– SPOILER FREE REVIEW –
Titles: The Raven Boys (⋆⋆⋆⋆) | The Dream Thieves (⋆⋆⋆⋆) | Blue Lily, Lily Blue (⋆⋆⋆⋆) | The Raven King (⋆⋆⋆)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal
Release dates: September 18th, 2012 | September 17th, 2013 | October 21st, 2014 | April 26th, 2016
Description (Book #1):
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, 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.
The Raven Cycle is a slow burn adventure dripping with mystery, filled with magic, psychics, a lost king, and a cast of unique and complex characters that make you want to keep turning the pages. The world of mysteries set in present time Virginia is certainly intriguing, and though the plot holes throughout the novels take away some of its magic, the characters are intricate and enchanting enough to make this series work.
I ought to start by talking about the main characters, because they really are the best thing about these books and what the writing was focused on. They are all very different and distinct, which is a very hard task to accomplish in writing. Having a different POV narration for them was fantastic, because they are very complicated people to understand just through the lens of one character.
Blue was probably the least explored out of the group, which saddened me because she had a lot of potential. We do get to know her family, her supernatural side, her ambitions and we are able to recognize her as likable, brave, resolute and funny, but it feels like that’s just the surface of who she is.
She tried to ignore that, this close to the man, he had the overpowering chemical scent of a manly power gel. The sort that normally came in a black bottle and was called something like SHOCK or EXCITE or BLUNT TRAUMA.
Then we have Gansey, who’s more the glue of the group than the “leader”. As all the characters in these novels, he grows, but not as much as the rest because he has a very clear purpose in life. His pursuit for adventure defines him, as he’s on a quest looking for an old lost king. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder – when his hunt is over, who is Gansey? That’s a question he asks himself and that I felt wasn’t really answered. What I especially liked about him was that his flaws were addressed with honesty and that he was aware of them, which saved him from coming off as arrogant many times.
Adam is the most complex character in the entire series and undergoes the most notable growth. I have to admit that I didn’t like him very much at first and I dreaded having to read some of his chapters. I found his constant resentment over the rich and privileged elite in Henrietta somewhat repetitive at first. When he finally starts stepping out of that train of thought and starts discovering more about himself, I began to see him as a more well-rounded character and loved him.
When Gansey was polite, it made him powerful. When Adam was polite, he was giving power away.
Finally we have Ronan. He is the most different out of them and I loved reading his perspective, it always brought something unique. He starts off in the series as rude and not very likable, though very intriguing. Later on we get to understand who he is. He is impulsive, reserved and clearly hurting, but his sensibility and loyalty always ends up shining through his apathetic façade.
My favorite thing about these characters was their friendship. From the moment they all meet they start to look for a balance in their relationship until they all find a place in the group – the Magician, the Dreamer, the Mirror, the King. They complement each other really well and their interactions and constant banter were my favorite part (the only exception being Ronan and Adam’s jokes at Henry Cheng’s expense).
Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.
We have an array of secondary characters that range from amazing to dispensable. I had considered Noah a main character at first despite his short appearances, but after finishing the entire series I think of him more like an important secondary character. I had high hopes for him because I loved him, he was really sweet, but his character and plot line felt neglected and a lot was left unsaid about him.
Most of the secondary characters are adults and as equally complex as the teens. Blue’s family and Mr. Gray were on the fascinating and very entertaining side of the scale. There were also the villains, my least favorite part of the novels. They were okay, but I always felt the story could have done without their POV. They had too little chapters to actually develop, so they usually fell flat for me. And then there’s other characters in the series (like Henry Cheng, Ronan’s family, Gwenllian, Malory and the Orphan Girl) that are likable, but that are introduced in the story at the wrong time or not explored well enough.
PLOT & WRITING
All books were slow-paced. If it weren’t for how much I liked the characters, I would have probably been bored at the beginning. But once I got the general atmosphere and where things were headed, I really enjoyed the pacing and how detailed the writing was.
I loved how the story plays between the regular world and the paranormal one, both being dreamlike in one second and nightmarish the next. Because the setting was present time Virginia, it made me appreciate the strangeness of the magic in it more. All the mystical elements felt right and were beautifully written because Maggie Stiefvater definitely has a fantastic way with words that makes her ideas and characters resonate with you. Sometimes she’s poetic, some other times whimsical – you never know what to expect, but the end product is a charming and witty writing style.
It was a far more terrifying idea to imagine how much control he really had over how his life turned out. Easier to believe that he was a gallant ship tossed by fate than to captain it himself. He would steer it now, and if there were rocks near shore, so be it.
I was impressed with how varied the themes were. We have romance, friendship, family, privilege, abuse, independence, coming to terms with yourself, among many more – I could go on and on if you gave me the chance. I was scared of how much romance would be present in the books because I am not a fan of that genre, but I liked that it was just another element in the book, not the main one. The romantic relationships that are present are well done. They felt organic and sweet and their buildup was passionate and charged with tension and mixed emotions.
My major complaint about the series is how much is constantly left unresolved and how I sometimes felt the plot was pointless. I don’t mind vague endings or leaving certain things to the imagination, but many things that felt major were not truly explained. I was invested in the world and I enjoyed the plot all the same since it was a fun adventure with lots of twists and turns, but many times I felt like nothing was really happening because it wasn’t relevant to the main quest. Then, some other times, everything seemed rushed and really important. Overall, it was inconsistent and I wanted more answers than what I got, but it was so unique that it entertained me and made me keep turning the pages nonetheless.
Maggie Stiefvater’s narrative is vibrant, funny and captivating and her plot is compelling, but ultimately what I think makes these books amazing is the characters. What made me want to keep reading was the need to know how much they would grow, what they would say or think in a certain situation, and finally, how they would end up. They all resonated with me at one point or another and it’s sad to say goodbye to them. Don’t expect a perfect story with no loose ends, but relish the themes and the characters and you have a great series in your hands.