No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, June 12, 2016

2016/37: The Raven King -- Maggie Stiefvater

It was a far more terrifying idea to imagine how much control he really had over how his life turned out. Easier to believe that he was a gallant ship tossed by fate than to captain it himself.[loc. 4176]

I don't think I can write an interesting and critical review of this final novel in the Raven Cycle without spoilers. Ye be warned.

In The Raven King, all -- most -- of the threads of the story come together. The quest for Glendower; the predictions made by Blue's family, and by the plethora of psychics that Gansey has consulted over the years; the magical community's interest in the Lynch family; the waking of the third sleeper; various flavours of sizzling romantic tension. There are frightened monsters, a toga party, sticky minutes*, ancient tree-spirits, racist jokes (the protagonists are teenaged and thus imperfect), and an explanation for the appalling Latin of the local magical forest. There are some deaths -- just as when reading the previous novel, I was surprised and shocked -- and some possessions, and a quantity of blood is (or appears to be) shed.

There's a scene where Henry Cheng is explaining the rapidity of his friendship with Gansey: "Not just pals. Friends. Blood brothers. You just feel it. We instead of you and me. That's jeong." [loc. 4420] There's a lot of it around: it defines Gansey's existing relationships with Adam, Noah, Ronan and Blue. They're learning to act together, to be greater than the sum of their parts: in the process, they're beginning to define -- and thus to change -- the relationships they have with one another. Stiefvater has done an exemplary job of differentiating the characters, and demonstrating the unique nature of each relationship in the web. For instance, Blue and Ronan react to one another in an almost fraternal way (and I use the term deliberately, because Ronan treats her as one of the boys). Ronan and Gansey have a quite different, but just as fraternal, bond: maybe Gansey's the older brother Ronan wishes he has instead of Declan. (Declan, neither dream nor dreamer, gets a raw deal, I think: he starts to become rather more interesting in this volume.) Blue and Gansey are in (doomed, storied, tentative) love.

Each of the protagonists, in this novel, is becoming more self-aware. In a previous review I suggested that they all want to be known: in The Raven King, they come to know themselves better. (Actually, this isn't restricted to the teenagers: Mr Gray finds love a transformative force. I suppose you might say the same for Colin Greenmantle.)

A lot of threads are not tied off. Is Noah's circle closed to such an extent that he is no longer remembered? Will Mr Gray ever return to Henrietta? How did the climax of the novel affect various off-stage characters? What are Maura's and Calla's jobs? But there is a satisfactory closure to the main cycle, and to the individual arcs of the protagonists.

The books are not flawless, and neither are the characters, and nor is the plot. Doesn't matter. I was captivated. These are books I will return to at some future date, when my life may be quite different: I hope I will adore them even half as much as I do now.

* in the sense of minutes that stick. 6:21, 6:21, 6:21 ...

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