The Raven King

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into his mission: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a life; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Nothing dead is to be trusted. Now the endgame has begun. Nothing living is safe.

Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

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For some reason I left it over a year between reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue and The Raven King.

I am bad at finishing series. There are several reasons for this, I think. Endings are disappointing in the majority of cases, and I prefer living in a world where what ultimately happens to the characters I’ve spent 2+ books getting to know is as yet undefined. If I don’t know how they end up, then I don’t have to live with that nagging sense of dissatisfaction that comes with finishing most book series. I also didn’t want anyone to die, and was almost certain that someone was going to, so put off reading for that reason as well. Kind of stupid – the character is no less dead for me not having read about it yet, but it makes me feel better somehow. I stopped watching Jane the Virgin a few episodes before Michael died. I just didn’t want to see it. I know they told us he was going to die very early on in the first season, but it went so long with him not dying I sort of stopped believing it.

You see why I took me so long to get to The Raven King.

Leaving it so long was a mistake. It’s a plot heavy series and it took me half the book to reacquaint myself with Henrietta and its various magical complications. This might be why, despite my love for this series, I didn’t enjoy its finale as much as I’d hoped I would.

Overall (though, sadly, for me, it did not escape the end-of-the-series-disappointment syndrome) I really enjoyed The Raven Cycle. In a market where a lot of the bestselling series lack originality, it carved a space for itself where it examined class, gender, sexuality, family and grief against a backdrop of a magical world so atmospheric that whatever train or bus I was on at the time of reading fell away. There was only Henrietta, 300 Fox Way and Cabeswater and I was wandering through them in real time.

I adore the way Stiefvater uses language. While reading these books I could really feel how much she enjoyed writing them. As each larger than life new character arrived (Laumonier? Really? Because Piper just wasn’t enough?) I felt like I could see her at her keyboard, cackling to herself, just revelling in the enjoyment of her own imagination. The way she plays with words and phrases appealed to me, and I loved the repetitive, ‘depending on where you began the story, it was about…’ that peppered the chapters as the heroes and villains of Stiefvater’s world finally converged on the same spot for the novel’s climax.

I loved her characters, and I think that’s where this final instalment disappointed me the most. While we got plenty of face time with the main gang (my ships sailed, I was very pleased), I was saddened by how little time we spent at 300 Fox Way and the almost complete lack of Calla was very upsetting to me. After they spent so much of the previous book trying to find her, I also would have liked to have seen more of Maura and The Gray Man. I just felt that after building a series with such a wonderful array of side characters with their own complicated lives and personalities it was a real shame that they fell somewhat by the wayside in this last one.

Speaking of characters, I was also disappointed in the villain of this book, which was much more a demon without personality than it was Piper, who I really enjoyed in Blue Lily, Lily Blue. Every book in the series has had a very compelling Big Bad, and although the demon in The Raven King was in many ways the most destructive baddie so far, it was also the least engaging, and it’s defeat, despite it all, not that dramatic really.

Though The Raven King ultimately fell a little flat for me, I’ve loved reading this series. Maggie Stiefvater’s unique writing style, funny, weird and complicated characters and stellar magical world building created a saga I know I’ll return to one day. 300 Fox Way is up there with The Burrow in the leagues of favourite fictional family homes.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

For the first time in her life, Blue Sargent has found a place where she feels at home. The Ravem Boys have taken her in as one of their own and she is sure that this is where she belongs.

But certainties can unravel. Visions can mislead. And friends can betray.

The trick with found things is how easily they can be lost.

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I keep waiting to get bored of The Raven Cycle, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue, much like its predecessors, didn’t disappoint. With every instalment, Maggie Stiefvater solidifies her place as one of my go-to authors. Also with her Twitter feed, which is delightful.

The best compliment I can give this book is that while reading on the train home after working multiple 12 hour shifts, I did not fall asleep. Lately, involuntarily passing out as soon as my butt hits that train seat, therefore accidentally using up my main reading time – yes, tragic, I know – has been an issue for me. Not so much with this one. Stiefvater knows how to write a page-turner.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue brought some much needed character development to Blue and her Raven Boys. Or perhaps I should say relationship development. Blue and Gansey are happening now, albeit in fits and starts. The something I thought I saw between Ronan and Adam back in book one is much harder to deny these days – and I still can’t quite decide whether I think they’ll be great or a disaster. They’re both just so damaged. But messy people attract, I guess. I can’t wait to see how Stiefvater pulls all the pieces together in book 4.

But the book wasn’t consumed by ships (not that I would have minded if it was honestly. I love it.), it was also about the friendships. Throughout the novel, Adam repeats the refrain to himself don’t fight with Gansey. After the relentless aggression, resentment and crossed wires that dominated Adam’s relationships in The Dream Thieves, he’s exhausted from the battle (as are we). It’s like in this book he suddenly felt the impossible weight of his pride. Choosing to carry it alone was something he finally started to see as kind of … dumb. It took two and half books, but he was at last able to ask himself why dealing with everything alone was better. He couldn’t find a good answer.

Even though he drives me crazy, Adam is the character in the series I identify most strongly with, so seeing him finally let down his carefully constructed walls, first to Gansey and Ronan in the court room and then to Blue with Cabeswater gave me ALL of the feels.

What has hit me again and again with this series is how strongly I feel about these characters. I think part of it is because of how easily Stiefvater flips between the magical side of things and the real, painful realities of a human life. Even if the scenario is magical, the feelings that come with it are real and raw and tangible. Probably the best example of this is the scene where Adam’s dad shows up at his apartment.

So much of the book up until that point is dedicated to how Adam isn’t really ‘normal ‘ any more. But in that moment when he opens the door up to his abuser, he is a boy again. There is a narrative that people enjoy of standing up to abusers, telling them to go fuck themselves while a room full of supporters applaud, or of making them think that their house is haunted by the husband they probably murdered using your newfound telekinetic ability. It’s a nice scene, certainly satisfying, but it isn’t real. When most people are faced with their abusers they freeze, like Adam did. This is because of the fear and because of the doubt. Adam’s father walked into his home to tell him what he always did:  That Adam was making it up, that Adam didn’t understand his own life, that Adam was the one to blame. He did all of this with the lingering threat of violence. Over coming abuse is a long and complicated process, even when you have powers. I was so grateful that Stiefvater didn’t write anything to reduce that.

This scene really came out of nowhere and was as much of a heart punch to the reader as it was Adam. It is through moments like this that Stiefvater consistently grounds the series. I don’t read too much fantasy, and part of the reason for that is the difficulty that I have connecting to characters who’s experiences are too fantastical to be relatable. In this series, the balance is perfect. The magical world is engaging and exciting while the human elements remain authentic.

I sort of want to put off reading The Raven King for a while because I don’t want the series to be over.

Two issues:

Malory. What was the point of him?

Calla. I love her, but why did she make such a big deal about going to the cave and then decide to sit in the car and wait for the action to be over? That felt silly to me. I know it was important for Blue to wind up going it alone, but I feel like there was probably a better way to deal with the Calla problem. She just never struck me as the waiting in the car type.

The Dream Thieves

Blue didn’t mean to fall for the Raven Boys, but she has – and the more her life entwines with theirs, the more dangerous it becomes.

Ronan is the most dangerous of all. He’s the haunted one, the darkest, the mot raven. His dreams invade reality and confuse what is true.

With magic growing stronger around them, now is a time to be wary. Before everything unravels… Friendships will be tested. Someone will get hurt. And a kiss will be shared.

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I am pretty much ready to say – commitment issues and all – that I love Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series. The Dream Thieves avoided all the pitfalls common to second books. Part of the reason I so rarely read series is because of the difficulty I have in getting through the second book. While the first is all set up the second so often feels like a stop gap, an extended writing exercise usually designed to help a character have a realisation they really didn’t need 200 pages to reach. Not The Dream Thieves. While, yes, this sequel was certainly less plot heavy than its predecessor, the character development that took place was vital.

To be completely honest, I could probably read a book in which nothing happened but these characters sat in a circle talking to each other. I love them THAT much. I love them because they are awkward and imperfect and because they make resentment-driven decisions that feel painfully real to me. I spent a lot of my review of The Raven Boys discussing this, so I won’t get to far into it again, but Stiefvater’s approach to the tension inherent in friendships in which people come from massively different economic backgrounds is so perfectly approached. I have spent a lot of my life being friends with people who come from families who have a lot more money than my own and dealing with that shit is tricky, especially when you’re young and confronting the reality of people who have more for the first time. And – I see now that I am a (sort of) grown up who (sometimes) doesn’t perceive everything as a personal attack, that it’s the same the other way around. It’s awkward for the rich kids too. One time, in the early days of university a friend of mine told me I should have applied to Oxford or Cambridge because I would probably have got in on the quotas. Yeah. At the time, I was upset by it (now, not so much because that story kills among my poor friends), but a few years on I see she didn’t mean to offend me. I think it just honestly didn’t occur to her that she would.

Grown up life lesson #1: intention is important. Don’t discount it just because it’s easier to be offended than loving toward someone different from you.

I just wanted to use this review to say my own little thank you to Maggie for so empathetically writing about an issue that has at times been as raw and consuming in my life as it is for Adam in the series.

And with that ends the ‘personal sharing’ section of this review.

I saw video on Facebook a while back where two little girls are running around, and then one of the little girls clubs the other one in the face with a doll and she goes flying. The mingled emotions of horror, frustration – why is someone just filming this?! Why don’t they intervene?!?! – sympathy and regret I felt when watching this video is similar to the range of emotions that come with getting to know the Lynch brothers. If there were an award for Most Dysfunctional Family they would have as many as Meryl Streep has Oscars.

Stiefvater masterfully ties these people into emotional knots they can’t untangle. While much of the first book was dedicated to Adam and his origin story of poverty and abuse, this sequel was all about Ronan’s struggle with grief, depression and his sexuality. The relationship between Ronan and Kavinsky brought to mind the sexual tension between Sherlock and Moriarty back in season 2 of Sherlock. They both viewed themselves as the sole occupants of a lone island, and for Ronan it took getting wrapped up in a person so completely untethered to realise he wasn’t as separate from the mainland as he’d always supposed. No matter his foundational feelings of loneliness and despair he has friends – Gansey, Adam, even Blue – people who care for him, and the fact of them is what stops him, and I hope will continue to stop him from the complete self-destruction we saw end Kavinsky. Kavinsky was a theoretical future for Ronan, one where he doesn’t have his tethers, the people who love him. I’ll be really interested to see the ripple effects of that and how they affect Ronan’s character development as the series progresses.

In much the same way as she treats the financial tensions – delicately, and with empathy – Stiefvater tells us everything we need to know about Ronan without shoving it down our throats. She uses a mix of big events like the drag race and subtler moments, like when Kavinsky gives Ronan the bracelets to build a complicated, sexually charged atmosphere between these two boys that they explore through dreaming together.

This is, as ever, getting far too long, so I’ll sum up by adding that I thought the Gray Man was such a wonderful addition, and I 100% got my wish of spending more time with the rest of Blue’s family. I am totally ready to move into Fox Way. Gansey and Blue are adorable, and Adam and Blue were… painful, and I imagine will only become more so in Blue Lily, Lily Blue.

This series is smart, entertaining, whimsical and knows how to worm its way right into your heart. Despite my extensive TBR pile, I’m going to be reading the next one as soon as I can.

 

 

 

 

 

The Raven Boys

Even if blue hadn’t been told her true love would die if she kissed him, she would stay away from boys. Especially the ones from the local private school. Known as Raven Boys, they only mean trouble.

But this is the year that everything will change for Blue.

This is the year she will be drawn into the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys. And the year Blue will discover that magic does exist.

This is the year she will fall in love.

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I avoided reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys despite years of amazing reviews because when I read Shiver – I was seventeen and in my first wave of Twilight-related paranormal romance burn out/feminist awakening (don’t even talk to me about Stephanie Meyer) – I was not into it. And yet the amazing reviews of The Raven Boys just kept coming.

So I caved.

And it turns out (for not the first time. At least I’m honest.) that the bloggers were right and I was wrong. THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD.

Another reason I didn’t read The Raven Boys for so long is the blurb. It reduces it to nothing more than a romance (which is fine, if you’re in the mood for that. For me, right now, I need a little more), a marketing technique that woefully undersells what Maggie Stiefvater has created (in my ever-so-humble opinion).

The town of Henrietta is a complex and magical creation. It is a place with massive economic disparities. There’s a famous boy’s boarding school there, Aglionby where the richest send their sons to become the next generation of businessman, bankers and politicians. Across town, there are the native residents, most of them lower middle to working class. The Aglionby – known because of the crests on their jumpers as the ‘raven’ – boys and the townspeople rarely mix.

It’s in the poorer part of town where Blue lives, in a house full of women who all happen to be psychics (with the exception of Blue herself). If there is one thing I would have asked of this book, it would have been more time in the ‘little bright blue house at 300 Fox Way.’ I adored this community of women. There is a very specific thing that happens among some older, single, heterosexual women, which is a certain man-scepticism. It’s like there came a point when they just decided they didn’t want them around anymore. My family is 90% divorced women, so it’s an environment I grew up in (though sadly my family are not psychics) and not one I see represented in YA all that often. I especially haven’t seen it written in such a perfect, funny and loving tone.

Full points to Maggie.

The other, and probably most important aspect of Henrietta, is that it sits on criss-crossing ley lines (sometimes known as the corpse road) which makes it an intensely magical place. In addition to the psychics who live there, it is rumoured that a sleeping prince, Glendower, is hidden within the ley lines. Whoever wakes him will be granted whatever they want. However, finding him, as Gansey – a raven boy who is kind of like a teenaged Alaric from The Vampire Diaries but with less dead girlfriends – is no easy task.

All these elements are drawn together when Blue – despite not being a psychic – witnesses Gansey’s future death. With that event, she steps from her own world into that of the raven boys.

The Raven Boys is at its heart, a book concerned with the idea of freedom. I mean, could a book filled with psychics really be about anything else?

Blue has lived her entire life according to what her family have told her to do – up until she meets the raven boys. In choosing to get involved with Gansey, she disobeys her mother for the very first time. However, she disobeys her mother to run off with a guy it has been predicted she will either fall in love with or kill – so can the action really be considered free?

Freedom is also looked at from an economic, as well as a magical perspective. For some, like Gansey, freedom appears to be state he was born into. His family have a limitless budget, and that has allowed him to travel the world following his paranormal whims. On the other hand, his hunger to prove the existence of the supernatural is so great as to dominate his existence. Every decision he makes is based on finding the ley lines hidden beneath Henrietta. Gansey’s supposedly boundary-less existence is ruled by his obsession with the paranormal. It is an inextricable part of his identity, and something he believes he was fated for. Much like Blue, can he be really be free if he has a ‘fate’?

Adam, on the other hand, is a poor kid at a rich school. He lives in a financially unstable home with an abusive father, and believes the only way to be free is to get through his Aglionby scholarship and earn the sort of job that would make him a true raven boy. Adam’s friends are desperate to get him out of his abusive home, but he refuses to leave on anybody’s terms but his own. Is the freedom that Adam seeks – a freedom that can only be achieved alone – just another kind of trap?

Yeah. This book holds a lot more than romance.

The first book in The Raven Cycle has got me all kinds of intrigued. I only hope the rest of the series is as good.