Sunday, November 27, 2016

Book Review: The Raven King

Whenever I review a story which is a later installment in a series I always wonder how to approach it. Part of it is that I truly don't know who my audience is, are you readers folks who haven't tried the series at all? Planning on getting to this installment but haven't yet? Folks who've read the story and are looking for discussion? I honestly have no idea! So I think I'm just going to write about what I liked in this book and the series as a whole since yes, of course I liked it if I read the first three books before it and kept going. I've also been fairly vocal in my praise for this particular series so consider this an endorsement for it as well. It's been years since my review of The Raven Boys, I don't particularly want to go back looking for that review, but Brit Mandelo on Tor has written up a nice series of essays about each of the books (some spoilers, especially the later books in the series) so I would go check out their take on The Raven Boys to see if it's your kind of "teenagers go on a literal and metaphorical journey" type of tale. 

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Time is running out for Richard Gansey III. As Blue Sargent knows it's been nearly a year since he was predicted to die and, given the omninous coincidence that her kiss will kill her true love, Blue is extra worried. But she's not the only one worried, the small town of Henrietta seems to be becoming less and less safe by the day and Gansey, Blue, Adam, and Ronan still seem no closer to finding the dead and wish granting Glendower, even as it's becoming clear that they are going to need some help with the messes fast approaching them.

I was nervous going into this book in the same way I'm nervous going into any final installment: wow with this much going on will the author be able to wrap everything up? The Raven King was a remarkably conclusive wrap-up overall, the only characters who you might think were slighted would be Noah (who's role has been fading over the past few books in I think a deliberate nod to his status as a ghost who shouldn't be around) and the adults which is a bit more jarring considering the big roles members of Blue's family and co played in the previous two volumes. But even all of these characters get appropriate send-offs, there's a rather poignant moment when the group realizes that the living Noah was very different from his faded self, and the adults continue to do what they can as the world continues to get even weirder. I especially liked parts of  Adams' wrap-up, while the two of us have had very different lives (I come from an incredibly loving family as opposed to his openly abusive one), Steifvater perfectly nailed that feeling that you MUST escape from you're "hometown", and then that almost sense of relief to realize that you made it, you'll only ever return on your own terms now and that possibly that can be okay.* Stiefvater has always approached the setting, and more specifically locations, with a lot more thought than many novels and after seeing just how vital this is to the character's psyche it leaves me even more confused why more authors don't devote this time to the details. 

Each book so far has been more focused on one character than the others, Adam, Ronan, and then Blue, so it only makes sense that this book will be the one that dives the deepest into Gansey's mind. And it's a doozy, early on in the story Gansey reveals to the reader that he has known all along that he was going to die this year, the thing that the other characters were trying to keep from him and prevent from happening, and Gansey has been trying to prepare himself all along. Through Gansey we are introduced to a semi-new character, Henry Cho who has only appeared briefly in the background so far, and I do wish that he had been a more major player earlier in the story. He brings a new and valuable perspective to some of Henrietta's supernatural going-ons and his own personality is different from everyone else in the groups, he's quite put together when he's being kidnapped in his PJs for example.**

Really there are so many little moments in the book about various characters that I loved, everyone continues to feel well-defined and real in very different ways. The main characters could even exist without each other, they have been crafted so well up to this point and no one is defined solely by their relationships to each other and the side characters still have a few tricks up their sleeves as well (there is a reason for why Blue's father is so, odd). The books may focus around one character in particular in each volume but they never neglect the rest, four leads is rather a lot for books that aren't A Song of Ice and Fire size but, like many other things in the book, Stiefvater seems to effortlessly balance scenes and moments so that no character hogs the spotlight. 

It's odd that I, someone who has been categorized as someone who prefers plot to characters, hasn't really touched on the plot at all but honestly I don't want to. There are so many odd and perfect moments that I'd rather each reader discover them on their own, plus with three volumes before this one there's a lot to explain behind each event. But in case you are getting nervous, the plot is fine, it works well and none of the endings feel like a cop-out, they're satisfying and simply feel right. While I enjoyed both The Scorpio Races and Lament/Ballad this series is by far and away my favorite work by Steifvater so far. And, while I know it looks like she's writing a trilogy about Ronan currently I'd actually love to see her take on a straight up Welsh fantasy (given how much influence there has been in all of those other books I've mentioned and that they are all ostensibly set in the modern day I'm curious what she would do with completely open world-building) so hey, could you pencil that in?

*Guys I just REALLY didn't like where I grew up
**I also read him as an asexual character with textual evidence as such but it could've been interpreted a few different ways so I'm hesitant to call him ace, but that would make him even cooler

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