Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: Blue Lily Lily Blue

For those who missed why, I had some massive headaches earlier this week/late last week which made it a bit hard to write this review, even with all the notes I had prepared for it! Hoping that doesn't happen again because goddamn that was painful.

There have been a few reviews which have been tough for me to write this year. Not because the subject matter is particularly emotional for me but simply because I find it hard to do the material justice in a review, I almost feel as if saying "just go read this, you'll like it" would be better. But that's not how I do things so I am going to try once more and talk about what ended up being my most anticipated book of 2014, the third book in the The Raven Cycle. I enjoyed the first book immensely but when I read The Dream Thieves earlier this year, during a particularly weird week of my life, I was struck by how special these books were and this book has those same special qualities to it.

Blue Lily Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue's life hasn't been ordinary for months now and that's okay, her version of ordinary was a bit different to start with. What isn't okay is that her mother has gone missing, people are trying to murder her friends, and she's starting to realize that while searching for a long-dead Welsh king buried in rural Virginia wasn't exactly "safe" to start with there are much more far-reaching consequences than she ever imagined.

When describing fantasy I, and many other people, tend to use a few broad categories which simply make it easier for another person to tell if they will be interested in the story or not. The Raven Cycle is doing a very good job at defying the usual categorization by being a story where the characters are on a metaphor filled journey as they grow up and fight the world to find their place and it is also 100% a story of four or five teens searching for a 600 year dead Welsh king. Usually when you have stories that are largely a metaphor for life it's easy to make the connection, oh this part relates to this part of life and that other part is clearly alluding to that, this series doesn't have those clear and easy signposts and I feel that it's more strongly written for it. The only other book I can think of off the top of my head which seems to do this is Diana Wynne Jones' Fire and Hemlock and many of her books also defying easy fantasy categorization where there is certainly real magic that the characters don't question but the rest of the setting is very "real" too. 

One other thing I would also like to touch quickly on is just how these books are written, it's another element which makes me separate them from most young adult books I've read this year. While the book does present the inner thoughts of the characters (all of them, not just Blue), the book doesn't have an actual narrator and yet it often feels like it. There is no snarky, hyper-observant character relating what they see for the audience (breaking the fourth wall for someone whom they couldn't possibly know about) but here the story itself describes things to the reader that the characters couldn't or wouldn't think to think about. The descriptive words are carefully done and it sets the tone in a surprisingly subtle way, this excerpt from The Dream Thieves shows what I mean better than I feel I can explain it (and I'm surprised I didn't mention it in that review). And as a side note, I gather from posts like that on Steifvater's tumblr that various schools assign her books as reading material to which I must say GOOD, that makes so much more sense than having to read Dickens at 14 like I did and having none of the background to understand anything. I wouldn't have picked up on the literary techniques in these books but at least I would have gotten something out of reading it.

Moving on, like the previous books BLLB is somewhat more character-focused than central-plot-focused but funny enough the book doesn't focus on Blue as much as you might expect. Part of this is because Blue has been, in my opinion, the closest thing to a central character or even audience stand-in character all along so she has always had a lot page time (unlike say Ronan where he had markedly more appearances in The Dream Thieves). I like Blue quite a bit, I like all of the characters honestly, and I really loved the scenes set in her high school since Stiefvater really nailed the tone there. The feeling that school is just a distraction, something that is keeping you from the wider world you've just discovered, one that you actually do things in, felt very familiar to me and I've been having those same thoughts at my work recently. Plus it tied in wonderfully to Blue's own apprehensions about her future* and that mindset explained why she was so isolated from her own classmates before the series started. 

As for the other characters, there was less Gansey in this volume and the scenes that stuck out the most to me were the ones which had Gansey AND Blue, Gansey AND the professor in them, which is interesting since if the series follows it's own pattern then the last book is going to focus more on Gansey than anyone else. Ronan continues to be a smaller lead than the rest but, following the revelation in TDT that he is both gay and has a crush on Adam, his interactions continue to be more and more interesting with the characters. You can see that he's both started to find some peace with his father's murder, that while truly a jerk his loyalty is deep, and it was fun to see how being around Adam seemed to bring out the best in him (Adam hasn't quite realized it yet but when the idea does cross his mind I laughed that he wasn't confused or grossed out but rather almost a moment of satisfaction and "HAH well I feel damn special"). And Adam continues to be a semi-inscrutable character, both to the readers and to himself. Out of everyone else in the cast, Adam is the one who has changed the most and I suspect will be the one who will continue to change the most in the last volume, at the very least he's not going to be very human when the series ends. His morales have begun to change, which horrifies him, and while he started out the series as both broken and a bit sheltered he's now begun to put himself back together but also become more distant which again is something that's more obvious to the reader than him. I'm really looking forward to seeing how all of the characters continue to change in the last volume, especially now that a few new subplots have come into play and a few old ones have resurfaced (Blue and Adam at least seem to have realized that their actions are having very far reaching effects and, as the reader, it seems as if they couldn't stop their search for Glendower if they wanted to).

And finally, I wanted to say that I also really liked the adult characters and one of the moments that stands out to me the most in the entire book was Maura (Blue's mother)'s note at the very beginning and how she regretted how cryptic it was and continued to revise it in her head. The way she chatted with herself sounded very natural and all of the speech in this book did as well, something I know I've touched upon in earlier reviews. The character's swear, they say dumb things, Ronan for some reason has decided to torment everyone with "the murder squash song", and all of that contributes to the odd tone of the book that I mentioned. It's actual fantasy, metaphor, and realism, it's one of my favorite books of 2014 if not the favorite. 

*I would like to grumble for a moment and remind people that there is both need-based financial aid AND merit-based financial aid. Trust me, between the two I had my entire senior year paid for, admittedly North Carolina has rather cheap colleges but it still makes me grumble whenever I see characters who don't know this, especially since if a character needs financial aid that's another entire conflict being added to the story.  

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