Review: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (2016)

“Strange he hadn’t had a premonition of what this place would become to him all those months ago. But maybe not. So much of magic—of power, in general—required belief as a prerequisite.”

The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater

Rating: ★★★★
Genre: Urban fantasy, YA
Categories: M/M, M/F, YA, multiple narrators, wizards/magicians, mythology, ghosts

Content Warnings (highlight to read): N/A

Description: A sharply-written YA series about slowly uncovering the magic underneath the mundane day-to-day world. The series follows Blue, slightly put-upon daughter of a house of psychics, and her adventures with the Raven Boys—private school boys with their own evolving mysterious pasts and destinies. Boys that could be kings, men that might be trees, magic dream worlds, ghosts, fortune-telling, high-maintenance murderers, cars, and bees?—There’s a lot there.

“For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.”

Impression: When I first started this series, I was really struck by how clever and sharp the writing is. The words seemed to snap off the page; there were more moments than I could count where I just wanted to share and quote a turn of phrase, or an enjoyable way of toying with prose to evoke meaning and build the world and relationships. I’ll definitely re-read this series in the future just to really enjoy the words, and would recommend it to anybody just for that.

In terms of the characters & story: the characters are vivid, enjoyable, and unique. Those who are hoping for overt romance all the way through the series might want to check something else out instead, but there are (main) characters who are queer as well as those who are not, and there is considerable attention to the development and execution of both a m/f and a m/m romantic relationship. Similarly, those who worry about YA that’s all about the romance will find that it doesn’t overshadow the story, or the familial relationships (Blue’s house of female family is A+) and strong friendships—and some relationships that go back and forth in between.

The plot had a lot of great concepts: eerie magical forest! Normal boys becoming magicians. Secret ghosts! Prophecies. Weird people that might actually be trees? I did feel that a lot of the threads didn’t fully tie together in their final execution; it had a sort of “3/4ths good” feel. The first three books were much better than the 4th book; and in each book, the first three quarters were much stronger than the ending. Overall the “failure to finish strong” really knocked off a full star from the rating. The series as a whole still gets a 4-star rating from me just because there were so many elements that I did enjoy, but a soft sigh of disappointment at how the whole thing came together.

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