SPOILER FREE REVIEW!
I hate to admit it, but I used to be one of those people who scoffed at YA. Before I worked in the library, my idea of young adult fiction was vampires, werewolves, and more vampires. Let’s just say, I wasn’t into it. Until I found the one that spoke to me and changed my mind. For me, it was Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy that opened me up to a world of teen novels that can be enjoyed by adults. And now, a few years later, this is where I am: rolling in the feels of the final novel of The Raven Cycle.
My love affair with these books began innocently enough. I was at work, being bombarded by questions about the series, and decided I should probably check it out for myself. Skeptically, I picked up a copy of The Raven Boys; the protagonists’ names and the kitschy concept of True Love’s First Kiss not winning me over just yet. But then, I read. I read about the main girl and her tendency towards feminist rants. I read about the rich boy on a quest for answers and his guilt over his life of privilege. The other boy without any privilege at all, working himself to death and closing himself off. And the other boy (my favourite) who deals with grief through fast cars, bloody knuckles, and lashing out at the world.
What caught me about these books wasn’t the plot. It was the lyrical descriptions of rural Virginia and magical forests, the mysticism of Catholic churches and a house full of psychics. But mostly it was the characters’ individual struggles that hooked me. The thing about Stiefvater’s writing is that it’s deceptive. You think you’re reading about teens on a quest to wake an ancient Welsh king, but really you’re reading about Gansey’s unswerving need to know why his life had been spared as a child, or Adam’s fight against his past abuse and sense of inferiority, or Ronan’s struggle to understand himself in the face of his father’s horrific death. The series is equally rich in dirty reality as it is in magic.
What really makes the series stand out to me, however, is the insistence on the importance of friendship. That sounds super cheesy, I know, but I promise it’s not. Stiefvater makes the friendships as messy and all-encompassing as the romantic pairings, and gives them just as much (if not more) weight than the romance. While Blue/Gansey are a given, and Ronan/Adam are a maybe, you find yourself equally mesmerized by the dynamics of the group as a whole.
For fans of the series, The Raven King will thrill you. Stiefvater takes everything we love about the first three books and ramps it up to eleven. The stakes are higher, the magic is bigger, the swooning is real. Characters come head-to-head with their nightmares (both magical and mundane) that until now have only coloured the background. If you’re a fan, you know the questions to ask: will the gang ever find Glendower? Will Adam find self-worth? Will Ronan ever learn to express himself in a healthy way? And, most importantly, will Gansey die? If you’re not yet a fan, pick up book one and you will be. The world of The Raven Cycle expands from the old halls of Aglionby Academy to the dreamy Cabeswater forest to the wild and dusty streets of Henrietta, Virginia. Time is circular and intricate, magic is friend and foe. In the final installment, Stiefvater manages to address every question fans might have, and the result is, appropriately, magical.