Friday 6 May 2016

#CBR8 Book 48: "The Raven King" by Maggie Stiefvater

Page count: 438 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning: This is the fourth and concluding volume in The Raven Cycle. Readers starting with this book will get very little out of it, and while I am going to try to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, it probably will reveal some things about the previous three books in the series, which may ruin your enjoyment somewhat. It's a great series, made even better when read as a whole. The Raven Boys is the place to start - go read it if you haven't already.

Told her entire life that she will cause the death of her true love with her kiss, this was not a prophecy that bothered Blue Sargent all that much until she turned seventeen, and broke her promise to herself to stay away from boys in general and Raven Boys, those who attend the posh boarding school in her home town of Henrietta, Virginia, in particular. Now her four best friends are Raven Boys and she's finding it harder than ever to deny that she's fallen in love with Gansey, whose death some time in the next year was foretold when Blue and her aunt saw his spirit walking the ley line, or Corpse Road, on St. Mark's Eve.

The Raven Boys, Richard Gansey III and his best friends Adam Parrish and Ronan Lynch, are still searching for the lost Welsh king Glendower. Gansey and Blue have pretty much stopped denying their feelings for each other, but are still hiding their true feelings from Adam, Ronan and the ever more unpredictable Noah, whose hold on reality seems to be slipping the closer they get to the end of their quest. There have been dangers facing them before, but now there is a demon in Cabeswater, the magical forest that is linked with Adam and powers Ronan's dreams. A dark force is bent on unmaking, causing the woods to twist and disintegrate, occasionally possessing the unwary. The legends say that whoever wakes the sleeping king will get a wish granted. They can ask Glendower to stop the demon - but will they find Glendower before its too late?

I spent the start of April re-reading The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue in anticipation and preparation for this book. As I read the first three books one a year, I both wanted to remind myself of the plot of each one and see how they worked when read in one go. Revisiting the series made it even more obvious how skilled Maggie Stiefvater was at crafting the story and made me fall even more deeply in love with the characters. She really does write such amazing personalities, and not just the ones I adore, like Blue and her boys, or the many interesting women of 300 Fox Way, Blue's home. There's the enigmatic Mr. Grey and in this book, we get to know Henry Cheng a lot better and what a wonderful experience that is.

I mostly find her villains a bit underwhelming, though, but I suspect that is because the antagonists are not really what is important in the overall story. The inter-personal relationships, the friendships and the connections formed, the way the various characters relate to one another - that's what Stiefvater really burns for. While there are some very shippable romantic couples here, the romance is so very secondary, as is the quest for Glendower (sorry, Gansey, I know it has dominated your life for so long). The ever-deepening friendship of Blue and her boys: Gansey, Adam, Noah and Ronan is the true core to this story and it's just as magical, if not more, as the marvels of Cabeswater.

To say that I was worried about the outcome of this book is an understatement. In between finishing my re-read of the first three books and the release of The Raven King, I visited Ms. Stiefvaters Tumblr-blog daily, reading her countdown posts to the release, admiring the fan art she posted, getting more and more tense and nervous about what was going to happen. It was pretty obvious that Gansey was going to die (we are told this from early on in book one), but whether he was going to stay dead was another matter entirely. But what about all my other beloved characters? Blue, Maura, Mr. Grey, Calla, Adam, Ronan and Noah - would they all make it to the end of the series? Some pretty dark things were clearly going to go down, and saving the world from a demon is unlikely to happen without some sacrifice.

I wish I could have called in sick and read the book in one sitting. Sadly, I had to spread my reading over two days, but I really did read every chance I got. It was a very satisfying read, but it's by no means a perfect book. There are some very confusing sections, especially towards the latter half of the book. I'm probably going to have to re-read the book to see if I can make more sense of what is revealed about Blue's father, cause that was just odd. As I mentioned earlier, the human villains of these books are always more frustrating than sinister, and the one in this one annoyed me to no end. While there was kissing, I could have done with a lot more, thank you very much. I also thought the epilogue was a bit too vague. All in all, there is so much more good than bad in this though, and Stiefvater's mastery with words continues to amaze me. A very worthy end to a great series.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover art for The Raven Cycle is, in my opinion, breath-taking. All the covers are done by the talented Adam S Doyle. This one fits well into the style of the other three, and the use of black and blue is nicely ominous considering what readers know must happen over the course of the story. Stags have featured throughout the series, and ravens have also been hugely important, either literal or figurative ones. My favourite cover of the four books is probably still Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but I like this a lot.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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