Or, How I Learned to Be Less of a Snob and Enjoy a Young Adult Fantasy series.
I was skeptical when I read the first book of Maggie Stiefvater’s RavenOr, How I Learned to Be Less of a Snob and Enjoy a Young Adult Fantasy series.
I was skeptical when I read the first book of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series. A new friend, one that didn’t know my reading tastes just yet, recommended the first book and I wasn’t particularly interested (I’m not good at reading direct recommendations from people at the best of times, even if they hand the book to me.) I don’t particularly enjoy reading young adult fiction, probably because I am no longer a young adult, and I shy away from fantasy fiction. While it took me a while to get into the series as the first book, The Raven Boys, works on introducing the characters and setting up the story, the second book, The Dream Thieves, was really fantastic and I read the third book Blue Lily, Lily Blue quickly after. The fourth and final book in the series, The Raven King, wraps up the story I’d been happily entangled with so far.
“I don’t think it’s wise to pair yourself with a demon. They are inherently subtractive rather than additive. They take more than they give.”
Whenever attempting to describe the story to people who haven’t read or heard of these books, it always comes out sounding like a cacophony of vaguely related, impossible subplots – this is more my failing than the series itself, while the subplots to vary wildly, they all coalesce together in a cohesive way. To summarize: Blue Sargent has grown up in a psychic family in a town called Henrietta in Virginia. All her life, she’s been told that if she is to kiss her true love, he will die. One night, while visiting the corpse road which provides visions of who will die in the next year, she is caught off guard by the image of a young man her age. On the other side of the tracks, a group of boys are on an obsessive quest, investigating and hoping to uncover a long lost Welsh king in the hope that he will grant a wish. Blue eventually meets and joins their adventure, but the question of her true love hangs over her as she bonds and builds friendships and discovers love with the Raven Boys.
The most interesting element is the friendships and relationships within the story arc. In particular, the friendships between the four boys Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah are realistically complicated, but with an acceptance and warmth that is actually really touching and lovely – I will admit that I shed a few tears at a particular scene in the third book that demonstrated so well the strength found in friendship, even when reluctant to accept assistance. Due to their different socioeconomic backgrounds – one boy comes from extreme poverty and sees his scholarship at the exclusive Aglionby Academy as an opportunity to advance socially, one boy is a high school kid with easy access to a helicopter – there is an gentle exploration of class differences and the opportunities afforded to those from different strata of society.
On a similar note, Blue and her family built of strong, powerful female ties echoes in many ways the self-made family of the Aglionby boys. The family of psychics is somewhat chaotic and mysterious but bound tightly with love and protection, that inherent feeling of belonging that comes with being loved as part of a flawed but strong family unit. Likewise, the growing friendships between Blue and the boys, in particular with the ghostly Noah who draws his strength from Blue, and of course the romantic interest in the doomed Gansey, is a beautiful study in understanding your individual power – magical or otherwise – and how that power can be enhanced, or detracted, by those you choose to keep around you. While the situation they’re all in is magical and otherworldly, the real magic is the pleasure and joy to be had in finding your tribe.
Gansey was aware on a certain level that the description was melodramatic, heightened, illogical. But on a deeper level, it felt true, and familiar, and like it explained much of Gansey’s life. It was how he felt about Ronan and Adam and Noah and Blue. With each of them, it had felt instantly right: relieving. Finally, he’d thought, he’d found them. We instead of you and me.
Again, as the final book in a series it feels like giving too much away to mention narrative specifics of The Raven King, but there is some genuinely spooky and unsettling imagery at play here, made all the more so by the danger it places on characters you genuinely come to care. The story does a fantastic job of incorporating the narrative voice of all major characters, with all of their crises and dilemmas working toward a resolution. The series was much more moving than I anticipated, and by the end of the second book I was emotionally invested in how these characters would fare in a story with a somewhat foregone conclusion, and found it deeply entertaining....more