It’s time for our Coven Chat about Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. If you haven’t read the series yet, please remember that spoilers lie ahead, beware!
Allison: Overall, the best thing about this series is the writing. Really, I don’t always care about writing style that much. I’m in it for the stories. If a story is well crafted and the prose doesn’t get in the way, I’m usually happy. But these books are gorgeously written and especially for The Raven King, it’s all that matters. Whether or not I like the Glendower storyline matters very little in the face of the writing and I love that.
Alyssa: Yes, Stiefvater’s writing is fantastic. Her rich and interesting characters make up for some weaknesses in the storyline.
Nicola: One of the things I’ve always loved about this series is the way that sometimes I catch myself reading 100 pages and being utterly unable to put into words what happened in the story, but being so completely engrossed I can’t wait to go back. There’s something about the characters and the worldbuilding that’s so completely encompassing, so that even when the plot moves at a leisurely pace it never feels like the story is stagnant.
Allison: Stiefvater writes amazing characters. I love how well I felt I knew the main cast in these books. There’s so much depth to each of the boys, as well as Blue (though I do feel she’s the least developed of the four). Even though I read the first three books over a year ago, my memories of character are incredibly vivid.
Nicola: Yes, the characters are so vivid. Partly because of that, though, I was disappointed that we didn’t see more of Blue in The Raven King.
Allison: I agree! There was a lot going on in terms of characters, both old and new, which I think is always the issue with the last book in a series. It struck me right away that she faded out a little in this one.
Nicola: Although characters like Adam and Gansey arguably have backgrounds more similar to the audience’s, Blue always felt to me like the novel’s ‘gateway’ character, the one through whose eyes we’re introduced to the wo rld and the story, perhaps because she comes to the group of Raven Boys as an outsider, as someone who is unfamiliar with the quest for Glendower, and in spite of her rather unconventional family she still feels like a ‘normal’ teenage girl, far more normal than a group of boys, two of whom have died and another of whom can pull things out of dreams, who chase after an ancient king. As such, she felt like the protagonist, and I rather missed her presence in this book, which focussed much more on Gansey, Ronan and Adam (even though I love those three as well). I also missed Noah in this book, although his gradual corruption was foreshadowed earlier in the series. He is, after all, dead. I did appreciate, however, that he still got to play a role in not only the culmination of the story, but also in the moment that set it all in motion.
Allison: Yes, it’s interesting that this series is primarily about male characters, even though Blue is set up as the protagonist. I’ve come to expect that the series I like best will probably have primarily female characters, so aspect of things has consistently surprised me. I really enjoyed getting to know each of the boys individually. Ronan is definitely my favorite, overall. I was, however, disappointed that Blue doesn’t have a female friend her own age that is an active part of the story. This series plays into a “I’m not like other girls, so I’m friends with boys” stereotype that makes me a little uncomfortable at times.
Nicola: This is a good point. I think it’s ameliorated somewhat by the fact that Blue’s life is filled with interesting, supportive women, as well as that the series makes it clear she didn’t have ANY friends before she met her Raven boys, but it does still fall into the “not like other girls” stereotype.
Alyssa: I agree. If we didn’t have the women of 300 Fox Way, then I would have found Blue’s friendship with only boys–the Raven Boys–more problematic because she does fall into the “not like other girls” stereotype. But it seems that Blue may be aware that she falls into this stereotype and perhaps is slightly critical of her own biases. Is Stiefvater critiquing such stereotypes while also celebrating Blue’s friendship with all males? I’m not sure.
Allison: Even though Blue doesn’t have female friends, there are lots of great women in these books. I appreciate that they range from good, to ambiguous, to outright evil. And I love that they are psychics. It’s a magical system that isn’t used a lot in fantasy, which tends to hone in on more exciting forms of magic, but I find divination really interesting. I also like that they’re all performing their craft in different ways. From classic tarot cards to pay-by-the-minute psychic readings, I like that the women Blue lives with have true abilities, but have to make a living in some nearly mundane ways.
Nicola: Yes! One of my favourite things about urban fantasy is the way it intermingles the magical and the mundane. The women of 300 Fox Way have magical talents, and Stiefvater could have gone the other way and had them hold down mundane careers and keep the psychic stuff to themselves, but instead they bring their magical talents into the mundane world and make a living with them. For some of them that comes with all the trappings that mundane customers expect when they go to a tarot reading, whether or not it’s necessary for the divination to actually work, whereas others are much more modern. And I really liked the contrast between Neeve and the rest of the psychics, in that it’s clear the others do draw a line in terms of how public they’re willing to go.
Alyssa: Yes, I love how Stiefvater mixes the magical and the mundane into all of her characters. I also love that the women of 300 of Fox Way are psychics, and that the other characters have diverse magical abilities. Ronan’s dreaming ability is my favorite.
Allison: Ronan is my favorite character, primarily because he is so well developed. We get to know him and his motivations the best, as well as his family’s struggle overall, and I appreciate that.
Alyssa: Ronan’s probably my favorite character, too, for the reasons you mentioned and because of his magical ability. Adam is also one of my favorite characters because, like Ronan, he struggles with powerful magical abilities (Cabeswater) and with serious family issues. Their romance is my favorite because of what they have in common and how they support one another.
Allison: Oh yeah, the Ronan+Adam (Rodam? Adron? Whatever…) romance was definitely the one I had the most invested in. Gansey and Blue seemed like endgame no matter what to me, but Ronan and Adam were unpredictable.
Alyssa: I like that it worked in this series that Adam and Blue had a bit of a romance in the first book, and that Ronan and Adam didn’t get together until the end of the series. I’m curious. Did you see it coming? I think Stiefvater did a good job of hinting that it could happen, but she didn’t make a big deal out of it.
Allison: I did see it coming from Ronan’s end, but I wasn’t sure about Adam, which I liked a lot. It wasn’t a question of “is Adam gay?” but “Is Adam ready to be involved with anyone, let alone Ronan?” I really appreciate how both Adam and Ronan evolve as individual characters in this book and, of course, how they eventually grow together. I enjoyed their love story the most.
Nicola: Me too! I love how their developing relationship involves both of them growing as individuals.
Allison: I said this in my rec, but I really enjoyed the way that Stiefvater grows the characters into adulthood throughout the series, and I think that culminates a lot in this book. The extreme circumstances that they go through makes them into adults in a really cool way.
Nicola: There was one paragraph when Blue’s fetching her bike after school and feels totally out of touch with her classmates, like she and her friends are all a thousand years old:
She felt one thousand years old. She also felt like maybe she was a condescending brat […] She wanted her friends, who were also one-thousand-year-old condescending brats. She wanted to live in a world where she was surrounded by one-thousand-year-old condescending brats.
It made me laugh because it’s such a perfect representation of not only Blue and her friends, but so many teenagers in YA in general.
Allison: I completely agree. Something we’ve all said at one point or another is that this series is a really interesting mix of extremely ordinary teenage behavior mixed in with extraordinary circumstances, which is why Gansey’s search for Glendower as the primary motivation for all of the action in the series leaves me a little cold. The Cabeswater storyline (even though it related to the Glendower theme) made more sense to me in terms of the characters themselves. There’s a part of me that wishes that had been the center of the series, and in some ways it is, which makes the Glendower search seem a bit peripheral at times.
Alyssa: Yes,I was more interested in Gansey’s search for Glendower earlier on in the series, and I think the storyline falls flat compared to Cabeswater and the characters’ magical abilities. I was slightly disappointed by how Stiefvater wrapped up the Glendower storyline in the end. But I loved all of the secondary characters involved in the storyline–Mr. Gray, Laumonier, Piper, Greenmantle, Henry, Malory, Gwenllian, Artemus–even if the search for the dead king didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
Allison: Even though the Glendower storyline didn’t quite work for me, I kind of liked the fact that there were aspects of The Raven King that were totally predictable (and if you read Maggie Stiefvater’s blog she promised that they would be over and over). But things happen in ways that you don’t expect, which I also like a lot. I even liked that Gansey dies (like you knew he was going to) and he comes back (which you knew he would). Sometimes I hate that kind of predictability, but in this case it worked for me.
Alyssa: Yes, I think Stiefvater is really good at balancing the unpredictable and predictable. In some ways this is such an unusual series, but we also know from the first few pages of The Raven Boys that Blue will fall in love with Gansey, and he will die. And his coming back to life at the end of the series brings the right amount of hope without being corny.
Allison: I totally agree. I feel like things wrapped up nicely.
Thanks so much for joining us today! Let us know what you thought about the series in the comments.