Saturday, July 9, 2016

7/9/2016 - Collection month, Week 1 - Maggie Stiefvater - The Raven Cycle

Four books: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Lily Blue, Blue Lily, and The Raven King

A friend of my wife recommended these, so she read them, and then handed them to me. She contended that I should review them one at a time, and read them as I reviewed them, but I'm an idiot and didn't do that. Instead, I read them all at once. Well, that's a lie, I read them all in a row, but with other books in between them, and I really shouldn't have done that, because there is a fantastic growth of characters, style, and strength of writing over the course of the series. That's lost, a little (for reviewing purposes) when read all together. So, this is not as good a review as it could be, because I should have spent all month reviewing them one at a time. Oh well.

These books are fantastic. Book one starts slow, with a standard introduction of characters - the Raven boys are attending a private boarding school in rural Virginia (I love boarding school novels, but this isn't really a boarding school novel), the mascot/crest is a raven. Richard Gansey III (Gansey), Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch - Gansey and Ronan share an apartment off campus, Adam rounds out their Three Musketeers, but refuses to live with them. Blue is a townie, and the child of a family of psychics. She's known since early childhood that when she kisses her true love, he will die. And, at the beginning of this book, we learn that this year will be the year in which that happens. Oh, and Blue is not herself psychic; however, she enhances the abilities of psychics when she's around. She meets the Raven boys when they come for a reading - Gansey is searching for the tomb of a Welsh king he believes was shipped to the New World for a hidden burial - he believes the tomb is nearby, and has something to do with the local ley lines. So, it's a coming of age series (as suggested by the themes of love, and the incidental setting of a boarding school), it's a fantasy series (as suggested by the psychics and the ley lines), it's a mystery/exploration series (as suggested by the lost king's tomb), and it's also shockingly, amazingly deep. Three books in, my wife said to me that she thought it might, for the right sort of reader, be a "warm blanket" series - the sort of books that you return to when everything around you seems confusing and gross. Having read the books, I concur - the characters deal with and resolve mysteries of missing Welsh kings and magic, but also the more mundane mysteries of love, friendship, family, loyalty and making the sort of decisions about life paths that create the sense of confusion and grossness which precipitates the need for such "warm blanket" books. At the end of the series, there is a strong sense that, even if not everything ends happily, everything ends, and sometimes happiness can be wrung, through great effort, from the ending of things. There is a delight and a comfort in watching other people struggle with, and overcome, issues of life.

Oh, but these books are also more than that! I read them in and amidst June's poetry, and Stiefvater has a decidedly poetic style. As the series grows, so too does the style; Stiefvater uses language with a delightful and delicate touch that builds a sense of character, enhances the tension of the novels, and, really, makes these a pure joy to read.

I can't guarantee that they will be "warm blanket" books for you - I don't think they will be for me, because I already have a number of those tucked away as needed - but I can say this: if you like mysteries magical and mundane, books about love, life, and loyalty, strong characters who consistently surprise and delight, and poetic language which does not detract from the solidity of the overall work, then you will almost certainly like these books.