Note: This is the third book of The Raven Cycle, so the review necessarily contains some spoilers for Books One and Two, but no significant spoilers for this book.
As this is Book Three of a four book series, it would be impossible to review this as a standalone book. As a continuance though, it does not disappoint. Stiefvater’s characters continue to unfold and evolve.
Briefly, the story is about two “families” in Henrietta, Virginia who join forces to find the remains of Owen Glendower, a medieval Welsh noble who disappeared from Wales after fighting the English for Welsh freedom. They all have come to believe Glendower’s body was brought to this area of Virginia which is rich in “ley lines” or trackways emitting a special psychic or mystical energy.
One of these families belongs to Blue Sargent, 16, who lives in a matriarchal group of eccentric and lovable psychics, all of whom are convinced that if Blue kisses her first love, he will die. Blue doesn’t think she has any powers herself except to provide – somehow – amplification of the clairvoyant conversations the others in her family have on a regular basis. But she does believe it would be dangerous for her to fall in love.
In Book One, Blue begins an improbable friendship with four boys from the elite Aglionby Academy, known as Raven Boys after the Aglionby emblem. She is not only drawn to the boys, but also to their quest for Glendower. Her relationship with them is “blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening” and now that she experienced a friendship like this, she wouldn’t want any kind.
The four Raven Boys are as much a family as any forged by blood. Richard Gansey III (called Gansey by the others) is the leader of them all – driven by the desire to find Glendower; caring; nurturing; generous to the others; endearing and earnest.
Adam Parrish, bitter over his impoverished past and his abusive father, is envious of those – like Gansey – who came from privilege and who can make their way in the world with confident ease. But in this book Adam seems to mature a bit and is determined to be “Adam” rather than “Adam-whose-behavior-is-a-function-of-a-bad-childhood.” He strives to appreciate Gansey for being noble and kind, if oblivious and overly optimistic. Adam had thought he wanted Gansey to see how “filthy and violent, and profane, and unfair” the world was. But now, he feels protective of Gansey, thinking it would be preferable if Gansey could somehow keep his rose-colored vision of the world.
Ronan Lynch is as “sharp and dark and dissonant” as Gansey is “soft-edged and organic, faded and homogenous.” But Ronan has a heart as big as Gansey’s, even though he tries to cover up that aspect of himself. And most crucially, Ronan is The Greywaren, who can dream things into being.
Last but not least there is “smudgy” Noah Czerny, limited in what he can bring to the relationship but balancing it somehow.
The boys are endlessly interesting, and in Book Two, their struggles take over the plot, pushing Blue a bit into the background. Book Three, however, begins with Blue’s angst over the disappearance of her mother Maura more than a month earlier on a “mysterious personal quest.” Maura left only a cryptic note reading “Glendower is underground. So am I.”
Some new characters come into play in this book, all of them related in some way to the search for Glendower or The Greywaren. As most of these characters have ill intentions, the tension escalates, and the book ends with a cliffhanger.
Discussion: Stiefvater impresses as always with her flights of felicitous prose, capturing dreams and bringing them to life, perhaps in an analogy to what Ronan can do in fantasy. She writes of Blue:
“The stars moved slowly above her, an array of possibilities, and for the first time in a long time, she felt them mirrored in her heart.”
Sometimes her writing just pierces you with its evocative and lush imagery:
“Yellow apples, bright as butter, peeked from trees on one side of the drive. Some sort of blue flower, improbable, dreamed, ran amok through the grass on the other side.”
This book should not be read on its own, but rather as part of the entire series. But Book Three will draw you even closer to the characters, and you will be eager to see what happens to them next.
Evaluation: Maggie Stiefvater is an engaging storyteller who clearly loves her characters. The protagonists combine – each in a uniquely different way – a welter of hopes, dreams, hurts, and love. They sometimes behave badly, but all have the capacity for heroic virtue. The relationships among them are richly textured and satisfying for their realism as well as the way they tug on your heart. The author is so smooth at investing the everyday with the fantastical that you hardly realize it is happening. It just seems to be the way things are, or perhaps, like just another way to perceive the quotidian.
Rating: 3.5/5 (more a reflection of the book’s middle status than of its likability)
Published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2014