Following Ronan's bombshell ending line from the first novel, that his pet raven was in fact taken out of his dreams, he continues his private wonderings of how much of his childhood was a dream and continues to be worried about if he someday brings something terrifying out of his dreams. And while he broods by himself Adam tries to find his footing in his half-the-same-half-different life and Blue and Gansey draw closer despite it's catastrophic implications.
What ended up captivating me the most in this story was the complicated, yet not uncaring, relationships between the five main characters which I ended up dubbing an OT5. I rarely see this kind of relationship in YA novels*, you see plenty of stories about a rag-tag bunch of kids banding together but the dynamics here feel completely different. The group was already a group before Blue joined up with the boys in the first novel and her presence hasn't made the group any more or less stable, Adam and Ronan come with so much baggage to start with and Gansey's odd obsession with Glendower doesn't make them a very normal group of boys to start with (plus, Noah's dead of course, I really wonder how big a role he'll have later on). And the characters keep changing in such odd, complex ways which manages to make them both more fascinating and yet more relatable, by now if Stiefvater was to toss any two characters into a scene together I could predict the general mood because of how consistent the writing has been and yet that doesn't mean that the characters are necessarily predictable, just established.
Since this is one of the middle books in a series it wasn't a great surprise to me that what's arguably the larger plot, Gansey's search for Glendower which everyone else has been dragged into, didn't progress very much. The characters did make a few key discoveries (including another cliffhanger ending, I'm a bit scared of how BLLB will end at this rate) but this book's purpose was to resettle, given the tumultuous revelations in the previous book, and then to let a few more things happen that the characters will need to deal with before they can refocus. Given that Gansey's quest is a rather simple quest I think this was the right call, especially since this book focused on Ronan who was by far the most minor of the main characters in the previous installment (and these books do a marvelous job of having one character be the thematic center but still running half a different subplots related to the other characters). I was rather impressed that so much of the story is told from Ronan's point of view yet it doesn't really make him more sympathetic. Usually the reader is supposed to empathize with the tragic character when that trick is used but here it's simply that yeah, Ronan's life has hit some very rough patches but he's still rather an ass when it comes to dealing with everyone else, I'm trying to remember a single time he's been more than civil to Blue and falling short (and usually his fuse is so short he doesn't even manage civil).
I feel as if I haven't done the book justice here, not only does it manage to make a story that's light on plot but heavy on character interaction thrilling and gripping but Stiefvator has constructed wonderful prose for the story as well. I remember seeing an article where she talked about her writing last year and went "psssh, I don't want to have to stop and think about DEEP SYMBOLISM when reading, if it doesn't occur to me when reading then it's failed!" and yet the book succeeded since I did notice the extra implications behind many of the scenes. It's well constructed in every sense of the word and if it keeps this up the series may make it onto my all-time favorite's list, even if it's heavy character focus makes it a bit trickier to recommend.
*they're getting better but as a whole romantic relationships are focused on more than platonic friends far more, although The Summer King also had a rather nice complicated relationship in it