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

 

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge, was published in 2015 by Amulet Books.

Following a mysterious accident that left her sopping wet, Triss awakens to a world that’s eerily off-kilter. Her memories are muddled, her sister despises her, pages have been stolen from her private journal, and her appetite is insatiable. Confusion quickly turns to dread as she begins to see and hear things she shouldn’t. Her dolls reveal themselves to be deceitful, living creatures; she’s suddenly and inexplicably afraid of scissors; and when she brushes her hair, out sprinkle crumbled fragments of leaves. Then she stumbles across evidence that her beloved brother, killed in the war, is actually alive—and she begins to suspect that the secrets lurking within her home are even more shocking than her twisted new reality. Is Triss going mad? Or did her accident trigger an nightmarish chain of events? In her quest to learn the truth, Triss ventures from the shelter of her parents’ protective wings into the city’s underbelly. There she encounters strange creatures whose grand schemes could forever alter the fates of her family.

Cuckoo Song starts out as a relatively creepy, suspenseful story and then spirals into strange territory with the introduction of the Besiders and the revelation of what really happened to Triss. Hardinge, as always, is a beautiful writer and crafts a hauntingly pretty story.

However, Hardinge doesn’t pull everything off as successfully as she might like, and at one point I had a severe disconnect with the story when the book was telling me I should feel one way and I was feeling another way. So my sympathies didn’t always align with Triss as they were meant to, especially at one point when the book is saying “This is a terrible thing!” and I’m saying “Um, this really isn’t so terrible.”

I’m not really a fan of this sort of genre, either, but I will say that Hardinge did a good job and I was engaged with Cuckoo Song for the most part, though I read it in bits and pieces because of general busy-ness. Not everything worked for me and I didn’t always sympathize with the characters, but I was at least involved with their plight as a whole. It was, however, a little too strange for me, and I think I might actually have liked it better if it had been a straight-up horror rather than urban fantasy.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Scary images and scenes.

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Middle Grade

“What are you doing here?” she asked under her breath. “I’m thirteen. Why do I still carry a doll around?”

And it was while these words were still hanging in the air that the doll moved in her hands.

The first things to shift were the eyes, the beautiful gray-green glass eyes. Slowly they swiveled, until their gaze was resting on Triss’s face. Then the tiny mouth moved, opened to speak.

“What are you doing here?” It was an echo of Triss’s words, uttered in tones of outrage and surprise, and in a voice as cold and musical as the clinking of cups. “Who do you think you are? This is my family.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1VeheI5

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

Sunshine: Step Aside, Twilight

Sunshine is written by Robin McKinley. It was published in 2003 by Speak/Penguin. McKinley’s website can be found here.

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of Sunshine’s life; she just needed to be alone with her thoughts for a little while. But then the vampires found her. Now, chained and imprisoned in a tumbledown mansion, alone but for the vampire shackled next to her, Sunshine must call on skills she didn’t know she had if she is to survive. But her fellow prisoner is not what she expected of a vampire, and soon Sunshine discovers that not only does she need his help, he needs hers…”

~Back Cover

Cover Art 1 (my favorite)

Passages/Quotes:

“Speak,” he said at last. “Remind me that you are a rational creature.” The words had long pauses between them, as if he found it difficult to speak, or as if he had to recall the words one at a time, and his voice was rough, as if some time recently he had damaged it by prolonged shouting. Perhaps he found it awkward to speak to his dinner. If he wasn’t careful he’d go off me, like Alice after she’d been introduced to the pudding. I should be so lucky.

I flinched at the first sound of his voice, both because he had spoken at all, and also because his voice sounded as alien as the rest of him looked, as if the chest that produced it was made out of some strange material that did not reflect sound the same way that ordinary—that is to say, live—flesh did. His voice sounded much odder—eerier, direr—than the voices of the vampires who had brought me here. You could half-imagine that Bo’s gang had once been human. You couldn’t imagine that this one ever had.”

~McKinley 28

“Pat sighed again, this one a very long sigh, like a man about to step off a cliff. Then he shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and held it. And held it. And held it. After about a minute he began to turn, well, blue, but I don’t mean human-holding-his-breath blue, I mean blue. Still holding his breath, he opened his eyes and looked at me: his eyes were blue, too, although several degrees darker than his skin, and I mean all of his eyes: the whites as well. Although speaking of all of his eyes, as I watched, a third eye slowly blinked itself open form between his eyebrows. He was still holding his breath. His ears were becoming pointed. He held up one hand and spread the fingers. There were six of them. The knuckles were all very knobbly, and the hand itself was very large. Pat was normally no more than medium-sized.”

~McKinley 123-124

Cover Art 2 (the edition I read)

Warnings: This book is almost YA. Pages 248-250 (in my 2010 edition) completely blow that out of the water with swearing and an extremely graphic almost-sex scene. Then it returns to YA material.

Recommended Age Range: 16+, hesitantly, due to the three pages mentioned above.

Rating: 3/5

What I Liked:

I normally avoid paranormal YA because I usually don’t like reading about things like werewolves/vampires/angels/demons or whatever. It just doesn’t interest me. Also, I think my experience of Twilight turned me off of paranormal. I don’t like Twilight, and not just because Stephanie Meyer’s vampires sparkle (and yes, I have read all four books); it’s essentially emotional porn for tweens and there are a host of other things that I have problems with, so I think that (unfairly) tainted my perception of paranormal YA.

This book, though. This is the vampire novel that Twilight wishes it was. This is also the vampire novel that, unfortunately, nobody knows about. This book deserves more attention because it is really very good.

Con is great. He’s described as Byronic but I didn’t really see that. He and Sunshine have this really cute, awkward conversation at the end of the book that is…well, really cute and sweet.

Fan art!

McKinley loves strong female leads and Sunshine is no exception. She can kill vampires with her bare hands because she has a magical affinity for sunlight. She can also bake amazing cinnamon rolls and desserts like Killer Zebras and Bitter Chocolate Death and Manguamania and Sunshine’s Eschatology.

McKinley has some major world building in this novel and Sunshine is a fountain of knowledge, throwing out random bits of information about the world and its laws throughout the book. It’s an involved world that is so similar and yet so alien to our own.

Some of the great things that McKinley deals with in this book are darkness versus evilness and Sunshine’s inner struggle with similar issues. There’s a lot going on in this book that can be discussed after reading it.

What I Didn’t Like:

I don’t like ambiguous/unresolved endings, and this book leaves so much unresolved. Here is where a sequel would be perfect, but, unfortunately, McKinley is pretty adamant that there will be none. It’s really sad because the ending leaves you with a feeling of incompleteness and a question of “What about this?” What’s the deal with Mel? Is Sunshine a bad magic cross or not? What about her father? The book was great, but the ending was not.

Sunshine goes off on random tangents and asides frequently. She starts off with a ten-page info dump on her family and her life in general before mentioning her kidnapping by vampires. She then exposits on vampires for a few pages before returning to her capture. It’s like, “I drove to work and the charms my mom gave me were banging away in the dashboard. By the way, there are multiple charms for different objects and purposes and you can make them out of etc. etc. etc.” It’s rambling and it can be hard to get into the novel because of all the information that is thrown at you. You notice it less as you go along, but it definitely makes the book drag in a few places.

Why the heck is this book marketed for young adults with that really explicit section in the middle? Sure, it’s only three pages, but it is a really graphic three pages.

Overall Review:

Sunshine is a fantastic vampire novel that does not get the attention or have the audience it deserves. There is an iffy bit in the middle that contains a graphic almost-sex scene which is more adult than young adult, but the rest of it, besides the unresolved ending and the at-times slow, rambling narrative, is pretty darn good.

Coming Up Next: Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin