Title: The Raven King
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Year published: 2016
Rating: Would re-read.
Why I read it: It’s the fourth and final instalment in a series I really like.
Blurb: For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey…and is certain she is destined to kill him.
Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.
Before I get started, let me just make it very clear that I have not read the previous books since this time last year, and I admit that this might have affected my enjoyment of The Raven King. I did, however, read an extensive summary of Blue Lily, Lily Blue beforehand in order to catch me up a little bit, and I didn’t feel that not having read them was much of a problem. Anyway, let’s do this. In handy bullet point form as always!
- As I read The Raven King I realised that while I enjoy the overall story of the search for Glendower, that was never the draw of the story for me. I always read for the characters, and more specifically for the friendships between them all. As such, I appreciated the smaller moments more than the resolution of the major plot.
- Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, or the Welsh king in the cave, I suppose. I actually didn’t see it coming that he was dead and not possible to wake up, but I loved it. First of all, if they would have woken him up and gotten a wish, that would have felt too simple. Second of all, this really solidified Gansey’s character for me more than anything else in this series. I’ve always liked him just fine, but compared to the others he has always felt really hard to pin down as a character. His complete despair at his lack of direction after they find Glendower dead was one of my favourite bits of the story. Because what do you do when you’ve spent half your life desperately searching for something that isn’t actually there? How do you move on from that?
- Other things I didn’t see coming: Gansey knowing he was going to die. One of the troubles of not having read the previous books in a while was that I couldn’t quite remember who knew what – for example, I had forgotten that Gansey knew about Blue’s curse. But opening the book with the fact that Gansey has known all along was interesting, leaving only Ronan in the dark, him being the one who was least likely to handle knowing such a thing. I liked that Gansey accepted it but still feared his fate, all the way to the end of the story.
- Oh, Ronan. I don’t know what I expected from him, but it wasn’t this. I loved that he managed to patch things up somewhat with Declan. I hated that he had to lose more people. His pain was the hardest part of this book. The scene where he loses it over Gansey’s death was one of the few majorly impactful emotional punches in the story. More generally speaking, it feels really important to me that rash, abrasive and sharp edged Ronan is also allowed to be a homebody, a family man, a nurturer, extremely loyal. All of the main characters in this story are multifaceted, but I love that Ronan whose exterior is hyper masculine at times, is more than just that.
- I haven’t really been a massive Ronan/Adam shipper, because it was never quite clear to me whether Adam was in a place where that was even a conceivable possibility. I don’t mean that in terms of sexuality; it was never explicitly stated one way or the other, and his POV was hung up on Ronan enough to make it plausible. What I mean is that his story arc was in large part about coming to terms with his place in the world, with his ability to love and be loved. This is the guy who used to think about love as a privilege he would never be privy to. In all of that, it seemed hard to conceive that he would have any capacity to work out how to approach anything with Ronan. But as it happened I realised that really, he only needed to better understand his own emotions, to understand that he was deserving of Ronan’s feelings.
- I loved Adam’s constant worry about playing with Roan’s emotions, about not really knowing what he was doing. Adam asking Gansey to explain love to him so he could be sure he didn’t hurt Ronan and how that parallels Gansey’s early worries that Ronan would be the one to hurt someone.
- I loved that Ronan made the first move, despite the fact that he clearly wasn’t sure about anything. I love that he was described as noticeably happier right after, despite not knowing how Adam really felt. I love that he gave Adam time, but also that he prompted for an answer when he didn’t get one.
- Mostly I love that they’re dynamic didn’t change at all after the kiss. That literally everything was the same, except for the fact that they felt happier. That it was more a case of acknowledging feelings that were already there, rather than developing feelings last minute.
- “No. Yes. I don’t know.”
- This whole bit: “The volume of the resulting boom surprised even him; he heard it in one ear and felt it in both feet […] By the time the third thud came, it was obviously pounding in time with the music […] “Oh God,” Gansey said, but he was laughing. “Do we have to endure that here too? Ronan!” “It wasn’t me,” Ronan said. He looked to Blue, who shrugged. He caught Adam’s eye. When Adam’s mouth quirked, Ronan’s expression stilled for a moment before turning to the loose smile he ordinarily reserved for Matthew’s silliness. Adam felt a surge of both accomplishment and nerves. He skated the edge here. Making Ronan Lynch smile felt as charged as making a bargain with Cabeswater. These weren’t forces to play with.”
- “Forsan et heac olim meminisse jubabit.”
- I’m getting way too hung up on everything Adam/Ronan here so I will move on, but first one last point: I love that Adam’s ambitions were allowed to change because of Ronan, but were still not compromised as a result of him. Likewise, I love that Ronan never expected Adam to stay, just come back. I love a good and healthy relationship as much as anyone.
- Here’s a point about Adam specifically: I love that Stiefvater made a point of reaffirming his attraction to Blue. Whatever his sexuality is, I love that she didn’t dismiss that whole relationship as a fluke.
- I’m also really thankful that Adam went to see his parents, to rebuild a relationship. Even more thankful that it wasn’t driven by obligation or desperation, but by a need for peace of mind, to let go of the past. Adam’s growth in general. It seems kind of impossible to me right now that for a second earlier in the series I didn’t like him.
- Blue was, unfortunately, not too memorable to me in this book. Admittedly, I was very focused on Adam, Ronan and Gansey, but I wish I remembered her parts better than I do.
- I did love the bits of her and Ronan being pals, of Ronan being completely impressed by how bad-ass she was. That was a highlight.
- And I found her calm acceptance of Gansey’s fate at the end, and how she kissed him, to be really strong and brave.
- I should talk about Henry Cheng. For a while he felt sort of like Dawn in Buffy, suddenly there and a part of the group, inexplicably weaved in while I was left thinking ‘why? How did that happen?’ I don’t dislike him, but it took me a long time to really understand the purpose of him. I do like that he, Blue and Gansey went away to travel together, or to live in polyamorous bliss, or possibly both.
- Gwenllian was the most annoying. As ever.
- A lot of the secondary plot, with the Gray Man, Laumonier, Piper, etc., felt incredibly rushed and unfinished by the end. The demon destroying Cabeswater was interesting, but all the other characters felt one dimensional and quite auxiliary by the end, which was quite disappointing.
- Speaking of Cabeswater, I love that Ronan dreamt it. I love that they sacrifice it for Gansey’s life. I love that Ronan attempts to recreate it.
- I’m not sure I like that Gansey gets brought back. On the one hand, I don’t want my favourites to suffer, so having him back was definitely good in that sense. On the other hand, it felt a bit like a copout after so many months of ‘Gansey will die’. Yes, I know he technically did. But the stakes were significantly lowered when dying didn’t mean actually dead.
- Noah was a bit short changed. I did like that he gave his life for young Gansey, that time was woven together strangely like that. But he was so important in the beginning of the story and felt so forgotten towards the end. I wish there had been more scenes between him and Blue.
- Orphan Girl – or Opal, I suppose – was a bit of a strange addition to the group, but I did enjoy reading about Ronan’s particular ways of caring for her.
- As a final comment I will say that I appreciate that the friendship between the five main characters always came before any romantic relationships. It’s refreshing, especially within YA literature. Relatedly, I liked how the romance between Ronan and Adam was understated. It wasn’t particularly subtle towards the end, but it was always just a fact and never anything that was made a big deal of by either character. Sexuality was treated as less important than general identity, to the point where it’s never even explicitly stated how anyone identifies. It’s nice.
This became a lot more focused on the whole Adam/Ronan thing than I expected to be honest. And I may have forgotten important stuff. Please talk to me about it, if you’d like.