Series Review: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

This series. I have so many mixed feeling about this series. It’s actually rare for me not to have mixed feelings about a series, though. I will say that I think these books are overrated. *hides so no one throws rocks at me* Still, I enjoyed The Raven Cycle overall. The series is worth a read if you like moody, slow-burn magic realism stories with occasional high-fantasy elements. Downsides: the love triangle (square? pentagon?) and a hipster MC may be hard to stomach for four books. But the series was quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Anyway, without further ado, here are my reviews for each book. If you haven’t read any books in the series, I recommend reading only the review for The Raven Boys, as the other reviews may contain spoilers for previous books.

The Raven Boys

This was a really interesting read, the main reason being that Stiefvater masterfully weaves mythology and folklore into the story. I love that she delves into legends that aren’t mentioned as commonly. So many people have written about Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, and while these works may be incredibly well-written and cherishable, they don’t introduce us to new figures. (Seriously, if you don’t know at least a few gods/goddesses from the aforementioned three pantheons, you must have been living under a rock your whole life). Stiefvater gives us Welsh mythology and psychics. How much do any of us know offhand about that? I, personally, didn’t know much, so I felt the same sense of wonder as I did when I was a kid reading about the more-well known deities of classical and Nordic myths.

That being said, I’m pretty sure she created some of these concepts for her own world, but boy did it work. Every psychic episode thrilled me, as did the exploration of the forest called Cabeswater. It was all so eerie (I love eerie). Her writing shone in these scenes more than any of the others: they were brilliantly executed.

Most of the time, I didn’t know where the plot was going — not in a suspenseful way, but more in a meandering sort of way, which usually annoys me — but it didn’t bother me in this book. I was always drawn back to it. I just wish the pace of the story had been a bit quicker.

Other issue: vague, abstract language. To say that something “smells like dreams” (this was actually pulled from the sequel The Dream Thieves, but stuff like this peppers The Raven Boys as well) tells us nothing. What does a dream smell like? It’s a just flowery, show-offy phrase. Her writing would be stronger without eye-roll-inducing sentences like that.

As for characters, I found them likable and reasonably well-developed. Gansey and Blue stood out in particular as real people rather than caricatures. Ronan, to me, was the archetypal bad boy and therefore none too impressive. Adam was very real, as well, but his ungrateful, too-proud personality angered me. I guess that’s part of creating a good, realistic character, though, and it was necessary in order for his actions at the climax/end to make sense.

Speaking of the ending/climax, it didn’t suit me. It just didn’t match the tone of the story in my opinion — too much physicality all of a sudden, and too easy an escape from the primary danger that had been building steadily. But Stiefvater left enough juicy cliffhangers for me to overlook that part.

The Dream Thieves

Woot! It was good to get back into this world. It wasn’t quite as mystical as before, but character development, new complications, and different magic make up for it.

Character development: I didn’t like Ronan before, but I like him now. Once you start to hang out with him more, as it were, he’s not such a bad guy, after all. I can see that there is so much more to him, so much that is haunting him, what with the loss of both of his parents, his hatred for his older brother and his need to protect his younger one. Also, his strange blessing/curse of an ability, which leads me to

Different magic: The cliffhanger from The Raven Boys continues here. He can pull things out of his dreams, but he can’t always control this ability. Some of the things that come out are alive, and not all of them are friendly. In this way, the tone of the story falls more in line with The Raven Boys’ climax. Very visceral and physical. I didn’t mind that so much this time around — it raised the stakes a bit.

New complications: Oh, boy. Where to begin? Adam’s composure is slowly slipping, and it has a lot to do with his ongoing struggle to make ends meet, but it’s also because of the taxing effects of Adam’s new relationship with Cabeswater and his anger that his relationship with Blue is going nowhere. Blue is starting to realize her feelings for Gansey, which is problematic because of that dreaded prophecy. And new villains, since the last one was ever-so-conveniently killed off. What I like about them is that they’re both sort of morally ambiguous. One is a highly intelligent and charismatic hit-man with a childhood trauma. His decisions always teeter on the brink of good and evil, and his life is inextricably connected to Ronan’s. The other villain is fellow student asshole who is competitive with Ronan but begins to teach him how to hone his ability.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT BELOW

Once again, the villain is conveniently killed off my supernatural events near the end of the book. Stiefvater is a great storyteller, but I don’t think she should make a pattern of this. It seems sort of careless. This death in particular didn’t make much sense, as the character let it happen (and didn’t seem like the sort of person who would do that).

My other issue, as I mentioned with TRB, is occasional vague language. Oh, well.

New dream magic and mysteries abound, and that, plus those likeable and eccentric characters, make this worth the read.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

I don’t know what to say this time, as I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed the other two books. It kind of feels like similar things keep happening in each book, and it takes away from the feeling of the whole story line actually progressing. The series and each individual book feel like they are moving very slowly. There are some interesting new discoveries and characters in this book, and I am very attached to the gang, but overall, I didn’t find the story all that compelling. And Piper, yet another new villain, is annoying as all get out. It’s rare that I am annoyed with rather than angered by/afraid of villain. Also, when the villain has the same voice as one of the main characters (i.e. same type of syntax, sayings), it comes off as the author’s voice rather than the voice of the individual characters.

The Raven King

As much as I really did enjoy this series, I never quite understood the hype. The final book is underwhelming in terms of the magic that hooked me in the first book. However, the relationships between the characters gave me the warm fuzzies because I felt like I’d become friends with them by then. That’s the thing about certain book series. The characters go through stuff together, but they go through stuff together with you. You can’t help but form a sort of bond. Overall, at the very end, it left me with more of a 3.5 star feeling for a series that was a solid 3 stars for me before. I’m sorry I didn’t write more on this one. I didn’t write a lot about Blue Lily, Lily Blue because I was frustrated with it, but this time, I don’t want to get too spoilery.

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