Review: Sinner, Maggie Stiefvater

Note: I received an electronic copy of Sinner from the publisher, through NetGalley, for review consideration.

Coming down from a book hangover after reading The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves was tricky. As of this writing, I think I am mostly okay; I just need to really figure out what my next read is going to be. Alternating Maggie Stiefvater books with unreviewable academic texts is probably not a sustainable direction for the blog (though very fun for me).

Anyway, part of my hangover recovery process was binge-reading The Lesser Works, i.e., Shiver, Linger, and Forever, which are about a girl who falls in love with a wolf. (Luckily for her mental health, the wolf turns out to be a person.) I wasn’t terribly interested in Sam and Grace, but I quite liked the newly made werewolf who shows up in Linger, a drug-addicted suicidal musician called Cole, and I quite liked Grace’s angry friend Isabel, who got impatient when anybody acted wistful and accomplished many helpful deeds in an extremely angry way. Sinner is about them.

Still a werewolf, but generally able — for reasons that aren’t terribly interesting or important — to hang onto his human form, Cole has come to L.A. after Isabel. He’s also there to record a comeback album and be part of a reality show about recording the album, which he hopes will pay him well enough to save him the financial necessity of going on tour, which he’s leary of doing as an addict and also as a werewolf. Isabel is working in a store that pays her not to give a damn and living with her mother and her meek younger cousin Sofia. She is furious with whoever happens to be around, which for much of this book means Cole, about whom she has very very mixed feelings.

I only knew that my heart was galloping so fast that my fingers were numb. Logically, I knew it was just from surprise [at seeing Cole], but I didn’t know if it was like Surprise, here is a cake or Surprise, you’ve had a stroke.

I love reading about angry women. I love it. See also The Woman Upstairs (this is possibly the only Maggie Stiefvater–Claire Messud comparison you will read today).

Unlike Shiver and Linger and Forever, which go into fairly deep detail about the mechanics of being a werewolf, Sinner is light on the supernatural elements. You could swap out Cole’s changing into a werewolf in his bathroom to doing drugs in his bathroom, and the story would carry on in just about exactly the same way. It’s more of a straight romance, as well as a love letter to Los Angeles. Isabel and Cole are each damaged in their own right, and Cole in particular represents aspects of Isabel that she wants to put behind her (the messy lives of the werewolves, the loss of her brother). They are both people who want to get away from who they have been, and be some better version of themselves, and it’s not at all clear that that’s something they can accomplish together.

Though I wouldn’t put this on nearly the same level as The Raven Boys, Stiefvater’s writing has not stopped being wonderful. She’s clever and funny, and she’s also brilliant at producing simple, evocative descriptions that make her settings and characters pop. Like this:

He generally appeared famous and not true and not really present in any given moment. There was always a dissonance between him and his surroundings, as if he were being smoothly and handsomely projected from a distant location.

And this:

But I knew Isabel, and I knew that every single one of her emotions looked like anger from the outside.

Plus, sexual agency! I appreciated this in Shiver as well — teenagers have sex, and Stiefvater isn’t wringing her hands over it. I’m not sure exactly how to phrase this, but basically: Before I had sex for the first time, I had conceived of it as a much bigger deal than it was in some ways, and a much smaller deal than it was in other ways. I think Stiefvater does well here, and in Shiver, at writing about the ways in which sex is and is not actually a big deal in real life.

If you haven’t read the Raven Cycle books yet, go do that; but if you have and you’re just counting down days on your calendar until Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Sinner is a good book to while the time away. I should have maybe read it more slowly, actually. Now I am right back where I was before. Oh when will it be October?

  • I loved loved loved this. I don’t know what makes Stiefvater so good, but she’s so good! (how’s that for articulate, quite the opposite of Stiefvater…. yes, that’s it, I’m only not articulate to show by contrast how well she writes!)

    • Gin Jenny

      She IS good. I thought the structure of the plot wasn’t great, but I enjoyed the writing and the characters so much that I didn’t care.

  • I read the first book in the trilogy, but wasn’t enthralled with it and didn’t read the next two. When I read Sinner, I was a bit at a disadvantage, but nothing serious. I love Stiefvater, and not just because of her books. I love that she is so creative with her life, her music, her art, and she even painted a car to look like Ronan’s (in under 3 minutes). Can’t wait for Blue Lily, Lily Blue.

    • Gin Jenny

      Cannot WAIT for Blue Lily, Lily Blue. I am painfully excited for it.

  • My 14yo read the first one and spent a good chunk of a long car drive telling me in great detail exactly why it drove her crazy. Now I’m scared of these books.

    (Love letter to Los Angeles? Buh? Well, I suppose someone must like it, a lot of people do live there….)

    • Gin Jenny

      Drove her crazy like she hated it? That is fair. It is not Maggie Stiefvater’s best. Sinner is pretty good though.

      Hahahaha, that’s exactly what I thought. I have a friend who lives in Los Angeles and really likes it, but she lives close enough to her job that she can walk to work. So I think eliminating a wretched commute from your life is the key to loving L.A.

  • I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve said this here (and doubtless it won’t be the last) but I really must try this author. You make her sound irresistible.

    • Gin Jenny

      She is! Read The Raven Boys, it’s so good.

  • I like the idea of a love letter to Los Angeles. I mean, I doubt I would write such a letter myself but I like the idea that someone would.

    I’ve heard mixed reviews about her non-Ravens books, but I keep meaning to scope them out anyway since I did love Ravens pretty hard.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yeah, I felt — not impressed with most of them. I didn’t even like The Scorpio Races that much, and you know everyone on the blogosphere raved and raved about that one. But I liked Sinner. I think she’s getting better and better, as an author.

  • Man. You are making the hard sell for Maggie Stiefvater! I’m convinced, I tell you! If only the TBR pile were more cooperative.

    • Gin Jenny

      YEAH I am! I love her so! I want to convince everyone to read her! I want it to be like Patrick Ness where I just never shut up about her until finally everyone in the blogosphere has surrendered and read her books!

  • I think I first heard about Maggie Stiefvater from Teresa or Jenny on Shelf Love, and I remember how enthusiastic that review was – but this really makes me think that I have been Missing Out. I can see my TBR stacks growing…

    • Gin Jenny

      You are, you are. They’re so good, read them!

  • I still haven’t read The Raven Boys because I have been “saving it” for some magical moment that I will apparently know when I see. I also have a fear of books that are too good and how they will ruin the books that come after but this post has somehow motivated me to suck it up while also giving me a good book to bridge the gap.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yeah, I say read them now. But don’t expect too much from them! I always worry when I really love a book that I’ll talk it up too much and people will go in with sky-high expectations and end up disappointed. That is what happened to a couple of people when they finally read Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking books.

  • Gah! I even have Shiver sitting on my own shelves and I haven’t read it. I’m going to trust your recommendation though and start with The Raven Boys….I’ve been wanting to try this author for some time. P.S.- October AND September are my favorite months 🙂 I love fall!

  • [Hi Jenny! You are twice as private as I am, I trust your interwebz choices!] I loooove that quote: “Logically, I knew it was just from surprise, but I didn’t know if it was like Surprise, here is a cake or Surprise, you’ve had a stroke.”

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, thanks! I love the quote too — the book itself isn’t as good as the Raven Boys ones, but the writing is very lovely. And I don’t know if I’ve told you this, but I have a soft spot for romances between morally compromised people.