Book Review: “The Raven King” (2016) by Maggie Stiefvater

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(Well, 3.5 stars.)

Note: It’s been a while since I actually read this book (yes, I had preordered it and was eagerly waiting for the mailman the day it came out), but hadn’t been able to put together a review until now – and I felt that I should still write down my thoughts, since some of you have been asking for my opinion on the final installment in the Raven Cycle series.

I will be back to posting book reviews on a more regular basis from now on, hopefully. I have read about thirty books since my last review (as you can see on my Goodreads page) and there is no way I can possibly catch up, but I hope to at least make a dent of sorts.

That said, on to the review!

For me, The Raven King was probably the most anticipated book of the year. The first three books were not exactly perfect, but I still enjoyed them very much and flew through the series. The series’ strength has always been its atmospheric setting and fun character interactions, but it seemed to me that Stiefvater was struggling to find the right balance in her story (the easily superior Dream Thieves excepted). The Raven King does not manage to break free from this previously established pattern. Some of it is good, some of it is not, and other parts are either rushed or forgotten about altogether. It makes for a flawed, but still thoroughly enjoyable read – which sums up the Raven Cycle rather well.

On a personal level, I was always going to forgive this book for a whole lot if Ronan’s story got wrapped up right – and thankfully, it did. His character arc was the one I was most invested in; I would happily have read an entire spinoff series on the Lynch family alone – although I’m sure that fanfiction writers have already made many attempts to fill that void.  Even though Ronan experiences loss and pain, we leave him in a place of peace. As he walked off across his family farm into the sunset, I swear I could feel my heart grow three sizes in my chest. It’s almost like Stiefvater put the most thought and effort into Ronan and Adam; they get the most layered conversations, the most intense chapters. As a result, other characters seem passed over – including arguably the main couple of the series, Blue and Gansey. The Raven King ticks all the necessary boxes, but does not do anything unexpected with their relationship. Some of the crackling energy from the previous books is missing here, which makes the final climax of their True Love’s First Kiss drama lose some of its impact. It has been built up over and over again over the course of the series, but when it finally happens, it comes and goes without much of a punch. Ronan’s conversation Adam in Cabeswater, by comparison, does build up a lot of tension, and when the reveal finally comes, there is a sense of excitement that was sorely lacking in Gansey and Blue’s chapters.

Another character who got the short end of the stick was poor Noah. He gets some very disturbing scenes at the beginning of the book, but then disappears into the margins for the rest of it, only briefly resurfacing to wrap up his part of the plot. For one of the original recipe Raven Boys who used to be an integral part of the story, this is an incredible letdown and he deserved more. Noah keeps getting pushed into the background – especially unfortunate for a character who is, you know, a ghost. When he finally gets his ending, it is completely drowned out by all the other storylines clamouring for attention. Instead, Stiefvater all too casually replaces him with Henry, who she tries very hard to make as likable as she possibly can. He’s funny! He’s clever! He is actually a really nice guy once you get to know him! He throws awesome toga parties! Noah who? What is a Noah?

Whether you consider The Raven King to be a worthy ending of the Raven Cycle probably heavily depends on where your priorities lie. I got most of what I wanted from this book, but the more I think about it, the more questions I have. Its problems could easily be fixed with some restructuring and an extra chapter here and there, but as is, The Raven King is pretty much exactly what I expected: a ton of fun to read, but not quite as good as I wanted it to be. Stiefvater and I have had a tumultuous journey together, but even after four books, I still can’t quite make up my mind about her work. Her next project will have to provide the decisive argument. Maybe I will even preorder it and impatiently wait for the mailman on the day it comes out. Let’s hope so.


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