Review: The Raven King

I did not expect to love the Raven Cycle when i picked it up. I thought, “I don’t know about this whole YA thing, but I want to know what people are talking about.” Now I’ve reached the end of Stiefvater’s final book in this series, The Raven King, and I want to talk about it too, because I’ve been completely hooked from the first book and the last one still hasn’t let me go.

About the book: Blue and her Raven Boys must theravenkingspeed up their search for Glendower as Cabeswater begins to decay. Something on the ley line is causing terrible damage to all things magical near Henrietta, and it’s only a matter of time before the destruction travels from dream-like Cabeswater to the teenagers who’ve tied themselves to it.

“They were so close to the situation it was difficult to tell whether or not they were the situation.”

I cannot express enough how great the dynamic between Blue and the Raven Boys continues to be. Sometimes they fight, because they’re human, but they’re so supportive and understanding of each other that they make an impenetrable team. It’s not only the group as a whole that’s fantastic, though; each character is unique and interesting on his/her own, and it’s wonderful to be able to see each of the pieces so closely before the entire puzzle is assembled. No assembled puzzle looks like this one. The group is hit with impossible truths over and over, and yet they can adjust and stand together. Obstacles make them stronger instead of tearing them apart. As it should be. Everyone should have friends like that. And if you don’t…well, then have these friends, in this book.

“They were all growing up and into each other like trees striving together for the sun.”

I did think it was a little easy for most of the parents to be simply out of the picture in this series, but the parents that are around are great. Each one is distinct in a way parents usually aren’t in YA novels–the kids get the story, the parents are necessary background; but here, Ronan’s mom is completely different from Gansey’s mom, who’s completely different from Adam’s mom, who’s completely different from Blue’s mom. Although few of these characters appear regularly, it was great to see the adults of the story as fully developed people with some influence in their kids’ lives. I especially liked the relationship between Blue and Maura, which reminded me a lot of Rory and Lorelai’s relationship in Gilmore Girls. On a lot of scales, they measure as equals, but Maura is always ready with advice and comfort when it’s really needed. Well, unless she’s gone missing. But Blue cares enough to spend a whole book searching for her–not because she needs adult protection and assistance, but because she loves Maura. It’s a great message that people who aren’t the same age as the reader are often just as significant to the story. And some people who are the same age are rather irrelevant–where did Henry Cheng come from?

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this series is that there’s enough of an undertone of romance to keep things interesting, but not enough to ever feel cheesy or unnecessary. Although i thought Stiefvater took a rather easy way out of explaining how Blue’s true-love-killing-kiss actually worked, I fully appreciated that the romance in this book was always an undercurrent instead of an over-the-top drama. There’s definitely love. But the narrator’s not going to smack you in the face with it.

“The head is too wise. The heart is all fire.”

I also especially loved that this entire series is not afraid to go a little dark. Things have to look seriously bleak for victory to feel rewarding, and–especially in this final book–Stiefvater makes it clear that she’s not going to veer away from death and destruction. It wouldn’t feel real if everyone made it to the end unscathed, so I appreciated there being moments that felt truly unsettling or even shocking. Without those moments, this would be a bland series of happy coincidences that induce eye-rolling. Instead, we have suspense.

“He had nothing to trust but the ravens and the feeling of rightness. All of his footsteps had led him to this moment, surely. He had to believe the light wouldn’t go out before he got there.”

But my favorite part about Stiefvater’s books is the quirky writing style. Tangible things break the laws of physics. Intangible things take on a life of their own. Repetitions are used to draw parallels and points of emphasis in a way that makes the reader chuckle. But my favorite line in this book was an instance when Gansey is comparing himself to the final pages of a book–a fitting comparison that addresses the reader’s emotion about the end of the series in an unexpectedly direct way:

“He was a book, and he was holding his final pages, and he wanted to get to the end to find out how it went, and he didn’t want it to be over.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. This fourth book has been my absolute favorite of this quartet. I enjoyed every book, but after the second and third books failed to replace the first as my top choice, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the final volume. I wanted it to go onward and upward (excelsior!), and to my great delight, this one did. I may be looking into reading The Scorpio Races at some point in the future when I need a little more Stiefvater in my life, but I don’t think her Shiver series sounds like my cup of tea. Really, I had such a good experience with the Raven Cycle that I would like to end on a good note rather than reaching too far for more that’s not there. What did you think of Stiefvater’s other books, if you’ve read them?

Further recommendations:

  1. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is a magical realism book that Stiefvater fans may enjoy. While I would consider the Raven Cycle more supernatural than magical realism, there are definitely similarities between the genres. All the Birds in the Sky is an adult book, but the main characters are children for much of the novel and I think it’s not so far off YA base. If you like reading about ordinary teenagers who stumble upon magic and spend their lives learning what it means for them and their world, you should give this one a try. There’s good, evil, an assassin, a two-second time machine, and an irreversible vow of silence in these pages.

What’s next: I’m currently reading Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and loving it. I read Attachments last month and enjoyed it, but it didn’t stand out to me the way this one does. Something about the prose here is much more riveting. Check out my complete review, coming soon.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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