describes himself as "emo" (seriously) because of abusive parents. Woo yay. Way to clock up originality points, Maggie, you lazy hack. Come on. Let's try to have interesting characters, people. Is that too much to ask?

Well, actually... it is. By the time I got to the three-quarters mark I was losing interest fast. I didn't know who half these people were. Nobody was properly introduced. They were just names that said words and didn't really do anything. There was one bit where everyone made quiche. There were bits of exposition about werewolves and where they came from and some sort of ongoing conflict but this got completely lost behind the constant maundering. Jesus tap-dancing Christ.

Also, Sam - and all the other werewolves - are a bunch of furry puppy dogs. Buggering hell. Now the world of crap yet popular beyond all reason fiction has deigned to wussify werewolves, not content with emasculating vampires. Werewolves are supposed to be genuinely dangerous and, arguably, a metaphor for rapists if you believe certain people. Not pretty boys who aren't even remotely hairy and who turn into romanticised wolves when the temperature drops below a certain threshold. (Actually, speaking of which, here's an inconsistency - Sam is in human form when a fridge is opened in his presence but refers to a fellow werewolf who turns immediately when walking past somewhere with the aircon on and the door open.) Werewolves are supposed to be beasts hiding amongst us who go into kill-frenzy once a month and require massive force of will to overturn that bestial urge. Not pretty boys who get in-touch-with-nature points by being part of it every so often.

There are two sequelae as I stated above but I don't expect they're much better.

Needless to say, some pretty yet vacuous actor will be found to appear in the inevitable film adaptation, so take cover now.

I should explain, though, that I do think a werewolf romance is possible to write that doesn't suck in which the werewolf is genuinely a danger and not a very nice person who abandons the poor girl despite her being hopelessly in love simply because otherwise, I dunno, he'll probably accidentally eat her or something. Not that this would happen in the overstuffed paranormal romance market; there has to be a sequel hook so that the publishers can make big zlotys. Also, if the big reveal that he's a werewolf was spun out to past the halfway mark it would provide for more authentic drama rather than just "my boy friend's a werewolf, aren't I awesome" that Shiver seems to specialise in.

(Actually, if you want to take that to its extreme, they could be having a smooching session one evening when he gets so carried away he forgets what time of the month it is and undergoes a turning mid-session. One moment they're all loved up and the next he's sprouted fur and big teeth and "Let's All Chant" just came on the radio. Oh eck.)

Actually, that's not a bad idea. In fact, sod reviewing this rubbish novel any more. I think I can do better. Just make sure to look out for "Hazelnut's Totally Badass Werewolf Romance Novel" in stores near you soon enough. In the meantime, if you have a teenage reader, why not introduce them to Alan Garner and "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen." It's 50 years old and knocks the socks of most modern "young adult" fiction.

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