Forever is the final book of The Wolves of Mercy Falls and this review contains spoilers for the previous two novels. You have been warned.
When last seen, Grace was disappearing into Boundary Woods as a wolf, accompanied by a messed up rock star, leaving an empty room, shocked parents and a blood spattered, beaten Sam. As readers return to Mercy Falls in the climax of Maggie Stiefvater's series Sam is waiting, constantly waiting for Grace, Cole continues to dice with dusky death, although now in the name in science and hope and a cure and Isabel watches from the sidelines as her father strives to eliminate the wolves of Mercy Falls once and for all. Meanwhile, out in the woods Grace runs with her pack at once invigorated by her new life and confused by odd images of a boy with yellow eyes. And a lone white wolf watches, and waits.
In this final installment of The Wolves of Mercy Falls, Maggie Stiefvater returns to the quadruple narrative of the previous novel, Linger with the story alternately narrated by Sam, Grace, Cole and Isabel. There was some mild criticism levied at Linger suggesting that at times the individuals were hard to distinguish from each other, while this may have been slightly true in Forever each voice is clear, defined and different from Sam and his introspection, to Grace and her determination, Cole and his darkness and Isabel in her strangely strong fragility.
Of all the characters, Sam is probably the least changed at the start of the book. Still struggling to come to terms with his human future, he now has to deal with a cure that might not be a cure, a lost father figure whose stories keep unraveling, a rather destructive housemate and a girlfriend who's, well, less girlish and more, er, lupine. Typically, Sam thinks about this all a lot, running through his life up until now repeatedly looking for clues, errors and even escape. His tendency to mope (albeit charmingly) is unchanged but over the course of the novel he tentatively reaches not only inside himself, challenging his deepest fear but also outwards to those who not only care for him but who desperately need his leadership. He is, as ever, a beautifully drawn character.
Of course, there would be no Sam without Grace and she remains the logic to his indecision. The majority of Grace's character development has happened, out of necessity, in earlier story lines and she now emerges as strong and capable. She remains devoted to Sam but never starry-eyed and her decisions regarding their relationship and future are made with a typically level head. The two of them complement each other so perfectly and also so realistically that at times they almost seem one character, something that is especially clear through the eyes of the other characters.
Isabel is, in a way, similar to Grace – she's already changed so dramatically that she now watches events around her through new eyes. More attached to Sam and Grace than she thought possible, she's also drawn to Cole in a way that both irritates and thrills her. Of all the characters Isabel is perhaps the saddest. Her home life is clearly difficult, although the few short scenes between her and her mother are touching as is some of her inner dialogue regarding her parents – cleverly, readers are shown the shadows of what was once a happy family and it is clear that a large part of Isabel wants her parents back very dearly. However, the standout character of Forever has to be Cole. And not because he's hot. Really. He, quite simply, is the most intriguing. Boy genius turned suicidal rocker turned wolf turned scientist shouldn't really work but it absolutely does. His dedication to the wolves and later to Sam, Grace and Isabel is fantastic to read, as is his personal journey. There is something absolutely compelling about a person who has to take themselves to the edge again and again only to realise that they might not really want to fall.
Forever is certainly the darkest book of this trilogy both in plot and imagery. Stiefvater delves deeper in what it actually is to shift from wolf to human and back again and it's not pretty, although cleverly done. There are some very dark moments and one scene involving a dying bird is particularly difficult to read. While the plot has essentially two main strands, increasingly it focuses on the imminent threat to the wolves and builds to a climax that roils with stunning imagery and staggering tension. However, the opposing story strand is left largely unconcluded with Stiefvater settling for much hope but few answers. While some readers may find this frustrating, in actuality it is a fitting ending to a story that is nothing if not character driven, with each character reaching a personal resolution completely in keeping with who they have grown to become.
Finally, what lifts Forever above it's contemporaries (as with Shiver and Linger) is the quality of Maggie Stiefvater's writing – beautiful, dreamlike, haunting, lyrical... these are all words I've used before regarding this author's work and I am sure I will use them again. Forever and it's predecessors are books to get lost in – go and lose yourself right now, you won't regret it.