The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
“He was a book, and he was holding his final pages, and he wanted to get to the end to find out how it went, and he didn’t want it to be over.”
The fourth and final book in The Raven Cycle was perhaps one of the most highly anticipated YA novels of 2016. I pre-ordered the novel months in advance and screamed in joy when it finally arrived. My family knows better than to speak to me when I read, so I spent two full days reading the novel. The plan was to savour the book, read it over several days, but, as usual, that fell through.
There were several things fans had been dying to see in the concluding novel: we all know that Blue’s true love is Gansey, and that it is her destiny to kill her true love, so we’re all left wondering just how the hell Maggie Stiefvater was going to work her way around this trap she had neatly embroiled herself in. We were also waiting for the long awaited Pynch kiss that Stiefvater had teased over a year ago. And finally, the discovery of Owen Glendower was, at least for me, the culminating revelation that I was most excited about.
Unfortunately, these fell a little short for me. And trust me when I say that was difficult to write, because I deeply love these characters and I found myself faced with a terrible decision: do I rate this book based on my feelings or based on actual facts? I decided to go with facts.
(warning: spoilers below)
Glendower: Gansey finally finds Glendower after years of searching, only to find the long-lost king dead and not sleeping as Gwen had been in Blue Lily, Lily Blue. And that really confused me. I had suspected that Glendower would be dead when he was found, but why was he? Gwen wasn’t. How did he die? Had he always been dead or did he die after centuries? I mean, the entire series’ premise is Gansey finding this lost king and asking him for a favour and then it … just doesn’t happen. I felt so cheated. The final 50 pages felt very anticlimactic. The rest of the book moved at a slow pace, which I enjoyed, and yet the last couple of chapters sped up very quickly and all of a sudden Gansey is following some random birds and he finds Glendower. He finds Glendower in the very spot Gansey almost died years ago. Obviously, there is a connection and yet I cannot make sense of it. Because that brings up more questions than it answers. From my understanding, Glendower was the one who saved Gansey all those years ago, because that’s what sets Gansey on his life-long mission to finding Glendower in the first place. He was told to. But if Glendower was dead, he could not have saved Gansey. So who did? Cabeswater? The ley line? The demon? Gwenllian? Fate? For myself, it would make the most sense if Glendower saved him, considering Gansey was saved above the very spot Glendower was buried. Is that not what the past three books were suggesting? Unless I misinterpreted it, and if someone knows the answer, please do not hesitate to comment and let me know.
New characters and extra chapters: I was also very confused by the inclusion of certain characters. All of a sudden, we are introduced to chapters from the perspectives of extra and new characters: Gwen, Piper, Neeve, Lauminor and even the demon. Some of these chapters were important, I understand. But others not at all. I was not entirely sure of the relevance of Piper trying to sell the demon: if I had a demon I would use it to take over the world, not sell it to the highest bidder. Why was it so important that Lauminor was her father? These people and their storylines, to me, did not correlate with the main plot of the series. With the inclusion of these characters, I felt like we barely saw the original ones: Noah was all but lost to this story, he was in it for like 5 minutes. We barely even saw Blue!
The writing style: I love Maggie Stiefvater’s writing style. She is verbose, yet subtle and really makes the reader think. The same cannot be said for this book. Almost every chapter started with “Depending on where you begin, this story is about …” I practically groaned every time I read that. It got dry so quickly. I read a review months ago on this book where someone commented that each chapter felt like its own story, rather than a part of novel, and I can’t help but agree. The style of writing effected the progression of the story to the point where it felt as though nothing happened, at least until the last few chapters.
Henry Cheng: I am about to say some potentially scandalous remarks, so please do not get angry. I did not like Henry Cheng. I mean, he was a nice guy, but did he truly have any relevance to the book? No. His robotic bee was weird and just plain silly. The fact that his mother was another Greywaren was just as confusing, because it had me wondering just how many dream walkers there are in the world. I would say Cheng’s only importance in the novel was the fact that he gave Gansey his school sweater that he dies in. The book could have focussed more on our beloved original characters, instead of this newbie and would have been much better off for it, too.
The ending: In order to save Ronan and Adam, a willing sacrifice must be offered. Gansey makes that sacrifice with his life by getting Blue to kiss him, fulfilling her prophecy. The scene occurred very quickly for me, and I had to read over the kiss and Gansey’s reanimation several times to understand it. The 6.21 thing also took a while to understand.
Questions: I have so many questions after reading this book.
- How did Glendower die?
- Why did he die when the demon and his daughter didn’t?
- Was he always dead?
- Who brought Gansey back to life?
- Where is the Grey Man?
- Will he come back or run forever?
- Does Blue have the ability to turn into a tree like her dad?
- If she can, does that mean she’s immortal?
- Why did Henry go away with Blue and Gansey?
- Will Henry, Gansey and Blue end up in a polyamorous relationship now that they’ve run off altogether?
- When Blue and Gansey kiss again, will he die once more or was it only the one time?
- What in the hell was the point of Robobee?
- What was the point of Orphan Girl?
- Will Adam and Ronan adopt Orphan Girl?
- Will Adam and Ronan date?
- How will they date if Adam is away at college?
- Why was Noah so insignificant?
- If his body was still on the ley line, why can’t he come back if Gansey can?
- Or at least continue as a ghost?
- Was it because he was dead for too long?
The final book in a series supposed to answer the questions posed in the first novel, not add to them. Unfortunately, this was not the case here.
Now, while I found the book confusing and all-over-the-place, I did enjoy some parts, too.
Characterisation: The characters really shined in this book. Blue was fantastic as usual and I enjoyed reading about her questioning what she is going to do with her future. Gansey was beautiful: in the other books we get this superficial version of Gansey who is almost too good to be true. His friends revere him like a king. Here, we see that he is flawed and sacred and just a boy who thinks he is going to die. Adam really grew in this book, too. He is no longer afraid of his father and able to acknowledge the abuse he suffered was terrible. His feelings for Ronan were wonderful to see grow. Speaking of … I just adore Ronan. He has been my favourite character since book one. To watch him come to terms with his feelings was amazing. He is not just the rough, sullen, closeted gay boy – he is gentle, loving, sweet and protective.
Relationships: I loved watching Blue and Gansey date. The scenes where they go on secret dates were precious to read, but I loved the moment where they tell Adam they are dating. I was happy to see them take into account his feelings. But, my favourite couple is, of course, Adam and Ronan. It begins as a secret crush in The Dream Thieves and progresses into so much more. Adam talking about his feelings for Ronan to Gansey made me laugh out loud. The kiss scene was beautiful, but I would have preferred a few more scenes with them together, perhaps acknowledging that they are going to be together. I liked that Ronan stated he wasn’t asking Adam to stay, only to come back, although I think the scene could have been better if he had actually said that to Adam, as opposed to just think it.
In the case of The Raven King, I think the hype for the book ruined the reading of it for me. I became so excited and caught up in the hysteria that I ended up with a bunch of expectations. I still love this series, but I wish the book had explained things a little better.
Buy the book here.