(Yes, I’ve read Twilight. Not for me. I barely made it through the first book and had to Wiki the rest of the series. To be in publishing, I know it’s important for me at least to understand the plot/appeal, even if I don’t appreciate them personally.*)
That being said, it took me a while to start this book. Call it a case of “once bitten, twice shy.” I was wary going into the first chapters. It had all of the same markers as the Vampire-Story-That-Must-Not-Be-Named: obsessional/inexplicable romance, a harsh setting, domesticity/extreme freedom caused by absent parents, orbital friends, even the crappy car. By the time I finished reading though, I couldn’t even make the comparison. This book was what Twilight wanted to be. Let’s break it down.
Going in, I knew it was a paranormal romance. So, there would be the meeting, the discovery, the romance, the obstacles to their love, and the reaffirmation. The wheel was not going to be reinvented, but Maggie Stiefvater did manage to reinvigorate the wheel. Plus, the language was gorgeous. I do appreciate good prose. (Spoilers ahoy!)
OK, so their meeting was patently ridiculous: “You saved me from your wolf pack when I was eleven. I’ve been drawn to you ever since. I think I love you.” Still, there was a frisson when they touched for the first time, the wolf overcoming its natural instincts to get close. I felt it. I was in.
The discovery was where things picked up. I mean, a naked guy who’s been shot is a pretty good way to get the plot rolling. The “powers” of the wolves were exposed slowly, so I had some time to warm up to them. (Those were intentional puns, people who haven’t read the book.) I liked the power struggles within the wolf pack, the fully-formed (interesting! multi-dimensional!) people inside the pelts. I loved the mythology (and its tragic twist). Having the wolf phasing triggered by cold (not the traditional moon) was quite clever. I liked that temperature was the enemy. Having an external force threatening the lovers raised the stakes and added plenty of suspense. The cold also highlighted the scenes inside, where the romance blossomed. Inside and out of danger, the moments between Grace and Sam feel warm and intimate.
The romance was what did it for me. Both came to the relationship on equal footing, equally fascinated with each other over a period of time. No internal monologue told them they weren’t good enough to be happy with each other. (Shut UP, Bella.) They were cautious in places, but that’s fine. That’s real. (Sam’s thoughts were fantastic. He was turned on, he was nervous, he fantasized, he thought of Grace as “sexy.” I mean, it shocked me at first. “Sexy” in YA? Well, duh! Of course.) They didn’t do anything extraordinary. They drove, talked, read, studied, cooked, slept. They went into town and hung out in a bookstore. He dropped her off at school. They went for a walk in the woods. Later, he took her on an adorable secret road trip to a candy store. They had sex, they “used protection.” (OK, so I audibly cheered at that line. YA straight talk FTW.) That scene when they made the quiche was so tender. They had a comfort with each other that I believed.
It worked because Sam wasn’t a (sparkly) werewolf. He was a boy who happened to be a werewolf. Bonus? He was never a jerk! Even if he was afraid, even if he was stressed, he handled it or shared his fear. (Though his composed lyrics initially made me think “Oh no, I've read fan fiction like this before,” they won me over eventually.) Grace was also a really ferocious character: active and smart yet still kind. I could believe her heroics and her sadness. I liked how they opposed each other, filling in the gaps. They may have been “types,” but they had their own essence, what my favorite creative writing teacher always referred to as “a touch of the real.” (Speaking of which, I also enjoyed her friends and their dynamic because they felt like teenagers. I’m sure we’ll see more in the upcoming books.)
Anyway, Team Werewolf. Maybe I’m just sucker for Beauty and the Beast, but I think I prefer werewolves to vampires because of their humanity. Especially in this werewolf mythology, the wolves struggle with what it means to be human, some striving to have a life outside of their curse and some wishing to leave their old lives behind forever. That’s compelling, and it will keep me reading through Linger (just picked up from the library) and Forever (coming out later this year).
*I know I did a lot of ragging on Twilight here. Maybe I should have devoted more space to Shiver as its own entity, but one of my English teachers told me that “literature doesn’t exist in a vacuum.” I do believe that all YA paranormal romances published in the future will be held up to that book, just like all “magic” books will be compared to Harry Potter. We’re living in the AT (After Twilight) era, for better or for worse.