The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater, was published in 2016 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to Blue Lily, Lily Blue.

Spoilers for the series.

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: 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. Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

Let me start by saying that the cover art for The Raven King is gorgeous, probably my favorite out of all the books. I’m not quite sure how it relates, since the only deer in the novel are inconsequential to the plot, but whatever. It’s pretty.

I’m giving The Raven King the same rating as I gave Blue Lily, Lily Blue because even though I liked The Raven King better than Blue Lily, there were still some things I found dissatisfying that prevent me from giving it a 4 out of 5. But I’ll start with positives first:

As I mentioned in The Dream Thieves, I do like the male friendship in this series since I never see a lot of it in the books I read. I see girl friendships and girl/boy friendships, but very little boy friendships. Maybe I’m just not reading the right books (always most likely the reason), but still, I appreciate the camaraderie we get between Ronan, Adam, and Gansey—and Henry, towards the end.

I also liked the resolution of the novel, even if I also have some problems with it. I’m not usually a fan of authors pulling a “time to teach you that you don’t always get what you want” because it often feels like they just wasted your time, but Stiefvater manages to do it in an okay way. I’m still not particularly happy with some things relating to Glendower that were resolved, but it did make sense and the characters’ reactions to it all made sense.

Finally, Gansey is probably my favorite character, and even though more time was devoted to Ronan, I did like the glimpses at Gansey and Blue’s relationship.

Now, the negatives:

Once again, Stiefvater creates numerous characters that sound completely fake. One was the “villain,” though I hesitate to call Laumonier that because he was almost completely an unnecessary character. I don’t know why Stiefvater thinks creating quirky villains is a good idea, but it’s not—I can’t take a book seriously if I can’t take its characters seriously, and Laumonier was simply ridiculous. The other ridiculous character was Henry, who also said things that didn’t sound like things someone would actually say. I also didn’t understand why he was even in the book; he seemed a bit of a throw-away character and another attempt to instill odd humor into a book that really doesn’t need it. I liked him, but he didn’t make sense to me.

For the resolution of the book, I understand what Stiefvater was trying to do, but I wish it felt less like I had just wasted my time reading four books. There was more plot reliance on “oh, Ronan dreamed this” and “oh, Ronan dreamed that” until the whole thing felt like a “oh, Ronan dreamed it all” type of plot, which I know is not what Stiefvater was going for. Most of the plot reveals I thought were well-done, except for the “Ronan dreamed it!” ones, because that was used ad nauseam in the second and third books and it felt very old going into this fourth book.

Also, why is the book even called The Raven King? And why is there a stag on the cover? Curious minds want to know.

Overall, I think my main problem with The Raven King—and the Raven Cycle and Stiefvater in general—is a stylistic one. I just can’t jive with Stiefvater’s style for very long. There are parts where I’m all “yes, that’s perfect, give me more” and then there are parts where I just want it to be over and I’m rolling my eyes or I finish the chapter, squint my eyes and shake my head and wonder what in the world I just read.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Swearing, psychics, violence, sensual and sexual scenes.

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult

He was in a forest of wooden sticks, of birds. The brass instruments muttered; the flutes screamed. Wings buzzed and hummed and shivered around him. He could feel the hornets in his ears.

They aren’t there

But that big insect whirred by him again, circling.

It had been years since Malory had been forced to stop halfway through a hike to wait as Gansey fell to his knees, hands over his ears, shivering, dying.

He had worked hard to walk away from that.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1XXoSGP

 

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, was published in 2011 by Scholastic.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connelly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition—the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

The Scorpio Races reminds me of The Black Stallion because at its heart it’s about a boy who loves a horse, and a horse who loves a boy. There’s a lot of beauty in the book, because Stiefvater is at her best a beautiful writer, and the ending is so beautiful that it made me tear up. It’s beautiful because it’s about hard-won love, and love that conquers ferocity and wildness and makes people better because of it.

However, despite its beauty and the ending, the book isn’t perfect. I thought it dragged in the middle, perhaps because I was impatient for all the build-up to end and the race to begin, and it’s obvious from the beginning who’s going to win the race. There’s also the obvious romance, though it’s built up better than most and adds rather than takes away from the central focus of the race.

I suppose my quibble about knowing who will win the race is a bit off the mark. Really, the book is more than just about who won the race—like I mentioned above, it’s about a boy and his horse, and it’s also about family and surviving against all odds and doing something unpopular because it’s necessary. But, still—it took some of the suspense out, anyway!

Also, Stiefvater’s writing is beautiful—but only in small doses. Her writing tends to get away from her and becomes loose and floating and almost abstract. And I still prefer her dialogue to her descriptions, as I did with The Dream Thieves. Her descriptions tend to get weird and start to smack of “trying too hard.”

Rating: 4/5 (but, so, so close to a 5! Like a 4.5!)

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some bullying, crude comments, kissing.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Realistic

There’s a girl on the beach.

The wind’s torn the mist to shreds here by the ocean, so unlike on the rest of the island, the horses and their riders appear in sharp relief down on the sand. I can see the buckle on every bridle, the tassel on every rein, the tremor in every hand. It is the second day of training, and it’s the first day that it isn’t a game. This first week of training is an elaborate bloody dance where the dance partners determine how strong the other ones are. It’s when riders learn if charms will work on their mounts, how close to the sea is too close, how they can begin to convince their water horses to gallop in a straight line. How long they have between falling from their horses and being attacked. This tense courtship looks nothing like racing.

At first I see nothing out of the ordinary. There is the surviving Privett brother beating his gray capall with a switch and Hale selling charms that will not save you, and there is Tommy Falk flapping at the end of the lead as his black mare strains for the salt water.

And there is the girl. When I first see her and her dun mare from my vantage point on the cliff road, I am struck first not by the fact that she is a girl, but by the fact that she’s in the ocean. It’s the dreaded second day, the day when people start to die, and no one will get close to the surf. But there she is, trotting up to the knee in the water. Fearless.

Overall Review:

The Scorpio Races is, at its heart, a beautiful book about the relationship between a horse and a boy, a la The Black Stallion. There are a few bobbles here and there—the middle drags, the outcome of the race is obvious, and I am not a fan of Stiefvater’s writing taken in large chunks—but the ending made me cry, and I do think this is my favorite Stiefvater novel. And possibly her best.

You can buy this here: The Scorpio Races

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater, was published in 2014 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to The Dream Thieves.

Spoilers for the series.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost. Friends can betray. Mothers can disappear. Visions can mislead. Certainties can unravel.

Sigh.

 Let me start with what I enjoyed about Blue Lily. I adored Blue and Gansey’s burgeoning relationship, although I’m a little confused as to why they seem against pursuing it fully. Blue and Adam are no longer a thing, so why the hesitation? But I’m enjoying the “slow burn” because most YA series throw the love interests together at the beginning, not at (presumably) the end as Stiefvater seems to be aiming for (if Gansey doesn’t die, that is).

Adam is much less annoying, and Ronan is much less of a jerk, which is good. I’m still not overly fond of them as viewpoint characters, as they do tend to make the plot drag. I’m not against filler, but when you have almost an entire book of filler as with The Dream Thieves, and then another book that’s also a lot of filler as with Blue Lily, you (or at least I) want something to push the plot along, please. I do like the slow character development thing, but Stiefvater is not striking a very good balance between character development and plot progression, and so focusing on one means that the other one is stagnant sometimes.

The filler is actually one of the main problems I had with this book. At least towards the end it started to pick up some and Gansey and Co. finally made progress in finding Glendower. I can’t help but wonder if Stiefvater is trying to stretch the plot across four books, and if three could have sufficed. Besides that, I had two other problems with the book: the portrayal of the “villains of the week” and the ending, or to be more specific, the way Stiefvater ended the book.

First, I had a problem with Colin and Piper as characters. What I loved about The Raven Boys was the mixing of the real/normal/natural with the strange/supernatural. The Dream Thieves got progressively less of that as the supernatural started to pick up, and Blue Lily goes directly to strange town with the humorous characters like Jesse and especially the “villains,” Colin and Piper. Colin and Piper were strange; their thoughts were strange; their actions were strange. They just didn’t seem like real people to me. I got increasingly more and more annoyed at the way Stiefvater was using humor in association with them since it just didn’t fit for me (Stiefvater’s humor as a whole is a little strange, incorporated in strange places, and doesn’t often work). The ending with Piper and the rest in the cave was so strange it didn’t seem real. I miss that reality that we could see in The Raven Boys.

My second problem is that Stiefvater used the same gimmick she used in the first two books to end this one, the Wham Line. In the first book, it was amusing; in the second book, it was eye-rolling; and in this one, it was just exasperating. In addition, the other Wham Line she used was stuck right in the middle of a conversation and so the impact was considerably lessened.

I sincerely hope that The Raven King, presumably the last book, is a bit better in style and execution than Blue Lily. At least I know that there won’t be any filler. Hopefully.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Swearing, psychics, violence.

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult

Suddenly, Noah scrambled out from under the desk. He leapt to his feet. There was something wrong about the action, something about it that meant it was too fast or too vertical or too violent for a living boy to perform. And he kept going up, even after he’d already stood. As he stretched to the celling, the card that said reach, match, and safety hurtled into the air.

“Oh?” said Ms. Shiftlet. Her voice wasn’t even surprised, yet.

The warmth sucked from Blue’s skin. The water in Ms. Shiftlet’s glass creaked.

The business card holder upended. Cards splayed across the desk. A computer speaker fell onto its face. An array of paper swirled up. Someone’s family photo shot upward.

Overall Review:

Blue Lily, Lily Blue still had too much filler for me to wholly satisfied with it, not to mention the unrealness of Colin and Piper, Stiefvater’s humor insertions that didn’t always work (especially in regards to Colin and Piper), and ending the third book with the third Wham Line. I still adore Gansey and Blue, though, and the plot progressions that were made were intriguing.

You can buy this here: Blue Lily, Lily Blue

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater, was published in 2013 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to The Raven Boy.

Spoilers for The Raven Boys.

Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself. One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams. And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things. Ronan is one of the raven boys—a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface—changing everything in its wake.

I did not like The Dream Thieves as much as I liked The Raven Boys, although I’m far from disliking it. I really appreciate the strong male friendship that is portrayed in the book (and the series), since I feel a lot of YA is lacking that, and I also appreciate how despite the urban fantasy/paranormal aspect of it, those parts of it are nicely woven into the world and don’t seem so weird that it’s off-putting (although the part at the end with the battle above the cars almost reached that point, in my opinion).

The strongest aspect of this series, in my opinion, is the dialogue and the relationships between the characters. When there’s no dialogue, Stiefvater’s writing continuously distracts me. I feel like it’s over-written and trying a little too hard to be memorable/pretty/whatever. A lot of people love her writing, but I struggled to get through the descriptive parts to reach the more powerful dialogue, and in some parts I actually skimmed because I couldn’t take it. But the dialogue is on point, and continuously funny and very well done all around.

As for the relationships, I absolutely love Gansey’s and Blue’s, since I mentioned in my review of the first book that I loved how Stiefvater did not immediately throw them together. And they’re still not together, either, although the ending is pointing strongly in that direction.

As for plot, I don’t really have much to say about it. I thought it was mostly filler, and the whole book was mainly just character development for Ronan. There was not really any plot development, which was a little upsetting.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Swearing, psychics, violence.

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult

In the corner of the room, there was a sound. Not the corner where Chainsaw’s cage was. And not a sound like a young raven. It was a long, slow scrape on the wood floor. Then a rapid sound like a drinking straw in bicycle spokes. Tck-tck-tck-tck-tck.

It was a sound Ronan had heard before.

He swallowed.

He opened his eyes. Noah’s eyes were already wide.

Noah said, “What were you dreaming about?”

Overall Review:

The Dream Thieves did not have much in the way of plot development and was mostly filler, but I love the relationships between the characters and the strong dialogue. The rest of the book still feels overwritten, and I ended up skimming some of the more description-heavy portions because of it, but overall I am still impressed with these books and Stiefvater in general.

You can buy this here: The Dream Thieves

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater, was published in 2012 by Scholastic.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them—until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her. His name is Gansey, and he’s a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

I was a bit hesitant before beginning The Raven Boys, mainly because the blurb sounds exactly like what I hate reading in YA novels. But I have read much praise about Stiefvater and the Raven Cycle, so I decided to go ahead and read the book anyway. And I’m glad I did, because I really enjoyed the book.

At the beginning, I thought The Raven Boys was a tad overwritten in places and the plot started out in the direction I feared from the summary. But then something happened: even though Gansey is supposed to be Blue’s “true love,” she starts by going out with Adam, instead. In fact, at the end of the book, she still can only barely tolerate Gansey. The fact that this YA novel has a much slower approach to the romance than most YA novels with true love in it immediately elevated it in my standards.

Urban fantasy is still not my favorite sub-genre of fantasy, mainly because I always find it a bit too strange for my tastes, but Stiefvater does urban fantasy well and I enjoyed diving into urban fantasy with her. I found the plot strange and confusing, but Stiefvater worldbuilds very well and so despite its strangeness, the world didn’t seem implausible to me. I preferred the characters and their interactions over the plot, in any case, so perhaps that’s why.

Also, the book ends on a cliffhanger, which is a bit irritating, but it was a really good cliffhanger, in a cheeky sort of way. It has an “I couldn’t resist” feel to it, and instead of being annoyed, I found myself laughing instead. I also went out and got the second book right away.

Oh, and I especially loved a passage in the middle where Blue discusses how she feels when she looks at the stars: “She recognized the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, that strange happiness that was sometimes so big that it felt like sadness. It was the way she felt when she looked at the stars.”

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Swearing, psychics, violence.

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

“You said you were working for a living. I thought it’d be rude to not take that into account. I’m sorry you’re insulted. I see where you’re coming from, but I feel it’s a little unfair that you’re not doing the same for me.”

“I feel you’re being condescending,” Blue said.

In the background, she caught a glimpse of Soldier Boy making a plane of his hand. It was crashing and weaving toward the table surface while Smudgy Boy gulped laughter down. The elegant boy held his palm over his face in exaggerated horror, fingers spread just enough that she could see his wince.

“Dear God,” remarked Cell Phone Boy. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“‘Sorry,’” she recommended.

“I said that already.”
Blue considered. “Then, ‘bye.’”

Overall Review:

At first, I thought The Raven Boys was overwritten and doomed to head into dreaded “true love” territory akin to Hush, Hush or Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Then, Stiefvater completely did what I was not expecting, and I instantly got so immersed in the book that I laughed at a cliffhanger because it fit so well with the characters’ personalities and then I went out and got the second book. I don’t normally like contemporary/urban fantasy, but I like this.

You can buy this here: The Raven Boys