A few months ago, at the insistence of a friend, I picked up the first book of The Raven Cycle series. I was convinced I was in for yet another young adult feast of carbon copy teenagers, built upon the same template of cliches that has poisoned much of the YA literature. I clung to that idea as I skimmed through the first chapters, but as I kept reading I discovered things were a little different than I had expected.
Much like Blue Sargent, one of the main characters, I was shaken out of my prejudices and ended up loving every single adventure that Maggie Stiefvater took me on.
The four book series recently came to an end with the publishing of The Raven King, a book that has as many supporters as detractors and ultimately, a book that, much as the author desired, left us all wanting more.
The Raven Cycle focuses on 4 teenagers that have all been persuaded by one Richard Gansey III to join him in his quest for a sleeping Welsh king, legendary because he would grant a wish to whomever wakes him up. Their reasons are as different as the teens are from one another, yet somehow they all come together as one in order to achieve a purpose that is greater than all of them combined.
Without giving away too many spoilers, I will say that the books are a strange blend of magic, dreaming and reality. Somehow the mix works, without feeling forced, even if a world of real psychics, witches, magicians, magical forests, ghosts and demons hardly ever mesh well with our plain/ normal image of reality.
So why does this work? I think we all have our reasons for liking it, but one thing that unites us all is the realisation that there is something for everyone here, something for the very young and something for the grown-ups, not to mention the fact that while the main group only has one female character, she is not the only one to feature and to be given a story. She does not have to be the one to represent all women as it’s often the case. There are tough female characters, there are frail ones, just as there are frail men and strong men, some characters are straight, some are not, yet the story goes on without one being thought better or worse than the other for it.
However, the real ”magic” of these books comes from the characters that inhabit it: Blue, Adam, Gansey, Ronan, Noah and all the people that build up their own personal Universe, whether they are good or bad. Each person is given room to grow, some do, some don’t, but there are reasons for both situations. Dramas, traumas, all those little things that impact their lives make a difference and they are not forgotten or brushed under the rug. The bad is interspersed with happy moments, much like life, and with that little thing we all cling to whenever things get too dire: hope.
I suppose that is the one thing that I took to be a central part of the story. There was always hope for more, for better. The restlessness of youth always pushing the boundaries, trying to make that hope come true, whether for themselves or for others. Sacrifice is a common theme and each time it happens it’s heartbreaking, but nevertheless beautiful.
This book is a labour of love and I think it’s why we love it. I am probably extrapolating my own emotions to everyone else that might at some point pick the book up and read it, but I doubt there can be many to say they found nothing to enjoy about it. Ultimately it’s focus is on something universal that most of us can understand: friendship.
I could spend hours talking about these books, describing in vivid detail how each piece of the puzzle fits in with the next one, but it would be pointless, because I don’t have Maggie’s ability to describe the world she brought to life. These books were her Cabeswater, her world of wonder that she gifted us and her words written on the page are the only ones that could make you see what her fans have seen. So do yourself a favour, pick it up, start reading and get ready. You’ll suffer, but you’ll enjoy it.