Book series. Be they duologies, trilogies, or the seemingly never-ending story cycles that hit double figures, some people love them – I do not. I am not a fan of book series in general, but I will tolerate an exceptional trilogy such as the Celtic Crusade books by Stephen Lawhead or the Wanderer’s trilogy by Caiseal Mor. I have attempted several longer running series such as Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth books but gave up after reading only three. Even series by some of my favourite writers have been casualties of my lack of patience: Frank Herbert, Juliet Marillier, Lawhead (with his Pendragon series), Gemmel and Terry Brooks. It takes an especially rare and special type of story to keep me enthralled beyond book 3, and Maggie Stiefvater’s books have done that and more.
*beware, there be minor spoilers ahead*
When I first picked up The Raven Boys I was extremely nervous. I read somewhere that the book was 1 of a planned 5-book series, but I figured I’d read book 1 and move on as I usually do with series. I should’ve known better. I adored Stiefvater’s stand-alone novel The Scorpio Races and found The Raven Boys just as mesmerizing, engaging and delightful, so by the time I turned the last page I knew having to wait a year for book 2 was going to be a peculiar kind of agony I had never experienced before.
Not only is Stiefvater’s writing poetic and ‘voicey’ weaving snide humour into both dialogue and narrative, but her world is whimsical, soaked in magical realism and utterly engrossing while her characters are complex, endearing and totally relatable. This story stars three living boys – Gansey, Adam and Ronan – one dead boy – Noah – and a girl who sort of sits between the worlds whose name is Blue. Set in a Virginia town described as redneck and hick by the characters, this unlikely group of friends are brought together by Gansey’s search for a legendary Welsh king allegedly buried somewhere in town. This search for Glendower brings Gansey crashing into Blue’s world of mysticism and magic.
I absolutely loved The Raven Boys. It is a book that defies categorisation, equal parts fantasy and urban fantasy, magical realism and contemporary YA. Don’t be put off by the YA tag. Although the main characters are teenagers, there is very little school drama and teen angst in this book as the third person narrative switches between multiple characters including several adults in the book who are just as important as the teens to the story. I waited a year and finally managed to get my hands on book 2…
Book 2 is all about my favourite character, the truculent Ronan Lynch, who has one of the most amazing and terrifying superpowers I’ve come across, as well as a pet raven called Chainsaw. I adored this book even more than book 1, which I didn’t think was possible. We were taken deeper into the magical side of Henrietta, met new and intriguing characters, and got to know the five teens a little better with a few pleasant surprises along the way. I was delighted when certain developments in the story hinted at the inclusion of an LGBT character. Stiefvater also has a knack for ending things on serious cliffhangers and this novel was no exception. I thought I would expire with need for book 3. Finally, book 3 arrived and I read it just this past week. Here it is…
As the title implies, this book focuses on Blue’s story and her character’s journey as she navigates the rocky relationships with the boys she has grown to love (not in a weird love pentagon kind of way, although there is a smattering of romance between Blue and a certain boy) as they find themselves delving deeper into the magical world on the periphery of their town, and it certainly isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. The magical element here is wonderfully vague. There are no clear rules, no spell-books dictating rituals or werebeasties killed by stakes or silver bullets. All the magical encounters are something entirely new making the series fresh and fierce in a genre prone to cliche. This series seems determined to break convention, the plot twisting and turning along the meandering pathways of the magical setting. Book 3 was everything I hoped it would be and, despite my usual abandonment of series round about here, I found myself absolutely ecstatic that there were two more books to come. Sadly, it seems I was grossly misinformed and rather devastated when I discovered that this series is, in fact, a quadrology which means only one more book and then it’s over! Nooooo! I have never ever wanted more books in a series, but I do with this one. In fact, I want an entire spin-off series starring Ronan Lynch, that’s how good these books are.
If you’re a fan of epic or urban fantasy and fancy trying something a little different, or if you are a fan of magical realism with a little more magic than realism, then I strongly recommend this series. Of course, I don’t know how it ends yet, but I trust Stiefvater to wrap up her story as beautifully and whimsically as she started it. If I were to have any criticism of this series it’s that some of the hints at possible diversity could be explored a little less ambiguously. I don’t know if the author is afraid to categorically state that a certain character is gay or black for fear of losing readers (really? In this era? I doubt it!) or if she’s deliberately trying to be vague about these things because in terms of the story, they don’t really matter and aren’t a big deal to the characters themselves. I’m not sure, but I do hope the reason is not the former.
Now my year-long wait for the fourth and final book in this series commences and I am equal parts excited and anguished that I will only get to spend another 400 pages with these characters who have stolen their way into my heart. Each book scores 5/5 ink-splats from me.