Wednesday, April 27, 2016

REVIEW | The Raven Boys + 2 by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Awards: None
Format: Audio (CDs from Library)
Narrator: Will Patton

The Raven Boys (#1) - Publication Year: 2011 
The Dream Thieves (#2) - Publication Year: 2013
Blue Lily, Lily Blue (#3)- Publication Year: 2014

I'm timing my review of the first three books in this series to coincide with the very exciting April 26th release of the fourth and final installment of the series, Raven King!  I haven't read it yet but, as it will become apparent below, I can't wait to get my hands on it!

Last year I met and fell in love with Maggie Stiefvater.  Well, at least her books. I didn't meet her personally and am not sure whether I would have amorous feelings towards her or not though if she in anyway is the embodiment of her books...maybe. Anyhoo. I specifically started reading The Raven Cycle.  This series tells the story of four teenagers who are on a quest to find a dead (or is he just sleeping?) Welsh king and wake him up.  It is set in the fictional rural(ish) Virginia town of Henrietta where Aglionby Academy, a very exclusive boarding school for rich boys, sits uncomfortably among the blue-collar mountain-folk townies.

The cast is as follows:
First the so-called Raven Boys (the raven is the Aglionby Mascot hence the moniker)...
Richard "Dick" Gansy, III, aka Gansy, is the leader of a small band of misfits while he himself manages to be the the very epitome of an Aglionby Raven. At least on the surface.  Deep down he is a very unique soul and it is his obsession that at first that drives the search for Glyndower, a Welsh king who is said to be only sleeping. Gansy is very proper, can be patronizing but is also extremely loyal, curious and active.
Ronan Lynch is one of Gansy's first friends at Aglionby and like Gansy he comes from a rich family but we are given to understand that the recent death of his father has changed him into the very epitome of an angry young man.  Ronan is rude, crude, brash, quick-tempered, uninterested in school but he also has a surprisingly soft heart and he almost worships Gansy.
Adam Parrish is a townie who has secured himself a position at Aglionby despite being from a very poor home. He has also managed to earn Gansy's respect and friendship though the difference in their social station is a constant strain.  He is smart, driven, proud, funny and sweet but he is also very damaged by a violent and rocky home life.
Noah Czerny is a part of the group but no one is sure how.  He lives with Ronan and Gansy at a big converted warehouse called Monmouth Manufacturing and he has a huge secret.
Now for the Non-Aglionby Cast....
Blue Sargent is a non-psychic living in a chaotic house filled with psychic women including her mother Moira and Moira's two best friends Calla and Persephone. Generally she is disdainful of the boys from Aglionby Academy and avoids them like the plague.  However she strikes up a friendship/flirtation with Adam after meeting him while waiting tables at the local pizza joint. As Adam starts to invite her to hang with the four of them, she gets pulled into the quest for Glyndower as eventually do all the women in her household.

Now for the individual books:

The Raven Boys

The story kicks off with Blue.  All her life she has been told that if she kisses her true love he will die.  As a result, at 16, she has mostly avoided boys so she has not been in any danger of killing anyone.  Then one night she accompanies her Aunt to a nearby graveyard to help her record the spirits walking along a special path which represent those who will die in the year to come.  Blue can't usually see them but she serves as an amplifier of psychic power for the gifted in her family.  On this night Blue does see someone, a boy in an Aglionby uniform.  Her mother and Aunt believe she was able to see him because a) he is her true love or b) she will be responsible for his death or c) based on the prediction about her, possibly both.   It is therefore ominous when shortly thereafter she meets and begins to hang out with a group of four Aglionby boys.  It seems to be her destiny because her entry into the group is a catalyst for forward momentum in the search for the Welsh King Glyndower who is rumored to be sleeping among the hills around Henrietta.  She educates the boys about Ley Lines which are thick around Henrietta, and soon they discover an enchanted living forest that seems to blink in and out of existence and is called Cabeswater.

It is a little odd how much I love this first book because the supernatural and magical elements are actually pretty subtle so what your left with is contemporary drama amongst teenagers.  This is not usually my thing but Stiefvater's writing has a way of making everything seem somewhat magical and dreamy even if the actual occurrences of magic are rather slim.  She uses language so beautifully that it is sometime poetic but it's also really slyly humorous which keeps it from being stuffy or bloated.

I love how she depicts the teenagers even though one of the main complaints I read about the series is that the teenagers aren't very realistic.  Certainly they are pretty odd and unique and their dialogue is perhaps a little too sophisticated but their interactions and reactions felt very real to me.

This first book is probably my favorite.  It totally sucked me in and got me invested in the characters.


FINAL VERDICT:  Funny, compelling, dreamy and the perfect introduction to Blue and the Raven Boys.  LOVED IT.  4 out of 5 Stars

The Dream Thieves

The drama and angst really kick into high gear in this second book of the Raven cycle and not always in a good way in my opinion.  The Raven Boys was a lightly fantastical story of Welsh myth and unlikely friends.  The Dream Thieves introduces some strong magic, some ambiguous bad guys and LOTS of CW drama between the friends.

Thankfully, Stiefvater's writing, which is unique, beautiful and so cleverly and dryly witty, somehow converts much of the drama into meaningful character and relationship development.  Adam and Blue both take it on the chin a bit which was hard to take because they are my favorites but both characters are at an interesting place by the end of the book.  I could've easily hated Blue for hurting Adam (who I just want to cuddle like a kicked puppy) but Stiefvater is mistress enough that I still love Blue and I believe in how she and Gansy are slowly drawn to each other.  She leaves me staunchly on team Adam but still loving Gansy and Blue.  How does Stiefvater do that???

This book also gives us the opportunity to get to know Ronan more intimately and it is a wild and mostly fun ride.  I enjoyed the added character of Kavinsky though the way Will Patton read him was a little ridiculous (very over-the-top New Jersey - very wise guy sounding). I felt like he gave me a look at what Ronan could be without Gansy which once again emphasizes the magic of these friendships.  I also really enjoyed the addition of the enigmatic Gray Man and even though it is a little cliched, his character arc was great.
“And Ronan was everything that was left: molten eyes and a smile made for war.”
 “She wore a dress Ronan thought looked like a lampshade. Whatever sort of lamp it belonged on, Gansey clearly wished he had one. Ronan wasn't a fan of lamps.” 
In the end the book tells a very interesting story but it did only feel only loosely connected to the first book and the quest for Glyndower.

FINAL VERDICT: While I didn't at first think I liked this book as much as book 1, by the end and upon reflection it had captured my heart maybe just a smidge less than book one.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

I still loved this book but of the three it definitely fell down a (small) notch. I really enjoyed the ride but it did feel a teensy weensy bit unfocused and it left me with so many questions.  Questions like:

Why exactly, between The Dream Thieves and this book, did Blue's mother Moira go marching off into the caves to get lost for months?  I know she has been somewhat curious about the whereabouts of Blue's father but not rabidly enough to abandon her daughter and newly found love, and possibly kill herself looking for a man that disappeared 17 years ago.  But maybe I missed something?  Since Moira's disappearance and rescue drives a lot of the action in the book I wanted it to be a bit better explained especially since abandoning her daughter doesn't really seem like Moira's style.

Why did the kids plus Calla/Persephone take so long to find Moira (months) when Greenmantle's wife Piper finds her in a matter of days?

And what's up with Piper?  What is she even after?  Her motivations are very unclear and the fact that she, and not her husband, ended up being the real danger, just felt like a cheap misdirection.

What was the point of Mallory in the story?  Comic Relief? To offend all British citizens?

How does Ronan get out of the cave with the dead mirror lake?

Okay, I'll stop just asking questions though if you think you can answer any of them, I would love to be enlightened.  Ahem.  Despite its lack of focus the book does make some relatively significant progress in the search for Glyndower and sets up the final book really well.

I totally ship Ronan and Adam now.
“I know when I'm awake and when I'm asleep," Ronan Lynch said.Adam Parrish, curled over himself in a pair of battered, greasy coveralls, asked, "Do you?""Maybe I dreamt you," he said. "Thanks for the straight teeth, then," Adam replied.” 
I was very saddened by certain events.  Beware.

FINAL VERDICT:  Though a little unfocused I still really enjoyed the book and felt like it made some good progress towards the end game and the final book in the series.  3 out of 5 stars.

Before I wrap things up I should take a moment to speak about the narration of the audio books which is how I consumed the whole series.  I can't decide if Will Patton is the perfect narrator or an odd choice. He's definitely got a unique voice and I grew to really like it but there were times when he made some not so great choices like how he voiced Kavinsky.

I highly recommend this series. I have fallen in love with Maggie Stiefvater's writing and I will definitely be checking out everything else she has written after I have voraciously read The Raven King!

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