I was in the YA section of a bookstore when my eyes fell on this book. My first impression was "yet another author surfing on the werewolf-vampire-twilight success" *sneer* and I refused to buy it on principle. Two weeks later, I condescend to read the fourth of cover - and end up buying the book.
That's where the old "never judge a book by its cover" saying comes in, because I was totally blown away by this book. I would normally wait for the end of the series to make a post (because book number 2 is bound to come out this summer 2010, and it is - is there anything else anyway? - a trilogy), as I am currently doing for the Hunger Games or Rachel Vincent's books. But the story of the Wolves of Mercy Fall deserves praises.
The story revolves around 17-years-old Grace, who has been attacked by wolves when she was younger, and saved from a predictable death by a yellow-eyed wolf. Ever since then, she watched the woods every winter for her wolf. One autumn, she meets a yellow-eyed boy and she recognizes him instantly. Follows love-story, fear, adventure, life-challenging events and beautiful pictures.
The incredible talent of Maggie Stiefvater is the care she takes in creating unique characters. They feel real because none of them are perfect, all of them have annoyingly cute habits, and nobody cares who's the cute boy who will take me to prom. Grace is a strong independent girl, on the verge of womanhood, who takes care of herself and of her parents (irresponsible workaholics that you can't even bring yourself to hate). Sam is a very sweet boy-wolf and is as hooked on Grace as she is on him. But, and I love this, they are not alike. They have very dissimilar selves which were only brought together by Grace's attack by the wolves and intertwined through years of mutual observation. Her high school friends and the wolves each have their individual personalities which makes them instantly recognisable rather than mere secondary characters just here to fill the gaps. As some YA books tend to overdo the whole sex/responsability issues of the teenage characters (they do their homework, they never have sex, they barely hold hands, they don't say bad words...), Stiefvater makes them real, with a bit of rebellious attitudes every now and then (I'm not saying she makes them take drugs or engage in suspicious behavior either...).
Her second and most important talent is that she has one hell of a writing style. Not once do you get bored, not once do you think "huh, didn't I already read that ten pages before?" or "does the author have only three adjectives per character?", not once do you get somehow detached from the story by an irregular writing. She creates very visual expressions to describe people and situations that you've never heard of but to which you relate instantly. A lot of YA books you usually read have a rather simplistic, plain and traditional writing style. Stiefvater rocks YA literature with this novel, by not taking teenagers for morons and by aiming at a good writing.
Another cool thing is the Stiefvater's spin on the werewolf mythology, the fact that no one really knows how it works and where it came from is interesting because you wait to read more details in the sequels (clever girl) but you can relate more to it because it is just something happening that you have to deal with it. Kind of like everything else in life. Another interesting spin is that it hurts. The recent stories about werewolves or wereanimals that I've read (which isn't much either) hardly mention the shift and don't make it a painful experience. Here it is painful, so it is a dilemma to shift or not to shift. One last thing is that she links the shifters to their environment and to the natural behaviour of real wolves. They are humans in their human forms and wolves in their wolf form. Reading about an invented nature in a fantasy book is great, watching impressive special effects in films (hello Avatar) is dreamy, but writing about real nature that hasn't been yet (for now) completely devastated by human behaviour is way better. Nature that already exists on this planet (on whichever continent and time of the year) is mesmerising, you just have to keep your eyes open for it.
Anyways, I would definitely recommend this book to the Twilight freaks and YA horror fantasy fans in general (of which I'm - obviously - a part) since it's a very good story and I particularly like her wolves. But I will also recommend it to the romance fans since the book - in both Grace's and Sam's perspective - recalls the likes of the unforgettable Time Traveller's wife by Audrey Niffenegger.