REVIEW: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Dear Ms. Stiefvater,
This is the first novel of yours that I’ve completed. I attempted to read your debut, Lament, but I’m afraid my general disinterest in faeries got the better of me. Shiver, on the other hand, is about werewolves, which remain my favorite of the supernatural bestiary. Add to that the fact that I first heard about this book pitched as The Time Traveler’s Wife meets Blood and Chocolate, and my interest was definitely piqued. That said, while Blood and Chocolate is one of my favorite novels ever (please don’t talk to me about the movie; it doesn’t exist in my head), I have to add the caveat that I’m one of the five people in the entire world who didn’t care for The Time Traveler’s Wife. So I was curious to see on which end of the spectrum Shiver would fall.
When she was a child, Grace was attacked by wolves. She’d been playing in the backyard, when wolves pulled her off the swing and mauled her. But mysteriously, one of the wolves — a grey with striking yellow eyes — stopped the rest of his pack and saved her life. Since that day, Grace has held an obsessed fascination with the wolves that roam the forests behind her family’s Minnesota home. In particular, she watches for the yellow-eyed wolf that saved her life — an interest that is further spurred on by the fact that the wolf watches her back.
Then one day, a boy from Grace’s high school is attacked and killed by wolves. It incites a panic among the town’s populace, who’ve never liked the fact that a wolf pack prowls their forests. It gets so bad that eventually a group of hunters is formed and they go kill the pack. After all, Grace’s dead classmate came from a rich and powerful family and what they want, they will no doubt get. But Grace doesn’t want the wolves — and her yellow-eyed wolf, in particular — to be killed. It’s true that she was attacked as a child, but she was also saved by one as a child.
She manages to put a halt to the hunting party, but not before they’ve already taken some down. Worried for her wolf, Grace goes home. It’s there, on the deck, that she finds a naked boy, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the neck, with yellow eyes. His name is Sam.
Shiver is told in alternating first-person narratives between Grace, the girl who survived a wolf attack, and Sam, the werewolf who saved her. I really enjoyed the prose of this novel; it was lovely. I also liked how each chapter had a note regarding the temperature, which was very important considering the werewolves’ biology.
Speaking of the werewolves’ biology, I did like this new take on the werewolf mythos. The idea of werewolves having to shift based on temperature was an interesting one, even though some of the specific details and ramifications didn’t work for me from a scientific point of view. Still, I liked the concept of werewolves being able to walk as humans during the warmer seasons but then having to change to wolf form during the colder ones. It reminded me of the various survival strategies animals has evolved over time — hibernation or fur coats changing to white, for example.
But as I said, some of the details didn’t quite make sense to me. If the shift was so dependent on temperature differences, I couldn’t understand why moving to Texas, Florida or an equatorial country wouldn’t work in preventing the change (just stay away from air conditioners) or conversely, how a heater could really be that effective in combating winter’s frigid temperatures. As for the purported cure for lycanthropy, the less said about that, the better. I would recommend readers who pick up this book not to think too hard about the logistics of the cure; it’ll go down much easier than it did for someone like me, who’s no longer able to turn off that part of her brain anymore.
As for the romance between Grace and Sam, it was very sweet. That’s really the best adjective I can think of for it. Other than the problem of Sam one day not being able to shift back to human form, a fate shared by all werewolves, their relationship doesn’t really experience any true interpersonal conflict, which some readers may find boring or uninteresting. I think there is some merit to comparing Shiver to Twilight in many respects, but even the Bella and Edward relationship had more conflict than this. In that sense, Shiver was more like The Time Traveler’s Wife — Grace and Sam are very much in love, but their biggest obstacle is keeping Sam in human form during the dead of winter.
I do wish we’d gotten more of a glimpse into the friendships between Grace, Rachel, and Olivia. This is one of my biggest complaints about stories of this type: why don’t the heroines have more female friends? In Shiver, at least they’re present but I think it could have used more at some points to emphasize what happens at the end. On the other hand, I really enjoyed Isabel, the younger sister of Grace’s classmate who was attacked by the wolf pack, and her role in the novel. She starts off as the stereotypical beautiful, rich mean girl classmate who enjoys tormenting her peers but then it soon becomes apparent she has more depth than that.
Grace’s parents follow the usual fictional trope of being virtually nonexistent and not present in Grace’s life. Oh, they’re alive and live with Grace but they’re simply busy with their own lives and figure everything’s all right with their only child and daughter. This didn’t particularly bother me, but I can see how a reader would get annoyed by it. Even I started having a hard time believing her parents didn’t notice the fact that an extra person was living in their house for weeks. They certainly weren’t living in a mansion.
So in the end, I think this book was more along the lines of The Time Traveler’s Wife in terms of tone and style. It simply lacked the visceral undercurrent that ran throughout Blood and Chocolate. I do think this novel has a lot to offer potential readers but I also think people who tend to focus on the specific details might find themselves a bit dissatisfied. B-