The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater

The first part of this post will not contain spoilers for The Raven King, or indeed for any book in this series. I will clearly mark the end of the non-spoiler-y part of the post, so that you can bail before I start shrieking about specific, spoilery things. I mainly want to tell you what I love so much about this book and this series.

The Raven King

The Raven Cycle is about figuring out how to be a person. Or more specifically, how to be a person when your world as it stands is not — is nowhere near — enough. One of our protagonists, Richard Campbell Gansey III,1 is looking for a Welsh king. Everyone else — Adam Parrish, who’s trying to be someone different; and Ronan Lynch, who’s looking for true things in a world full of liars; and Blue Sargent, the only non-psychic in a house full of psychics, who desperately wants something more — finds “looking for a Welsh king” to be a viable means of also searching for what they do want, so they are along for the ride. Mostly what they are all looking for is How To Be.

(how to be free, how to be happy, how to be a friend, how to make your life matter)

That they are sometimes phenomenally bad at these things makes it all the more satisfying as, over the course of the series, they get better and better at being who they want to become. Compare, for instance, the chats about relationships Adam and Blue have in The Dream Thieves versus in The Raven King. Compare the way Gansey is with Blue the first time they meet to the way he is with her — well, any time else, really, I just wanted to remind you of that whole President Cell Phone snafu because it remains one of my favorite scenes in the series. The lovely thing is that Adam and Blue and Gansey are fully themselves in all the versions of all these conversations; they are just getting better at it as they go along, in a lovely organic way.

It’s funny that I started with a spoiler warning, because in fact one of my favorite things about these books is how unspoilable they are. Or conversely how eminently disappointing it would be to go into them spoiled. Maggie Stiefvater’s maybe-best trick as a writer is that she always tells you the spoilers herself, probably more than once, but when the big reveal arrives, you’re still surprised, because she told you what was going on, but you were too distracted by something else she was doing at the same time.

(It makes rereading fun! You reread and you’re like “Oh she told me this exact information in Chapter 4.” “Oh, Ronan has been saying this all along and nobody was paying any attention.”)

Also, there’s magic and creepy trees. If magic and creepy trees are things that interest you. Or Latin. Or Tarot cards.

ONWARD TO THE SPOILERS.

Are you ready now? For spoilers?

Okay. Here they come. In no particular order.

NUMBER ONE. I cannot, and it is unfair for you to expect me to, handle a situation in an already emotional book in which a character I love walks into a creepy forest to meet his own death. You know perfectly well that gives me Harry Potter flashbacks. I had to put the book down for a minute because I couldn’t face the possibility of Gansey being alone when he died, even though I knew from previous visions that at least Blue was going to be there with him.

NUMBER TWO. I love it that Glendower was dead, and there was no favor, and the search brought them to a dead (ha ha ha) end. Mostly because I’m nihilistic that way, but also because it wasn’t ever really about Glendower in the first place (see above). It was about these people and their friendship and what they were growing into. Even Ronan knows that Gansey could have found Glendower any time he wanted, if he’d wanted to. It actually was the journey, and not the destination, that mattered.

NUMBER THREE. Everything about everything relating to Blue and Gansey, and Adam and Ronan, was perfect in every way. But my favorite thing, probably, was this:

He said, “I thought this was a night for truth.”

“Ronan kissed me,” Adam said immediately. The words had clearly been queued up. He gazed studiously into the front yard. When Gansey didn’t immediately say anything, Adam added, “I also kissed him.”

I don’t know why that amuses me so much. It’s just such an Adam thing to add, while he is talking to Gansey about, basically, how best to be careful of Ronan and what to do about it all.

Relatedly, I love Adam the best. My Myers-Briggs personality type is INTJ, which if you take a gander at a few of those “Which Harry Potter/Star Wars/Marvel Universe character are you?” Myers-Briggs charts, you will find is the personality type of mainly fictional psychopaths and life-ruiners. So it was nice to have such an exceptionally INTJ-y INTJ character like Adam to who was neither a psychopath nor a life-ruiner.2

NUMBER FOUR if I may make one tiny criticism. I am not sure we and the other characters had enough time to deal with their losses. Gansey is dead for like two seconds before they bring him back to life, and even though I find the manner in which he is brought back to life quite satisfying, I would have liked that emotional beat to matter a little more and a little longer. Like maybe if Henry Cheng hadn’t been there for it? And if they’d had to take Gansey home and once they got home he said the thing about them being magicians?

Also, and mainly, nobody got a chance to grieve Noah. I guess it’s fine that they never knew he’s the one who saved Gansey — I actually like it when there’s important pieces of the story that important characters never find out — but I’m sad we didn’t see them recognizing that he was gone gone, and having the chance to grieve. And after he was so sweet to Ronan.

NUMBER FIVE, Adam borrows Ronan’s car to go see his family at the end. (I assume his Hondayota finally bit the dust?) That Adam let Ronan lend him a car, and that Ronan let Adam go do this scary feelings thing on his own, says everything about how much these two characters have changed over the course of the books. What a great series.

You may now feel free to squeal at me in the comments about any and all of the books in this series.

  1. I like to call him RG3, even though the overlap between Raven Cycle readers and minor quarterback carers-about is probably not that huge so there are probably very few people who would find this amusing.
  2. My mum doesn’t like Adam. I identify strongly with Adam. Does this mean she doesn’t like me? Who knows.
  • Ana @ things mean a lot

    NUMBER TWO: YES, YES, THAT WAS SO GREAT.

    I identify with Adam the most, too. I like that there was hope for him, because that means there’s hope for me. Also, I’m pretty sure Mumsy likes you 😛

    Thank you for holding my hand as I read this. Exchanging a gazillion messages with you made it even better <3

  • MumsyNK

    I am an INTJ too though, so you could maybe argue that l am self-hating? But it is Ronan l love best (as, it turns out, do other INTJs). I love his wild, chaotic interior life and his passion for truth at all costs, his unflinching willingness to put his money where his mouth is. He’s like Tana in Coldest Girl in Coldtown, another character l adore.

    • PERHAPS YOU DO NOT LOVE ME I DUNNO.

      Didn’t you think Ronan was particularly great in this book? I did. I kept being overcome with affection for him all while reading this book. Bless his sweet heart.

      • MumsyNK

        Well, you are not a Slytherin, so the identification is not exactly a perfect match, amirite? I would love Adam more if he wasn’t so self-loathing. Maybe he needs to do some better stuff, like, l dunno, write a blog wherein he recommends many books to my taste. Or like, maybe he could learn to sing. Or maybe he could tell me very funny jokes. Step up to the plate, Adam! Jenny is beating you on ALL FRONTS.

  • Books with any kind of tree are always good. I will definitely be getting these for my daughter (and then borrowing them)!

  • Maureen E

    I was a little mad we didn’t get more Adam & Ronan being kissy because <3 <3 <3 BUT THEN THERE WAS THE CAR DETAIL AHHHHHHH.

    Adam is probably my favorite character in the whole series, although Blue & Ronan are fighting for next place.

    • I mean, I obviously love them all. And I felt awfully, awfully fond of Ronan in this last book. He’s grown up so much! Poor baby!

      Stiefvater said a thing about how she wanted the main stakes of this book to be friendship stakes, which I think is why we didn’t get a whole lot of Adam and Ronan or Blue and Gansey being kissy. And I can dig that. Even though, yeah, I’d have been happier with a teensy bit more epiloguey kissing. Has fanfic spoiled me? (yes)

  • I just finished reading this last night. *flails helplessly*

    “Maggie Stiefvater’s maybe-best trick as a writer is that she always tells you the spoilers herself, probably more than once, but when the big reveal arrives, you’re still surprised, because she told you what was going on, but you were too distracted by something else she was doing at the same time.”

    YES TO THIS. I love series that are so deeply well-planned that when something happens or a secret is revealed it gives you that feeling of, “Of COURSE that’s how it is,” as though you already subconsciously were in on it.

    • YES. I felt that way about so many of the reveals in this book — the thing about Matthew in Blue Lily Lily Blue is one of the biggest ones. And also the reveal about Noah in the first book. Both of those times, I just said “well yeah naturally” but also was so impressed that I hadn’t even noticed it was happening.

  • Jeanne

    I’m still reading this, which is lovely. I didn’t get it until 4:30 on Friday, and the weekend was all scheduled up, so I’ve had to dole it out to myself in small pieces and will continue to have to for at least another day and a half. I’m relishing that I still have a lot of it to read.

    • Aw, that’s so nice. I was doling it out to myself at first, too, but then — it’s a quick read, anyway, and I got impatient and gobbled up the last two-thirds in a single day. :p

      • Jeanne

        I’m also an INTJ. And I have come here to say I finished reading it. I need a place to say…THEY DID WHAT? BROUGHT HIM BACK TO LIFE?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! More on this soon, when I can say anything except THEY DID WHAT?
        Oh wait, when I read what you said about how long he was dead, I thought that one of my favorite lines in the whole book is what Blue says about that: “Blue was already tired of a timeline without Gansey in it.”

  • CoolCurry

    I think this is one of the best reviews of the series I’ve read! I do agree with you about the ending – I would have liked for there to be a bit more… space? It felt like it moved straight from Gansey’s death to the epilogue.

    I feel like I need to reread the book (and maybe the entire series, start to finish) to process it fully. I’m thinking about trying to organize a book blog group read at some point in the future.

    • Oh, I’d definitely be in for a big readalong. Not right away — I’ve got a Master & Margarita readalong coming up that I need to give myself to for the summer — but definitely later on.

      I’m so glad you feel like I did an okay job summing up the series. It’s a hard one to describe, especially given how very very much I love it.

      • CoolCurry

        While I sort of want to dive into a reread right now, I think it’d probably be better to wait for spring or summer 2017 to organize something. That gives some space between rereads (since I just reread Blue Lily, Lily Blue), and there should be more copies of The Raven King printed by then.

        I’d never looked at it as “who you want to be as a person,” but I think you’re right. In my own review, I tended to look at how friendship is important to the series. It’s complex enough that there can be many different take aways!

        Have you seen this music video/book trailer a fan made for the first three books? – http://squidwithelbows.tumblr.com/post/143432333175/in-dreams-the-raven-cycle-amv-since-the-raven It’s really good, and I may have watched it more times than strictly necessary…

  • I haven’t read most of your post because I wanted to avoid spoilers because I really want to read this book now I know how much you’ve loved it.

    • Yay, goody! It’s such a good series! I know four books is kind of a big ask BUT they are YA books so they’re a quick read, and also they’re all super super good. I think you’ll like!

  • I can’t choose a favorite at all because my favorite kept shifting. Probably Gansey and Adam were my favorites most often. But sometimes Noah, too, especially on my second reading of the earlier books, where I saw that you were totally right that she tells you pretty much everything. Like the Noah thing is BLATANT, but easy to ignore because it made no sense.

    Also, fellow INTJ here. I’m in favor of more stories where we aren’t psychopathic mastermind types.

    • Aw, I know, Noah’s such a dear, and I always feel fonder of him each time I reread.

      Okay, statistically I have been told that female INTJs are really rare, but anecdotally, I know SO MANY lady INTJs. I get that there’s probably a selection bias happening here, like I’m making friends with people who are like me, but even with that, damn, lady INTJs are overrepresented in my circle of acquaintance. Are we maybe more numerous than the Myers-Briggs people realize?

      • I know lots of lady INTJs, too, but almost all of them are women I know online. Maybe online communication is especially suited to us?

  • I can’t read this!!!! But I will be back.

  • olduvai

    Ok I only read the first part of your post because I really want to read this book already! I’ll be back when I do!

    • Excellent yes yes come back for more shrieking! Or if you don’t want to bother hunting down this post and commenting on it, I am always ready to be screamed at re: Raven Cycle on Twitter. Do that any time.

  • So I tried to read the first book in the series quite some time ago and couldn’t get into it. I should try again, yes?

    • I’m going to say yes, just cause I’m always in favor of giving books a second try. What didn’t you like about it the first time you read it?

      • I didn’t NOT like it, I just didn’t particularly like anything about it. It just didn’t grab me. Maybe it wasn’t the book’s fault, maybe I need to be in the right mood or something. I’ll try again because the way you describe it makes me think I would LOVE the series.

  • I can’t read this until I’ve read The Raven King! Which is also weird because the term in association with King Arthur (not Glendower) has come up in two British crime novels in the last week. Anyway, I only hope it is as good as the previous ones in this series have been!

    • IT IS. Actually I’d say it’s better than Blue Lily Lily Blue! Lots of things get resolved. Lots of friendship moments. It’s great.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    I’ve not read any of the series and can’t say I’ve been that interested until now. Loved your review. What you said about creepy trees and Tarot cards, that was the clencher. Now I’m going to have to read the series. Should I thank you or curse you for adding to my pile?

    • YOU SHOULD THANK ME. Man, I am doing such great work convincing people to read this series. You’ll thank me later.

  • I was super psyched to read this, but then Ana implied it was a downer, so now I’m skirred

    • What! No! It’s not a downer! There are sad things that happen, but not more sad things than any of the other books in the series. If you were okay with those, I think you’ll be okay with this.

  • Kim Aippersbach

    Ahhhh! For some reason I thought you were only going to do spoilers for the first three books—why did I think that??? Your warnings were clear and obvious; totally not your fault. I quickly averted my eyes before I got too far–eep!

    Just halfway through rereading Dream Thieves on my way to reading the last one. Such. Good. Writing. Every sentence is brilliant.

    • OH NO! I hope you didn’t find out anything too enormously monumental. (But as I say — I truly do believe these books are unspoilable in some important ways. It’s about the journey, not the destination.)

  • Bina

    Ugh disqus hates me this week, I’m giving up so that I can finally comment on your posts. Sorry it took so long!
    I’ve been seeing your twitter convos about this series and keep thinking I really should give it a try. I haven’t even read any of her books. I know the horror! 🙂 I don’t like romance which seems to be everywhere in YA but perhaps Stiefvater has books where not everone is paired of?? Let me know!! 🙂

    • Oh, damn, I’m so sorry! What kind of thing has been happening? I have been getting more than one person who’s said they’re having problems with Disqus, so I’m pretty close to giving it up as a plug-in.

      So, Stiefvater — there’s some romance in the series, yes. But I would say overwhelmingly they’re books about friendships, and how friendship is as important as, and often more important than, romance. If that makes a difference to you? It’s got romance, but not nearly as much romance as friendship and adventure.

  • Kim Aippersbach

    Oh, Maggie Stiefvater makes me so happy! I kept interrupting my husband and reading passages to him: see why this is such a good book that I can’t pay any attention to you?
    (Spoilers in this comment.)

    Fave scene? Possibly the amazing metaphor for Adam’s kiss. Or the scene when they all show up in the cave and Gansey can’t believe it (really, Gansey, after all this time?) Love how it echoes the scene when they show up at the trial for Adam. I had no problem with Glendower being dead, because it was so clear Gansey was the Raven King. Love how they’re all kings, actually. (Oh, I get it: Raven boys, Raven king …)

    I found this one the most horrific and frightening of the four; there were scenes that verged on too terrible for me to read, but it’s very much an illustration of that comment about fairy tales (C.S. Lewis??): kids don’t need to know there’s no monsters, they need to know monsters can be killed. (Something like that.)

    Totally agree with your Number 4; there were actually several times in the series where I felt, “that was so easy, after all that build-up.” And I’d add that—much as I’m glad at how everything turned out!—it almost felt like there wasn’t actually enough sacrificed. When Ronan asked Cabeswater to sacrifice itself, I thought “noooo!”, but I thought it was appropriate, and I even thought it might mean that Ronan and/or Adam would lose their magic, and I thought that would be sad but also appropriate. Or that Gansey would be different in a way that was a loss, somehow. But I’m not complaining about the happy ending!

    Thanks for your post: I have no idea how I’m going to review this one. How to adequately portray its awesomeness!

  • I remembered I hadn’t read this yet, so I came and read it (along with all the comments) and now I have EVEN MORE EMOTIONS about the series. You’ve summed it up so beautifully. I knew I wasn’t gonna be able to manage anything this coherent, so I didn’t even try. Maybe next time I reread the whole series, I’ll write a thoughtful and reasoned response to the whole thing.

    All their friendships and becomings and realizations… GAH. I love them all so much.

    SPOILER: I also wish they’d had more time to mourn Noah. I always knew they couldn’t keep him, much as I hoped things would play out otherwise, and I want to see how they cope with his loss. I suppose he’s really been slipping away since the moment they learned he was dead so there’s been a certain amount of long form grief spread across all four books and basically culminating in Blue and Noah’s moment under the tree, but still. NOAH.

    (Also, I feel compelled to state that I always knew he was a ghost because he so obviously didn’t go to any classes. However, I did miss the “I’ve been dead for seven years” thing the first time through, possibly because I listened to it while I decorated a Christmas tree.)