Title: Sinner (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, #3.5)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: July 1st, 2014
When it comes to The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series, I have a unique relationship--to say the least. I couldn't finish Shiver the first time I picked it up; I disliked it that much. But just a matter of months later, I was in the mood for Sam and Grace and their ridiculously uneven love story, so I picked up the novel again, opened its spine, and fell head-over-heels in love. Not only with Sam and Grace, but with Maggie Stiefvater as well. And, unlike most readers, I found Forever to be the pinnacle of perfection. I loved it in a way I hadn't loved the previous installments of this series; not quite as much as The Scorpio Races but so, so close.
Thus, when it was announced that Stiefvater was re-visiting this series, but not Mercy Falls, I was both eager and more than a little anxious. I enjoy ambiguous endings, which is why Forever worked so well for me. I liked knowing that Isabel and Cole were on their own but would, in the near future, find their way back to each other. I wasn't dying to know how that would happen, or when it would happen, or where it would happen. I was just glad knowing that it would, just as I was glad knowing that everything was going to work out for Sam and Grace. To me, Sinner seemed like an additional novel written to please Isabel and Cole fans but, I couldn't bring myself to complain as I'd happily read Stiefvater's grocery lists; her writing is that beautiful.
Now, having read Sinner, I can sincerely admit that I didn't expect this novel to be quite this good. Yet, it also didn't thrill, enchant, or captivate me to the extent that Sam and Grace's love story did. Isabel and Cole are dark, destructive characters; characters whose secondary presence throughout The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy enhanced the tale, certainly, but in limited doses. With an entire novel of these two--of their complex hearts, broken souls, and disjointed love story--it almost becomes too much. Moreover, Sinner moves away from the quiet stillness of Mercy Falls--a silence that practically weaves a magical bubble of its own--into loud, very-much-alive California and the distinction is palpable. It suits both Cole and Isabel, certainly, but I'm not entirely certain it suited me.
Sinner's strength lies completely in its main character, Cole St. Clair. Cole is back in LA, determined to re-launch his career as a rock star only, this time, having turned a new leaf. When we first meet Cole in Linger he has already gone down a destructive path of girls, drugs, and everything in-between. In fact, he becomes a wolf in order to lose himself and his problems--a solution that drugs never offered him. While Cole may know this, though, the rest of the world doesn't. If anything, the world believes that Cole St. Clair is the sum of his sins; if he isn't sinning now, he's going to do it in the near future. For Cole, earnestly struggling to get things right this time around, the lack of belief that those around him share only brings forth his past ghosts. No matter what he does, he can't seem to escape his previous sins; they haunt him.
Cole's reconciliation with his past is what makes Sinner such a spectacular novel. His entire arc is littered with flaws, imperfections, but also growth. While the wolf doesn't play as large a role in Sinner as it does in the previous installments in this series, it still lingers, tempting Cole with its quick method of escape. Though Sinner is more contemporary than paranormal, the sparseness of the wolf only makes it seem deadlier. It's an ever-present itch in the back of our minds as we wonder exactly what will drive Cole to the wolf and what, if anything, can wean him off of it.
Where Cole and Isabel were the secondary characters of Sam and Grace's love story, Jeremy and Leon are the secondary characters of Cole's tale. Jeremy, a former band mate from NARKOTIKA, once again joins Cole in making music but, above all, his friendship is invaluable. The Cole St. Clair that the rest of California sees is not the real Cole St. Clair that Jeremy or Isabel see and Jeremy's ability to see past Cole's facades create such an interesting relationship dynamic between them. Moreover, Jeremy is a constant reminder of Cole's past--of his sins--thus becoming a catalyst for the change he so desperately needs. Leon, Cole's driver, is another exemplary secondary. Leon's relationship with Cole isn't one of equality as, obviously, he works for Cole but, surprisingly, he also looks to Cole. Leon isn't an adventurous, spontaneous person the way Cole is, so the manner in which Cole lives and encourages him to explore out of his comfort zone casts Cole in such a different light. It is all too easy to cast Cole as a screw-up; someone who is still experimenting with life to get it right. Thus, to see him through Leon's eyes as a guy who actually has a few things figured out only enhances our view of him. Cole, above all else, owns Sinner so thoroughly that his three-dimensional characters makes him all-too-real; I half expected him to jump out of the page and into my bedroom.
Isabel, though harder to read than Cole whose emotions bleed all over the pages, is easily my favorite character in this novel. I am all for difficult, unlikable, and prickly heroines of which Isabel is the quintessential one. While she is initially surprised by Cole's arrival in California, she is equally pleased, eager to get to know him away from the events of Mercy Falls but still anxious for what their relationship may mean. Most of all, though, Isabel has to deal with the paparazzi, cameras, and girls that come with Cole's lifestyle as a rock star. In the midst of coping with those relationship changes, her family unit at home is utterly unstable, falling apart around her in such a way that Isabel is no longer in control. Moreover, Isabel is still battling with the guilt that she's falling for a guy who doesn't want to let go of the werewolf when it was the werewolf who killed her brother.
For both Cole and Isabel, there is just so much on their plates but Stiefvater deals with these issues so subtly, but poignantly, that they make an impact without overwhelming the reader with too many plot threads. If anything, Sinner is a character-driven tale with Isabel and Cole on such different paths in life though, deep down, they're one and the same. Both of them are coping with their careers and thinking about what they want from their futures and figuring out what exactly they want--or don't want--from a relationship and all these ideals are so integral to the New Adult age group Cole and Isabel find themselves in that I love reading about these realistic struggles in a paranormal story.
Where Sinner falters for me, however, is--unfortunately--in its ending. Isabel and Cole have a rocky relationship throughout the novel, with each of them making steps forward and strides backward, working to fix their mistakes and change themselves. Yet, as the situation heads towards a climax near the end, the motivations of both Isabel and Cole became increasingly murky. A series of events nearing the end of the novel simply felt out of place to me, not to mention the fact that I needed far more insight and explanation between a lot of the scenes we were given. It felt as if there were gaps in the chapters and, what's more, the ending scene that brings these two together felt far too contrived and crowd-pleasing to completely satisfy. For me, at any rate, the ending just wrapped up too quickly and I found myself grasping at straws, belatedly re-reading passages to discover some hidden meaning or scene I had missed.
That being said, Stiefvater's epilogue is clear, leaving no doubt about Cole and Isabel's future together. It isn't the type of epilogue I enjoy, but it certainly counters the ambiguity of her ending with Forever. While Sinner wasn't the brilliant tale I dreamed of, it certainly stunned me in the far-reaching depths it was willing to go. Not only did it present both Cole and Isabel in a new light, but it forced me to think, feel, and love their independent struggles. Sinner is brilliant in its themes, explosive in its ability to keep you turning the pages, and satisfying in its epilogue. While the journey to get there isn't always easy or, for that matter, written in an entirely successful manner, Stiefvater so rarely disappoints and Sinner is only further testament of that.
You can enter for a chance to win Stiefvater's The Raven Boys and Sinner HERE.