April Book Review: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater


The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4) 
By: Maggie Stiefvater ( @maggie-stiefvater )
Release Date: April 26 2016

*Beware: Spoilers ahead!*

Official Synopsis:

Nothing living is safe.  Nothing dead is to be trusted.

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king.  One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, who life is no longer a life; and Blue, who loves Gansey…and is certain she is destined to kill him.  

Now the endgame has begun.  Dreams and nightmares are converging.  Love and loss are inseparable.  And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

In its starred review of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the previous book in The Raven Cycle, Kirkus Review said, “Expect this truly one-of-a-kind series to come to a thundering close.”  The thunder has now arrived in Henrietta, Virginia—along with death, desire, revelation, and a brutal truth.  With The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater completes a masterpiece.

My Synopsis:

No one is safe.  Nothing is spared.

Since the day he died, Gansey has been searching for the lost king Glendower.  It began as a personal quest, but the years have brought others into his search: Ronan, who can dream things into reality; Adam, connected to the ley line at the cost of his freedom; Noah, whose sacrifice brought Gansey back in the first place; and Blue, Gansey’s true love…and the one destined to kill him.

But now the end is coming.  Dreams are becoming nightmares are becoming reality.  Loved ones are changing, and loss in inevitable.  And Gansey’s quest seems more lost than ever.

In this stunning conclusion to The Raven Cycle, secrets are spilled, hearts are broken, and predictions are fulfilled.  The Raven King intertwines friendship, love, and sacrifice to bring the quest for a king to its glorious end and leaves you wanting something more.

My Thoughts:

So my April review is a bit late, which is what happens when you decide to review a book that comes out at the end of the month and then your post office decides to play games with your mail.  It doesn’t help that I wrote the review over the course of two days because there was a lot I wanted to say about this book.  This one’s a long one, so I hope you’re ready.  

I’ve had my copy of The Raven King preordered since last March.  As soon as the Fountain Bookstore announced their preorder for the special doodled-in copies, I made my order.  And then, because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to handle the waiting, I held off on reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue so that I could read The Raven King directly after.  

So I waited as patiently as I knew how and then more and more impatiently as the release date was pushed back, back, back.  I’m not blaming anyone; I totally get that writing a book is hard, and perfection greatness takes time to get right, but I was glad that I waited on Blue Lily, Lily Blue because having that ending and having to wait an extra six or so months would’ve killed me.

But the wait was definitely worth it, because The Raven King was everything I wanted/needed in the last book in this series, whether I knew it or not.  All the predictions, all the coincidences, all the character development was leading up to this final climax, the one we knew was going to happen since the beginning of The Raven Boys: Gansey’s death.  We’d been told from the start that it was going to happen, but the way we got there was magical and heartbreaking and nothing like I was expecting.

Quite honestly, none of the books in this series went like I was expecting, which is one of my favorite things about The Raven Cycle. I read a lot, and it takes more than a few simple twists to surprise me.  The Raven Cycle kept on surprising me, which made for some long nights when I refused to put the books down and sleep.  Even if they hadn’t managed some astounding twists, the entity that was Blue and her boys would’ve pulled me in.  The overwhelmingly intricate relationship was so pure and true, the type of relationship that everyone wishes they could find.  Sure, things were far from perfect most of the time, but underneath it all, there existed this fundamental connection between Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah, and, in the end, Henry that kind of transcended reality and became something magical, pun intended.

I don’t know that this type of relationship would’ve worked if it hadn’t been for Maggie’s writing style, which managed to convey the mystical and the ordinary and the good and the bad and the unknown with this lyrical straightforwardness.  It was almost like reading a fairy tale set in modern day: there was the stark reality of the world, but it was woven through a worldview of wonder and enchantment, and it made you feel like you were reading about something that happened in a dream…except for the parts that actually happened in a dream, which felt more like nightmares.  But seriously, Maggie’s writing was gorgeous, and I would read her grocery list if it was anything like her books.  (Although based on her grocery store playlist and what little I know of her typical grocery shopping experience, the lists probably read more like the nightmares.)

The end of the story as told in The Raven King had all of these components in spades, as well as the fulfillment of all the promises, both spoken and not, made in the in the last three books, starting with the promise of Gansey’s death. Apparently Gansey had known all along that he was going to die within the year. I don’t know how I—or anyone else, for that matter—failed to consider that he might know.  He knew what was supposed  to happen on the corpse road on St. Mark’s Eve, and he didn’t believe in coincidences, so hearing his voice on that night could’ve only meant one thing.  It was so easy to see in retrospect; of course he knew, but he never showed any concern about it.  He continued searching for Glendower, he kept on trying to do right by his friends, he promised Noah that he would use Glendower’s favor to bring him back: these actions alone showed how pure and kingly Gansey was to his very core.   His concerns were always for others, even when he knew how things would end for him.  That realization didn’t really change how I looked at Gansey, but it definitely strengthened my love for him.

Then you had Ronan, who was once again skipping school.  I liked the switch in personalities here between Gansey and Ronan.  It wasn’t that Ronan didn’t care deeply for his friends, and it wasn’t that Gansey was above pushing the boundaries of propriety to get things done, but spending all his free time to find a way to save a friend’s life was more a Gansey than a Ronan thing, and it was more like Ronan than Gansey to bribe someone to work things in his favor.  Yet Gansey was the one who secretly sold Monmouth to Headmaster Child in return for passing Ronan and letting him graduate, and Ronan was the one dreaming the days away trying to create some protection for Gansey agains all things with stingers.  

I thought that these two simple actions really showed how much these two cared for one another and also how much they’d rubbed off on each other.  The kicker was that Ronan didn’t know about Gansey’s impending death; he was simply trying to dream a way to keep Gansey safe because he wanted to.  I loved the softer side of Ronan, and we got to see a lot of it in this book. Seriously, that scene where he was feeding the wildlife, both the real and the dream animals, was hilariously cute.  It was Snow White crossed with someone like Qrow from RWBY: really unexpected but sort of precious.  Being at the Barns really brought out the best in Ronan, and I was glad that Gansey’s sacrifice gave him more time to enjoy his freedom, whether Ronan knew it or not.

In all honesty, though, I could totally see how both Ronan and Blue would hate going back to school after the craziness of their summer.  Adam would go because he loved school, Gansey would go because he’d feel it was his duty, but Ronan and Blue really didn’t care in the first place.  Ronan, at least, would’ve had Gansey and Adam with him if he’d bothered to go, whereas Blue had to face the mundane by herself unless you counted Noah, and whether Noah  counted or not really depended on the day.

Noah.  Oh, Noah.  Noah being dead was the series’ first big surprise for me, and I’d loved him ever since.  I knew his ending was going to be bittersweet, but I felt so sad over how he lost more and more of himself throughout this book.  He was forced to do some terrible things, and yet Blue and the boys never stopped caring for him or trying to help him.  Noah had such an important role in the end (the beginning?  the end at the beginning?), and he knew he had to make it just a little bit longer, no matter how bad things got.  It was precious to see him taken in and cared for by the women of 300 Fox Way even though there was only so much they could do for him.  I thought Noah just appreciated that there were people looking out for him until his task was complete, whether it was because they knew how much Blue cared for him or because they knew what he still had to do.  

And then we found out that he was the one who came up with Aglionby’s Raven Day!  He dreamt a huge battle between ravens, which totally proved how connected he was to Glendower, and by extension Gansey and the rest, even before his death.  Noah was so precious and so important and it was hard to see him go at the end, even if it was what had to happen.  (Also, the “Noah” songs on Maggie’s playlist for The Raven King killed me, especially ‘All Who Remain.’ It was heartbreakingly perfect.)

But back to the world of the (currently) living.  I loved how Maggie set up the beginning of The Raven King to feel as normal as possible for the group so that it was that much more powerful when things began to go wrong.  Gansey and Ronan got into it about Ronan’s delinquency, and when Blue hopped into the Pig, the first thing she noticed was that Adam was in Ronan’s usual shotgun position.  It was hard to remember that these guys hadn’t known each other for all that long, because they knew each so well that things like seating positions or who was going to say what to start an argument were practically instinctive.  It goes back to that mystical deep connection within the group, and I liked that at that point, it was apparent that this connection was related to each of their roles in Gansey’s court.  The word destiny was never said, but the impression was there, and I actually really liked how the pieces of everyone fit together.

And speaking of fitting together, there was a lot of romantic development here. Maura and Mr. Gray were adorable, and I was sad to see him leave, even though it was necessary to keep everyone safe.  I hope that he’d be able to return to 300 Fox Way at some point, but Maura’s reaction seemed kind of final, so I don’t know.  I’ll pretend that they end up together at some point anyway. Blue and Gansey tried to be sneaky for a while, although they were pretty bad at it, and they were so sweet together even with Blue’s curse and Gansey’s death hanging over their heads.  That toga party was certainly something, don’t you think?

But seriously, the biggest relationship was Adam and Ronan.  (Pynch!)  Sure, there were kind of hints of things before, but Adam still liked Blue, and Ronan had so much emotional baggage that he could’ve opened his own luggage emporium.  And really, Ronan had even more terrible things happen to him in this book, but he finally decided to act on the one feeling that still felt hopeful and had apparently been around for a while, judging by that oil spill metaphor.  And of course, Adam knew because Adam knew everything, but he didn’t stop Ronan from kissing him, and then, after he’d had time to think about it (because Adam had to think about everything), he was the one to go find Ronan and go for Kiss #2.  

Chapter 39, everybody.  Chapter 39.

Really, every scene between Adam and Ronan was gold.  Adam cranking the bass in Cabeswater because it was something Ronan would like?  Cute.  Adam holding Chainsaw, which was a big deal as I don’t think anyone but Ronan had ever held her before?  Sweet.  Adam and Ronan working together to try and save Cabeswater?  Fun and informative.  I liked the descriptions of how they were both similarly but uniquely connected to Cabeswater.  I also liked that they were both needed to slow the destruction, as together they were more powerful than they were apart.  Adam sleeping in the BMW so Ronan didn’t have to grieve alone?  Heartbreaking, but perfect.  Those scenes near the end between the two weren’t exactly happy—Adam, his hands controlled by the demon, tried to kill Ronan and then soon after had to watch Ronan slowly being unmade—but even those bits were powerful.

It was terrible when possessed Noah attacked Blue, but Adam’s attack was almost worse.  Aside from his hands and his eyes, Adam was still Adam, and he knew exactly what he was doing without being able to stop it.  Then when they finally managed to constrain him, he was blindfolded with his hands tied and unable to see or to help as Ronan was slowly murdered.  That scene was awful. Everyone was freaking out—I was freaking out—and Adam was trapped, unable to do anything except to sit and listen to Ronan struggle to survive.  And Maggie’s song for that chapter made it worse, of course.  (Amber Run’s ‘I Found,” FYI.)  My heart definitely went out to Adam.  He’d finally found this bit of happiness and now it was dying right in front of him.

Yeah, that part got me.  And with that happening, Gansey choosing to die was terrible, but it became necessary.

But let’s back up and talk about someone else who was watching Ronan die. Someone new to the whole quest, but someone important nonetheless: Henry Chang.  I didn’t really care for Henry when he was introduced in Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and I didn’t really care for him the first few times he popped up in The Raven King.  Then he helped Gansey during a panic attack, and I figured he wasn’t that bad.  Then he had Gansey follow him into this random pit and placed a bee in his hand, and I really hated him.  But of course, it wasn’t the simple, because nothing with Gansey ever managed to be simple.  The whole ‘follow me into this creepy pit’ scene was bizarre—which was really saying something given all the bizarre things that had happened up to that point—but it was kind of a perfect way for us to get to know Henry.  Turned out he knew about Ronan’s abilities thanks to his mother, collector of all things supernatural and dream-made.  It was a rather convenient connection, but it brought Henry into the fold and gave the Gray Man an ally later on, so I was okay with it.

I could tell Adam and Ronan weren’t all that thrilled with Henry hanging around, but I liked the relationship he had with Blue.  It was kind of funny, kind of strange, kind of just right.  It reminded me a lot of the friendship between Blue and Noah in The Raven Boys.  In fact, I got the feeling that Henry was what Noah could’ve been to the group had he been alive and a few years younger. Not that I necessarily wanted someone to replace Noah, but it was nice to have someone to fill that role once Noah was gone.  I also liked that Henry was described as the king of his own little group, yet he gave that up to be part of Gansey’s court.  With the help of RoboBee, he was kind of the scout and the messenger, a role that none of the others could fill in quite the same way, and it ended up being quite helpful.

But Henry wasn’t the only new character with a major role in this book, and frankly, he was far less important than the demon.  I loved that the demon was always a nameless being, as it almost seemed to make it less frightening.  And under Piper’s control, it did a lot of horrifying things, but it was all pretty basic. The demon wasn’t nearly as flashy or in your face as Kavinsky, whom I absolutely loved, but in the end that was okay, because once you realized exactly what the demon was doing, thinking of having that thing in your face was absolutely terrifying.  

The understated presence of the demon was overwhelmingly made up for by the mass destruction it caused.  That black ooze was ominous and kind of stagnant, but it allowed a sense of dread and wrongness to really build.  And then it kicked things up a notch and really started destroying Cabeswater, which was just painful to read.  Cabeswater was basically another character in these books, and here it was slowly being destroyed by this toxic, demonic sludge.  It hurt to see this beautiful place being unmade.  The truth, though, was that all of that destruction was just the beginning, as the demon was simply biding its time before turning things on their head and pushing Gansey to find Glendower and put everything to an end.

So let’s talk about that whole ending sequence.  First, the whole ‘follow the ravens’ thing was awesome.  Second, Gansey’s running off on his own, which was the same exact thing that he yelled at Adam for in the first book, was stupidly noble.  Third, the Pig breaking down at the one time it couldn’t afford to break down was hilarious.

Okay, enough counting, because after that, things went from mystically awesome to mystically creepy.  I should’ve called the way to Glendower being at the mansion where Gansey died.  How often had the women of 300 Fox Way talked about time being circular, about things happening that had already happened and would happen again?  The end is the beginning is the end; Gansey’s quest was always going to end right where it began.  It was fitting but ominous, and I was glad Henry was there so Gansey didn’t have to face the memories alone.

I was glad, that was, until Henry gave Gansey his Aglionby sweater, and then I knew Gansey’s death was imminent.  I mean, I knew because the book was running out of pages, but that was when it all became very real.  I also knew Gansey was much braver than I will ever be, but him continuing to walk in the tunnel in the dark was a stark reminder.  Luckily, the rest of the crew showed up to help, and I just sort of thought, “Of course they would all be here, together, at the end of all things.”  They reached the end of the tunnel, and there was Glendower…

And he was dead.  Dead dead.  Totally unwakable.  That scene made me lose it. I felt so terrible, and Gansey was in shock, but he was worrying about what he should tell everyone, and I’m sitting there going, “Gansey.  Your king is dead, your dream is literally dust, and you’re going to die.  Don’t worry about the historian community.”  Then he cried, and my heart totally broke.  There was just so much pain and disappointment and dread and seven years of anticlimactic.

But that wasn’t even the worst part, because it was then that the demon finally decided to make his move.  Adam attacked Ronan, then the demon went after Ronan himself.  It was interesting to me that Ronan was the endgame all along. I had always assumed the final Big Bad would be after Gansey and/or Glendower, but it was the dreamer instead, and Gansey couldn’t watch his best friend die.  And that was when he knew it was time.  Glendower couldn’t help them stop the demon, Gansey had already been seen dead, and his sacrifice would save Ronan, would save the others, would save the world.  This was what he had been saved for, what Noah had died for.  

This was his greatness.  

The way Gansey took one last look at the world around him, taking in the colors and smells and feelings of the place and the people he’d finally thought had felt like home before choosing to be sacrificed was so poignant, so precious, so very Gansey.  It was perfect.  And then the kiss.  The first and last between Blue and her true love.  It was sweet and painful, and I was glad for the explanation of why Blue’s kiss killed Gansey, even if it didn’t make the actual event any better.  

I’m going to be honest; I had to pause at this point in the book because my heart couldn’t handle it.  My reaction was Adam’s: a numb, quiet collapse compared to Blue’s shock and Ronan’s anger and grief.  But then there was Henry, who was just like, “You’re all magic.  Fix it,” which seemed so impossible until it wasn’t.  Using Cabeswater to revive Gansey was prefect, and I absolutely loved that the forest required bits and pieces of Blue, Adam, and Ronan to wake him.

Because Gansey, not Glendower, was the third sleeper, the true Raven King meant to be awoken.  He gave his life for them, and it took all of them plus the magic of the ley line to bring him back.  It was powerful and magical and circular, just like it had always been told.

Then suddenly we were at the epilogue.  Adam going back to see his parents was important for him, and it really showed how much he’d changed and how it was all because of the choices he’d made.  I was amazed as to how Adam turned out even halfway decent with such terrible parents, but the fact that he tried to go back and make a connection showed he was still the good-hearted guy he’d always been despite their treatment of him.  Even though they shot his offer down, the visit was a closure for Adam, a knowing that his life was his own and that the family he found was more important than the one he’d been born into.

Next we saw Blue, Gansey, and Henry searching for Ronan’s graduation present to Blue.  I liked that Gansey wasn’t exactly the same as he’d been before his (second) death, although, frankly, time-slipping was probably distracting but rather harmless as far as side effects from being resurrected by a magical dream forest go.  And of course, Blue’s present was the first dream Pig, so she and Gansey has matching cars.  Hers, though, was truly a green car, which was perfect for Blue.  I was so glad that this bit showed that nothing has changed with the group.  Sure, Henry was there now, and they’d all be going their separate ways for a bit, but they knew each other too well and they’d been through too much to be anything but their mangled, wonderful, multi-headed creature.  They were the same but different, and what was once a single quest for a lost king had become multiple quests, but the road would always lead them back home and back to each other.

And finally there was Ronan, out exploring with Chainsaw and Opal, both dream things, all of them still alive thanks to Gansey.  Finding the tire of the Pig and realizing that whatever caused it to fall off hadn’t happened yet made me squeal.  It gave me this perfectly hopeful happiness to know that Blue and her boys would always be together, always exploring and living and loving.  It was the best sort of closure I could’ve asked for, along with Ronan beginning to dream up a new Cabeswater.  It brought everything back to the beginning but promised a bright future full of mysteries and possibilities waiting for the group along their beloved ley line.

To me, The Raven King was the prefect ending to the series.  Some questions still remained, but almost all the loose thread had been tied up, all the appropriate people had been kissed, and the future of the characters was vague but promising.  Maggie’s writing was just as beautiful as ever, and her playlist fit perfectly, because, well, duh, it was supposed to.  

There are few series that have made me feel as much as The Raven Cycle, and now I’m left wanting more, something more.  There’s a sense of wonder and desire for adventures unknown and for the deep connection that Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan have.  (There’s also a desire to participate in a street race, but my car’s not really made for it.  One day.  One day.)

The Raven Cycle is a uniquely strange and magical series, and I think The Raven King is the best book of them all.  So if you’re looking for a series with dead Welsh kings, street racing, ravens, psychics, magical sentient forests, consuming relationships, and a curse—and tell me, who isn’t?—The Raven Cycle is definitely the series for you.  Rex Corvus, parate Regis Corvi.

Stray Observations & Questions:

  • The women of 300 Fox Way are fantastic.  Individually, they’re great, but together, they’re a force to be reckoned with.
  • At least now we know why all the other dreamers were thieves while Ronan was the Greywaren.  Ronan is scary, but he’s also scary powerful.
  • Piper was clearly the more exciting and ruthless Greenmantle.  Maybe it was just the crazy that made her awesome.
  • I actually really ended up liking Declan.  I felt really bad for him being the odd one out of the family, but his genuine concern for Ronan and Matthew showed he while he was a jerk, he wasn’t a bad guy.
  • That ‘night of truth’ seemed to be far more surprising for Gansey than anyone else.  And it was mostly Ronan doing the surprising.  
  • When Henry got cornered by the hitman, I was like, “Well, crap.  I just started to like him.”  And then it was just Mr. Gray, and it was alright.  It’s funny that it’s fine that Henry was ‘kidnapped’ by a hitman since it was our hitman, so it’s fine.
  • That’s not how you play hide and seek, Gansey.  
  • Blue, Gansey, and Henry’s road trip—yeah, I’m gonna need that story, please and thank you.
  • Does Matthew know he’s a dream thing?
  • Does Adam go to college?  And where?
  • Does Gansey tell anyone—Malory—about finding Glendower?
  • Is Gansey still allergic to bees?
  • Can Blue and Gansey kiss whenever they want now?
  • Do all the women of 300 Fox Way come back?
  • Does someone show up to replace to Persephone?  Or does Gwen sort of take her place?
  • Does Artemus ever come out of the beech tree?
  • Does Mr. Gray ever come back?
  • How long does it take everyone to notice Noah is forever gone?
  • When does Child take Monmouth?
  • Is Adam still connected to the new Cabeswater?
  • What adventures do they have waiting for them on the ley line?

Favorite Lines: 

  • He died, but failed to stay dead.
  • He was a king.  This was the year he was going to die.
  • (Everything already in place: the retired hit man currently sleeping with Maura; his supernatural-obsessed boss currently sleeping in Boston; the creepy entity buried in rocks beneath the ley line; the unfamiliar creatures crawling out of a cave mouth behind an abandoned farmhouse; the ley line’s growing power; the magical sentient forest on the ley line; one boy’s bargain with the magical forest; one boy’s ability to dream things to life; one dead boy who refused to be laid to rest; one girl who supernaturally amplified 90 percent of the aforementioned list.)
  • “Well, I don’t.  I’m not proud of it.”  Ronan patted her leg.  “I’ll be proud for you.”
  • “No rules in war except stay alive.”
  • And third, most importantly, Gansey was outrageously and eternally driven to distraction by the image of her behind the wheel of his car.
  • His feelings for Adam were an oil spill; he’d let them overflow and now there wasn’t a damn place in the ocean that wouldn’t catch fire if he dropped a match.
  • Something more explained perfectly why he could never say what he meant—something more, but its definition, would always be different than what you already had in your hand.
  • “I stopped asking how.  I just did it.  The head it too wise.  The heart is all fire.”
  • He’d hidden so well that he’d become dead, and even when he’d been resurrected, he was still obscured from them.  He had stumbled onto a different road by accident.
  • 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.
  • He shaped them into flapping creatures and earthbound stars and flaming crowns and golden notes that sang by themselves and mint leaves scattered across the blood-streaked pavement and scraps of paper with jagged handwriting on them: Unguibus et rostro.
  • Wanting to live, but accepting death to save others: that was courage. That was to be Gansey’s greatness.
  • He whispered, “It’ll be okay.  I’m ready.  Blue, kiss me.”
  • Henry stretched a hand over Gansey’s body.  “For him to be dead.  You said you were Gansey’s magicians.  Do something.”  “I’m not a magician.”  “You just killed him with your mouth.”  He pointed to Ronan. “That one just dreamed that pile of shit beside the car!  That one saved his own life at the school when things fell from a roof!”
  • But it looks as if they hadn’t gotten to that place yet: they had adventures waiting for them on the ley line.
  • Then he closed his eyes and he began to dream.

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