Age Category: Young Adult
Published: May 2022
Princess Merida of DunBroch loves her home and her family, but nothing ever seems to change. Unfortunately, the god of ruin, Feradach agrees. It is Feradach’s duty to root out rot and decay, so new things can grow. But Merida is not yet ready to give up on DunBroch, so she strikes a bargain. She has one year to change her family–or death will come to them all.
Though I am not typically one to read media tie-ins, I am also not one to pass up on a new Maggie Stiefvater book. Bravely takes place a few years after the events of the Disney/Pixar movie Brave, following Merida as she returns home from after a bit of travel, only to realize that life at DunBroch seems to be stagnating. This sets the scene for a plotline that seems a natural fit for Stiefvater–a wager between Merida and a god, witnessed by the Cailleach. Mythology and history are where Stiefvater shine, along with her golden liquid prose. But, somehow, Bravely never really comes to life. The pacing is uneven and the characters–even though they are in a story about change–feel flat on the page. Maybe there are too many constraints when writing a media tie-in. The characters can never really stray far from the source material–and so this story probably would have been far more interesting and innovative if it were not a sequel to Brave at all, but simply a book set in a magical/historical Scotland.
Because some years have passed, the characters in Bravely do not feel quite the same as their movie counterparts. Merida still loves archery and can be fiery and passionate, but she also seems to have matured. Meanwhile, the good parts of Fergus and Elinor have disappeared–they are lazy and lax, allowing their adopted housemaid (a servant who is considered Merida’s “sister” but who still ostensibly works for them??) to get away with being flighty and slovenly, and not really taking an interest in guiding their three young sons as they grow up. Stiefvater does notably attempt to differentiate the triplets (something the movie seemed uninterested in, preferring to treat them as a unit), but this also seems a bit unsuccessful. It’s not really enough to have “the serious one,” “the musical one,” and “the loud one,” as if one part of their personality defines them. Altogether, the characterization here is lacking.
The one character who really comes alive, and who makes the book interesting, is Feradach, the god of destruction. Feradach is a shifting character, one who is seen by every person in a different way, and thus one who has never needed to grow into being any particular way; they start anew each time. Feradach, however, does eventually change in a real, meaningful way, moving from feeling righteous about the necessity of ruin to bring growth, to reluctance to perform their duty. Feradach’s appearances in the story are the one bright spot in a book where otherwise the pacing is slow and uneven, and only a few of the other characters exhibit any really interesting development (even though the whole point of the book is obviously that Merida needs to get her entire family to be different).
I really have mixed feelings about this book. I wanted to love it because Stiefvater wrote it. And it has some beautiful parts when Stiefvater focuses on the mythology, and has room to explore the contest between Feradach and the Cailleach. The other parts of the book, however, feel a bit constrained, as if Stiefvater must be very careful not to introduce anything too un-Disneylike or anything that would be a problem later if considered canonical. I suppose this book would appeal mostly to hardcore fans of Stiefvater, or those who really loved the movie Brave. But I don’t think it’s a must-read for fans of YA fantasy in general.