This review was originally posted on The Geeky Waffle. It has been reposted here with permission.
Going into Maggie Stiefvater’s Bravely, I thought I knew what to expect. Billed as a sequel to Disney Pixar’s Brave, I expected something in the vein of a sequel to a Disney property. Familiar faces, familiar locations, the return of side character and animal sidekicks that culminates in the main character learning the same lesson, or something very much like it, as they did in the first.
To my utter and unexpected delight, I was so, so wrong about that. In fact, I think I can confidently say I enjoyed Bravely a good deal more than I enjoyed the movie. Brave was beaurtifully made, and a fantastic adventure story. But it’s Bravely that has stayed with me, ever looming at the back of my mind.
Bravely follows Merida a few years after her onscreen adventure. For all that this is supposed to be a sequel, I don’t believe it’s necessary to have seen the movie in order to enjoy the book. The events of the film are peripherally referenced, with sufficient context given, but they don’t really inform the new adventure Merida finds herself on.
On Christmas Eve, Merida hears a knock at the kitchen door. Intrigued, she ventures out into the courtyard to find no one behind the door, but instead sees a figure at the far end of the yard. She pursues the mysterious being out into the snow, eventually cornering them in the woods.
The being, it turns out, is Feradach, the god of ruin. His purpose is to destroy the obsolete and stagnant so that the Cailleach, goddess of renewal, can allow for growth to flourish in its place. Merida caught Feradach right as he was about to bring ruin to her home of DunBroch and in a bid to save it she strikes a deal with the gods: give her a year to bring about sufficient change and growth, and if she succeeds, Feradach will spare her home.
What follows is a year within Merida’s life, as she makes three trips to nearby kingdoms, accompanied each time by members of her family. Each trip is aimed as prompting growth within her complacent relatives, hoping to inspire enough change to get out from under Feradach’s promised ruin.
Though like many young adult novels, Bravely is a coming of age story, it actually takes things a step further. It is not just a coming of age story, but a reflection on the change that coming of age, growing older, or growing up brings. It forces Merida and her family to confront the discomfort and fear that comes with pushing past your comfort zone and embracing the necessary changes that life brings. Because without such changes, we are doomed to get stuck in our own cycles, spinning the wheels forever until stagnation causes us to lose a part of ourselves. It is only in embracing growth and change that we can hope to flourish and gain a new perspective.
As much as I enjoyed checking back in with all of Clan DunBroch, by far my favourite part of the novel was the dynamic and relationship between Merida and Feradach. If you know me at all, you’ll know there’s just something about the dynamic between a tough, fiercely loving and headstrong character and the tortured one who cannot help but bring pain and destruction in their wake that appeals to me personally. It’s two people who cannot help their nature, no matter how that nature might drive the other away. The angst and emotion in this one was strong.
The way Merida and Feradach fight for understanding in their opposing natures, finally meeting in the middle only for what could have been to be snatched away. The book begins by saying that together the Cailleach and Feradach are responsible for bringing about balance, and while I see the logic of that, it’s the balance Merida and Feradach find that was the true beating heart of the novel.
Their story was so achingly beautiful, well-written, and bittersweet. I couldn’t get enough of it. It moved me to tears, and I already know this is one of my favourite reads of the year. Is it any wonder I’m hoping Stiefvater already has a sequel in the works?
Even if she doesn’t (though again, fingers crossed she does), Bravely ends in the most satisfying way I think any story can and should end: with hope.
Bravely is available May 3, 2022. Special thanks to Disney Books for the advance copy for review purposes.