Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Raven Cycle Concludes

Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle series of YA fantasy books concludes with the fourth book in the series, The Raven King. The Raven Cycle opened with The Raven Boys (GLW review) and was followed by The Dream Theives (GLW review) and Blue, Lily, Lily, Blue (GLW review). Put together they represent an epic achievement in young adult fantasy literature.

A quick synopsis is difficult, not only because The Raven King comes at the end of the series, but because the whole Raven Cycle is so rich and so strange. Blue Sargent is a high school kid who lives with her mother, a psychic and several other women psychics who do readings and other supernatural services for ctizens in the town of Henrietta, VA. Blue isn't psychic herself but she tends to amplify the psychic abilities of those around her. She's been told lots of things by her mother and the other psychic women. For one: don't hang around with Raven Boys--the name given to students at Aglionby, the exclusive all boys boarding school in town. For another: Blue is told if she kisses her true love, he will die. These are good psychics and Blue is pretty convinced that they are right.

So, of course, she starts hanging out with a group of Raven boys and inevitably falls in love with one of them. The group is led by Richard Gansey III--known to his friends as just Gansey--the promising youngest boy of a wealthy and powerful political family. Gansey is not interested in politics or power or anything but finding and waking Glendower, an ancient Welsh king magically put to sleep centuries ago and somehow transported from Wales to Virginia. Whoever finds and wakes him will, apparently, be granted a wish. That's just the start, the strangeness and beauty of the natural and supernatural landscape around Henrietta drive Stiefvater's imagination to ever more wondrous things. Really, nothing is off limits.

Without revealing any spoilers I can give you this: by book 4, one of Blue's closest friends is a ghost who, while previously benign is starting to act like the really deadly horror movie kind of ghost; Blue's favorite place is a magical forest where the trees speak but mostly in beginning high school Latin; Blue is still in love with one Raven boy and is growing ever more intimate with him while avoiding thus far the fatal kiss, and a lot of odd things have come up from underground and well as from out of dreams, but none of them is Glendower. Also, Blue keeps meeting Raven boys, and much to her surprise and disgust, she keeps finding things to like about them.

In each of the four books, there are new allies and new villains for Blue and the boys to contend with on their quest, but while each book follows its own arc, they work together beautifully to form a single epic narrative. And while the fantasy elements in the Raven Cycle's are some of the most striking in the genre, that's not even Stiefvater's greatest strength. More than anything the Raven Cycle is about the relationships between it's characters, about how their effected by class and culture and upbringing and how different kinds of love can overcome it all. With few exceptions these relationships are far deeper, more conflicted and more complex, and thus more real, than what your likely to find in other YA fantasy. most striking in the genre, that's not even Stiefvater's greatest strength. More than anything the Raven Cycle is about the relationships between it's characters, about how their effected by class and culture and upbringing and how different kinds of love can overcome it all. With few exceptions these relationships are far deeper, more conflicted and more complex, and thus more real, than what your likely to find in other YA fantasy.


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