Novel: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater | Goodreads
Release Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Cole St. Clair has come to California for one reason: to get Isabel Culpeper back. She fled from his damaged, drained life, and damaged and drained it even more. He doesn’t just want her. He needs her.
Isabel is trying to build herself a life in Los Angeles. It’s not really working. She can play the game as well as all the other fakes…but what’s the point? What is there to win?
Cole and Isabel share a past that never seemed to have a future. They have the power to save each other and the power to tear each other apart. The only thing for certain is that they cannot let go.
Sinner tackles the sin and the sun of Los Angeles with a lyrical and raw tone reminiscent of Stiefvater’s writing. It shows the underbelly of the city through the eyes of familiar, flawed characters through larger-than-life scenarios that mix the absurd with the reflective. It was gripping, cutting. Sardonic to say the least.
The book hones in on Cole St. Clair, the token bad boy from Stiefvater’s Mercy Falls series. Cole was the ex-frontman of an excessively popular band that toured before being turned, thanks to his constant search for the next high. After Cole leaves Mercy Falls, he knows immediately what to do: go after Isabel. Grace and Sam are gone, he’s done with the cold and his wolf skin, and Isabel’s broken in the city that he still longs to repress: Los Angeles. But being Cole St. Claire, finally back from the dead, provides more of a challenge than controlling his wolf side does. They all want to know where NARKOTIKA went, where Victor disappeared to, and why Cole can show up with his cocky self-destruction and act like nothing ever happened. For Cole, it’s about making music and fixing Isabel. For them, it’s about seeing him go into a tailspin again.
I’ll admit I am exceedingly fearful of spinoffs, particularly for a series as beloved to me as the Wolves of Mercy Falls series. I am a self-proclaimed Stiefvater aficionado. The only reason I actually had the courage to read this was my justification that if Maggie Stiefvater couldn’t yank me out of my reading slump then nobody could.
It felt like a new book honestly, which I’m still not sure how I felt about. There weren’t many references to Mercy Falls, which I’ll admit, disappointed me. What happened to the werewolf aspect? I loved it, but I would caution that there isn’t much of a magical element to the book. It’s more of a scattered, piercing love story. Sam and Grace did have a small phone-cameo, which was a bit nice.
Cole was impulsive. He was both unlikable and captivating – in a way that actually did make you like him, strangely enough. His enigmatic mix of brooding and giddy depended purely on chance, creating a whirlwind in which morality and decency were thrown entirely out the window. His evocative and wry nature was compelling.
Meanwhile, Isabel wasn’t the nicest either. She wasn’t even before her brother died, but her rudeness is so thoroughly a part of her that Stiefvater couldn’t shake it off even if she wanted to. Despite that, Isabel still tried to be good: taking her cousin out to be social, mourning the insipid qualities of the city, flashing back to the harrowing suspense of the wolves she left behind. Isabel’s relationship with her family killed me. Even her casual interactions with Sofia – her likable, panicky cousin – were both hurtful and sweet because you know she’s at least trying to help.
The romance is that sad, lovely kind of romance: they tried to make it work before and it didn’t work, but not for lack of trying. It gave me a pang. Isabel and Cole needed each other but also hated being dependent on somebody else. They were so painfully conflicted, so screwed-up and stuck in the past which made it even harder to escape from each other. They both tended to use people like conveniences. And when it mattered, they were also shockingly tender to each other in a way that made me admire Stiefvater’s ability to write incredible chemistry. It was nostalgic and full of grief.
I enjoy Stiefvater’s ability to slip so easily into other skins. They’re fleshed-out people, with different voices and longings that leap off the page with a roar. Her perspectives feel so authentic and organic that they fill the book with a vivid cadence of sorts; I loved being inside their heads.
While the book itself didn’t particularly follow the plot similarities that the Wolves of Mercy Falls series did, it continued deeper into the character development in ways that thoroughly surprised me. For example, I never realized how Cole said what he thought sounded good rather than what he actually thought. I was expecting only to encounter familiar facets of each character but I got so much more insight into their thought processes and personalities. They felt much more honest rather than showy.
The pacing, while slow, was taut. It’s climactic and yet punctuated. The charming banter mixed with stunning, sudden realizations and temptations. I was nervous about the reality show angle but Stiefvater tossed enough grit inside the structure to keep it continually fresh. Instead of shallowness, it was about Cole attempting to trust the public again. It was about his determination to stay, to both repress the past and get over it. It was much more alluring because of the darkness of it; it’s not a cute book.
So despite the plodding, sharp plot of the book, it was truly the characters that kept me reading. I loved the biting perspectives Stiefvater gave us, the underbellies of the issues presented in the original series. The angle is urgent and jagged, the flippant natures of the characters so effectively contrasted with their situations that I tore through it almost immediately, racing to get to the end. I was brought to tears because of the clarity of her writing, that forever quality she has to draw me in and keep me so emotionally connected to her characters. The addictive descriptions, exhilarating romance, and emotional undertones created a story that was both resonant and larger-than-life.
I wouldn’t recommend Sinner as a continuation of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series. It’s another story all its own, one that’s equally as magnetic and terrifying. It’s a gorgeous supplement to Stiefvater’s writing, and one that I’m exceedingly grateful for.