Note: I received an electronic copy of Blue Lily Lily Blue from the publisher for review consideration.
Second note: Of necessity, I’ll be talking about some of the events of the first two books in this series. If you haven’t read those yet, the short version of this review is that Blue Lily Lily Blue is an excellent third installment in an excellent series. But you probably shouldn’t read on unless you want to be spoiled for the first two. Spoilers for Blue Lily Lily Blue occur only in the bottom, bullet-pointed section, and I’ve marked it that way.
ETA third note: Alice has rightly pointed out that if you haven’t read the first two books in this series, this review makes no damn sense. So you should probably skip it. And go read The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves. That is probably a better use of your time. My reviews of those two books are here and here.
Maura Sargent has been missing for over a month, and Blue and her raven boys are spelunking in Cabeswater, hunting for Glendower and Maura both. The man who hired someone to retrieve the Greywaren has come to town to do the job himself, and he’s brought backup. Blue does not pay reliable enough attention to whether Gansey is or is not wearing a rain-spattered Aglionby sweater at any given moment, and the answer to everyone’s questions seems to be in a mountain cave, which sings into Adam’s deaf ear and whose owner insists that it’s cursed.
Two processes are befalling the characters in the Raven Cycle. First, they are growing from variously broken teenagers into the working-order versions of themselves they have the capacity to become. Second, they are developing into powerfully magical people you don’t want to fuck with. Stiefvater knits these two things so tightly together that they become component parts of one and the same process: As Blue settles more comfortably into the feeling of belonging to her group, she’s also evolving a better and better sense of the value of her particular gifts and the ways she can usefully deploy them. [Adam example redacted for spoiler reasons]
They’re also discovering what readers knew all along: that they’re stronger together than apart. You see this particularly with Adam and Ronan, the two who have tapped into the fierce, unpredictable power of Cabeswater, and who can do some truly remarkable things when they’re working together. There’s a nice symmetry between Kavinsky’s shitty, amoral tutelage of Ronan in The Dream Thieves and Ronan’s clear-eyed confidence in Adam throughout Blue Lily Lily Blue. Both boys are pushing someone else to be more than what they’re currently being; but where Kavinsky was telling Ronan, Be more like me, Ronan’s telling Adam, Be more like you. It is super lovely.
Blue and Gansey are still in the throes of Doomed Love. Maggie Stiefvater does her best to get to me by having Gansey give Blue his coat and then teach her how to drive stick shift, and look, I am not made of stone, standard transmission cars are amazing and nothing says love like making sure the other person is warm enough, but still, so far I like Blue and Gansey separately more than I like them together. Or rather, I like them together fine when they are joking about faxes from hell, and less when they start getting all Doomed about their Love. It’s not them; it’s the Doomedness of their Love.
In terms of plot advancement, quite a lot of important events occur, and some mysteries are solved while many more are raised (including a pretty big one about Gansey’s past). Whether you came for the characters or the search for a Welsh king, there are so many reasons to leave this book feeling satisfied. Stiefvater’s writing is as lovely as ever, with her weird and perfect metaphors, and it has been an extremely long time since I loved any fictional characters the way I love these ones.
Miscellaneous, spoilery observations (this section will include both plotty and emotional spoilers. Big ones. Look away.)
- Adam and Ronan should always team up to do magic and iniquity together. It is the best.
- Actually, the real, legitimate best is when Gansey says “Wake up.” I got chills.
- Why is everyone in the visions switching places? I don’t like that! At least when it was clearly Gansey who was supposed to die, I knew where to focus my worry. Now it just seems like anyone could choose to sacrifice themselves to save anyone else. Adam sees a version of his Gansey-dying vision where it’s Ronan dying instead; the vision Blue and Gansey share in the vision tree swaps two lines of dialogue when it happens in real life.
- The reveal about Matthew is the Maggie Stiefvaterest reveal ever. She has this brilliant gift for making you not notice that she’s told you a secret several times in a whisper before she tells it out loud. It even feels crazy to call it a spoiler. Of course Ronan dreamed Matthew. It’s been obvious all along, but I just didn’t notice. (Cf. Noah being dead.) (You guys, that is rough for Declan. I feel bad for Declan.)
- My head knew that there was no chance at all that Ronan and Gansey weren’t going to show up to Adam’s court date, but my heart could not bear the suspense. Maybe it is too Hollywood and too facile a resolution of what Adam has been trying to learn about himself all along, but it’s such a good moment that I don’t care. “Behind him was Ronan Lynch, his damn tie knotted right for once and his shirt tucked in.”
- “Why me?” “I hear if you want magic done, you ask a magician.”
- The cliffhanger ending everyone was going on and on about: Piffle. That is not a cliffhanger. They spent the whole book saying Whatever we do we must not wake up that one sleeper, oh man, that would be a terrible catastrophe if that one sleeper got woken up. If you didn’t know that someone was going to wake the sleeper, you must have never read a book before. A cliffhanger is like when the protagonist has just defeated his human foe and then he turns around and there’s a whole alien army bearing down on them all. It is not a cliffhanger if it surprises you zero.