Book Reviews

[review] the raven cycle

Never had I been so invested in a group of teenagers until I met Blue and her Raven Boys.

Ah, Maggie Stiefvater and The Raven Cycle.

Where do I begin without obscenely gushing all over the place? This series has raised the bar for YA fiction and given me a love for the genre which was previously only an occasional interest. Having annihilated all four books in the space of a  month–a truly astounding feat for turtle-reader me–it’s safe to say The Raven Cycle shot straight to the top of my favourites and Stiefvater has well asserted herself as one of the premier authors of YA fiction.

No one can summarise a book quite like the author herself, so without further ado:

A host of co-dependent teens with a battery of psychological issues comb rural Virginia for a dead Welsh king with dubious magical powers. Trees talk; hitmen put down roots; dead people live; living people die. Cars are described in loving detail. Fuckweasel. A house full of psychics tells everybody the future and drinks a lot on-page considering it’s a young adult series. Nobody kisses anybody, which is weird because everybody loves everybody. There’s rich boys! Poor boys! Sad boys! Angry boys! Raven boys! Collect them all!

Sadly, this is not the blurb featured on the dust cover of The Raven Boys. While it seems like Stiefvater is taking the piss, the above is actually a rather accurate depiction of what you can expect to find in the quartet. Steifvater is a masterful storyteller who weaves multifaceted plot strands into a unique and intricate tapestry. Despite each book containing its own arc that is wrapped up within the volume, the throughline of ‘Find Glendower’ is strong and remains the central driving force of the story at large. Each resolution rolls into a new conflict with such momentum it throws the reader into the next installment with enthusiastic force. My one relief about being late to jump on this fabulous bandwagon is not having to suffer between cliffhangers. (Though I am currently suffering pretty hard waiting for the upcoming Dreamers trilogy release date.)

Like all great books, The Raven Cycle comes equipped with a fabulous cast of characters who stay with you long after the final pages are turned. Never had I been so invested in a group of teenagers until I met Blue and her Raven Boys.

ravenboys_sketch
The Raven Boys: pencil sketch by the author herself.*

Blue Sargent is everything I wanted as the sole female character among a main cast of men: strong, principled and relatable. She is witty, kooky, and painfully original, having been brought up in the anything-by-ordinary house of psychics at 300 Fox Way. For me, everything hinged on Blue being likeable: despite being a multi-focalised ensemble cast, Blue was the piece that was different–the outsider who shook things up, brought them together and propelled the story forward. I did have my reservations about a 1:4 female/male cast split as I expected (and dreaded) the thought of every male character inevitability falling in love with Blue. Thankfully, this tired and polarising trope was reinvented, and Blue remained the likeable character Stiefvater no doubt intended her to be.

Gansey is equally pivotal, given his role in recruiting other the Raven BoysRonan, Adam and Noah–on his quest to locate the ancient Welsh king, Owen Glendower. Gansey is also a remarkable success in character crafting: underneath this quintessential entitled rich boy is someone who is fearful yet brave; ignorant yet willing; and confident yet doubtful. My feelings for Gansey grew throughout the course of the series, and while I never disliked him as such, there were moments that had me (briefly) rolling my eyes in disbelief whenever he did something outrageously rich. These moments were few and far between and possibly only disjointing to someone who has never been exposed to the truly wealthy.

If asked to name a favourite character, I would–unreservedly–answer, Ronan Lynch. My love for him was strong and immediate; his foul-mouthed, rebellious bravado is hilariously endearing. He brings tears, loud-out-loud moments and a delicious amount of salt to an already appealing cast of characters.  While a lot must remain unsaid to avoid bombshell spoilers, the layers to Ronan‘s character are intricate and never-ending. He is so much more than just an arsehole. But let’s be real: even if he wasn’t, I’d probably still love him anyway.

I had a much more frustrating relationship with Adam, who had me swinging between empathy, pity and the overwhelming urge to grab him by the shoulders and shake him silly. At first encounter, his character is not quite as original or engaging as Ronan or Blue, but he does undergo a fantastic, plot-integral transformation arc that I really enjoyed seeing unfold.

That leaves us with Noah, the last of Blue‘s Raven Boys. Sweet, silent and tragic Noah has perhaps the most interesting and important role in the story and yet, sadly, I didn’t quite connect with him as I did the others. Don’t get me wrong: all characters were beloved, but I was left feeling distanced from Noah as he does not receive a steady stream of focalised chapters like the rest of the main cast. Given the large fanbase Noah has attracted, he is still a wonderfully constructed character, just one that didn’t hook me personally.

Aside from the absolutely impeccable main cohort, Stiefvater continues to impress by bolstering the cast with quirky and lovable supporting characters in the form of psychics Maura, Calla and Persephone. Her villains are equally well-crafted and there really isn’t anyone I could label a ‘bad’ character in terms of writing and development. Hats off, Maggie.

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Stiefvater’s descriptive prose is eloquent, original and deeply moving.

YA tends to have the misconception of featuring more simplified prose that makes it accessible to the younger reader. I myself am guilty of  previously falling into the elitist assumption of YA = lacklustre and cannot thank Stiefvater (and the numerous other fantastic YA authors out there) enough for opening my eyes to the pure gems to be found in the genre. Stiefvater’s prose is simple in that its not bogged down with laborious run-on clauses or ostentatious vocabulary; instead, her mastery of the written word shines with emotive, beautiful exposition that is easily on par with more critically lauded adult-marketed literature.

I have no hesitation in proclaiming Stiefvater a queen of her craft: everything from the vivid descriptions of landscapes to the organic unfurling of complex relationships is handled with the confidence and precision. The Raven Cycle is everything and more that I could possibly want in a book and it now tops the list of my favourite reads ever.

Rating: Undisputed ★★★★★

j.a.m

 

BONUS:

Opal: A Raven Cycle Story was recently published in the US paperback edition of The Raven King and is a wonderful insight into one of my other favourite characters and a great bridge into the much anticipated Dreamers trilogy.

Available for purchase as an ebook on GoogleBooks.

 

 



 

* You can buy official Maggie Stiefvater designed Raven Cycle (and other series) goods from her Society6 page.

 

 

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