The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #4) / My rating: ★★★★☆
One sentence summary: Blue and Gansey add a new friend to their ranks, Adam and Ronan dream, there is something evil taking over Cabeswater, and the search for Glendower must soon come to an end.
He was a book, and he was holding his final pages, and he wanted to get to the end to find out how it went, and he didn’t want it to be over.
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Paranormal
Plot: I’ve rewritten this review twice. Why? When I finished this book, I didn’t understand the ending. Initially, it felt extremely anticlimactic. I felt misled. I was very disappointed and I puzzled and puzzled for days and I reread the ending and read other people’s reviews and thoughts and then, finally- OH. I got it, and my heart wept. I love it now, very much, but I think a lot of my misunderstanding stemmed from not fully realizing that The Raven Cycle is metaphorical and allegorical and wrought with symbolism more than it is fact and narrative solidity, and that’s a really important thing to realize in order to accept how this series ends, and to accept the series as a whole. That took me a few days.
This book was paced a bit differently from the first three books in the Raven Cycle series, which I felt were quicker. The Raven King moved slower, which I loved, but it was as if the ending suddenly rushed to the finish line, and I think that’s a large part of what made it so unclear to me and left me feeling so put out when I closed the book. I didn’t get time to…grieve? Process? Before it was all wrapped up. The build-up was intense, and then it just…ended. I could have used a few more pages, a bit more time. This might have provided me with a more clarity and given the ending a bit more of the BANG I was hoping for.
I think that because I was expecting a such a solid ending, it made me feel like I wasted my time theorizing a more concrete resolution. It didn’t bring together all the clues I’d felt I’d been given. Things still felt a bit too loose ended- mainly the plotlines of secondary characters.
Yet while I was given evidence that prepared me for a different kind of series finale, now that I’ve had time to mull it over, I do love it, just in a completely different way than I expected. The Raven King was a story of dreamy adventure, fantasy, fantastic friendship and beautiful romance, eerie danger and creepy horror, and a lot of fun.
I realized the climaxes of this series lie more with character than overall plot, and I do really, really love it. I just had to adjust to it. It becomes apparent what the point of The Raven Cycle is, and I do think it’s brilliant. I just wish more of what we were given tangibly fit into the final plot resolution. Still, now that I understand it, I’m satisfied, and this book and this series was very worth it. It was fun and whimsical and dramatic and spooky. I love The Raven Cycle dearly and it’s one of my all time favorites.
Characters: This is where the heart of the Raven Cycle lies. I love love LOVE these characters. They’re some of my favorites ever. I loved how Maggie Stiefvater played with the protagonists, flipped their roles around, made me question and debate who exactly the story was about most, and if there’s actually an answer to that. The arcs of the characters were fantastic. I loved reading the journeys of these characters individually and together, and it was so gratifying to watch their inner and outer struggles come to rest. This book also cemented the romances that had been building up in the last three books in wonderful, satisfying ways. I LOVED the relationships and friendships in these books, and the romance in The Raven King was wonderful. Stab me in the HEART.
This book also introduced several new characters and brought some old characters to the forefront, and there were two I absolutely fell in love with- Henry Cheng and the Orphan Girl. Henry was hilarious and WONDERFUL and a ray of sunshine, and he added a kind of zing to the story that I really, really loved. Orphan Girl was wild and sweet, and I loved her presence and her interactions with the other characters. However, I did feel as if we were given almost too many new characters, and then in the end there wasn’t much as much done with them, and some of the older characters, as I was expecting. But overall, I was hugely satisfied with the character development in this book and throughout the series. (Shout out to Adam Parrish, BRAVO. One of my all time favorite characters ever.)
Writing: I still love Maggie Stiefvater’s writing, and everything I’ve ever said about it in my reviews about the first three Raven Cycle books still stands 100%, but ending of this book really highlighted how vague her writing can be at times, and it does take me some rereading at times to parse out what exactly a character is doing or what is happening, or what something might mean. I think this book disillusioned me a bit to her style, chiefly because I did finish the book feeling confused- but I still really enjoy her writing, and love her atmospheric descriptions and dialogue. The vagueness was rather more off-putting than previous books, but I still love the dramatics of her style. I’m all for that artsy stuff. And again, I think with a reread of this series, her words will make more sense.
Was I satisfied? Mostly I am, I just think I’m trying to reconcile it with the fact that I’m satisfied in a completely different way than I thought I would be. I felt misled, but I can accept it (or maybe I’m just not as an astute a reader as I thought). I don’t think I’ll ever completely understand everything about this series. But the character arcs? The romance? The friendships? The journey of the Raven Cycle? Yes. I love this series and it’s definitely one of my all time favorites. I had so much fun reading it and will definitely read it again, and then probably again. Love, love, LOVE the Raven Cycle. And it does feel like there’s so much more to be told, which may have bothered me if I didn’t know Maggie Stiefvater is going to write a subsequent trilogy set a few years in the future from the end of this series, which I will be SO READY for.
More thoughts – Spoilers below!
Gansey and Cabeswater
I was initially disappointed because I thought Cabeswater had died for Gansey, and I didn’t feel like that was a worthy exchange. I didn’t feel like I got a chance to grieve Gansey, and I still feel like I would have liked a bit more time to grieve him and believe he actually was dead and was going to stay dead. Just to be fooled for a chapter. He came back so FAST, I wanted to be torn up about it and I wasn’t.
However, now that I understand that Cabeswater reincarnated Gansey’s life out of Blue and Adam and Ronan and their essences and memories and feelings, because it loved them and learned them, I’m…speechless. I love it. I LOVE IT. I was not expecting it at all, and what I imagined was some sort of physical showdown between the demon and Gansey, but I love how it’s about friendship and love and defeating your inner demons and saving your friends with yourselves. Gansey is Gansey and he is all of them. Blue was in love with ALL of them, as it says in The Dream Thieves:
“In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness. Her raven boys.”
Also, how it used Adam’s humanity to construct the human part of Gansey? Words cannot express how much I love that. Because Gansey has always so admired Adam?? And Adam was so envious of Gansey, but learned to accept himself and what he wanted to be, and now Adam could use that and gave it to save Gansey. Adam’s humanity is helped save Gansey and I’ll never be over this.
Noah and Glendower
I was also initially disappointed because I thought Noah’s ending was far too short and anticlimactic. I also wanted to grieve Noah, and then he was simply gone after like, 2 and a half pages. However, I love how Noah saw that it was their quest that brought them together and that it’s what ultimately saved Gansey, not Glendower. He’d been killed by someone he’d thought was his friend, and he used his own death to save Gansey because Noah saw his friendships and his quest would save him, because time is not linear (it is a circle, it is not chronological, it is happening all at once, it’s a cycle). Noah didn’t find his true friends until after he was dead, people who loved him for him (it makes that scene with Blue near the beginning so much MORE now). I love that he was the one to whisper the Glendower thing in Gansey’s ear. That it was never Glendower and Noah knew this all along. I like how Noah simply faded, because he’d been fading out of the series slowly, wasting away until he could go to Gansey’s first death to tell him what he knew about his life.Until Noah had finally found people who loved him and he could move on knowing it was worth it. At least, that’s my interpretation of Noah’s finale. I do wish he was mentioned, or thought of, by any of his friends in the epilogue, though.
I LOVED how finding Glendower was a dud in the end. I loved the disappointment of it, how my disappointment was Gansey’s disappointment. The anticipation leading up to it, and then the fall, was done wonderfully. I did not expect Glendower to be dead, but I love how it turned out to be that way. I loved how it completely unraveled Gansey, that his life was always in the journey. I loved how he actually got tired of searching for Glendower throughout the series, how he just wanted to finish so he could continue on. And then it was never even about Glendower but what the mission did for them, that by the end, they didn’t even need a favor for any of their own personal reasons, like they’d started out with in the earlier books. It was about getting rid of the demon (their demons) and they did that themselves (because of Glendower). I LOVE IT.
I was hoping for a physical confrontation with it, and I think that was the BANG I was expecting the series to go out with, but I did like the symbolic nature of the demon.
In particular, I loved what the demon meant when it came to Adam. I loved how the demon represented Adam’s father, how Adam led Ronan to drive to the trailor park when he was srying to find it, THAT SCENE where it possesses him and he tries to strangle Ronan, yet Ronan won’t hurt him back, none of them will- because they love Adam, they can’t hit Adam, they won’t. And I love the scene with Persephone and he realizes that it’s not the demon possessing him, it’s what’s left of his own inner demons and he can make the choice to end its possession of him. LOVED IT. LOVE ADAM. LOVE HIS DEVELOPMENT THROUGHOUT THE SERIES.
As for Piper and the demon, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her role and the roles of all the other magical artifact baddies. I felt that her storyline kind of fizzled. She and Greenmantle were interesting in Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but I wasn’t very interested in them in this book. I also wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Laumonier triplets, and generally wasn’t very interested in them, though I know they offset something with the Gray Man. I know Maggie Stiefvater is going to write a trilogy about Ronan and I wonder if they will come into play, what with his dreaming and how his father was in the business of selling his artifacts. But in terms of the The Raven Cycle, I thought it felt a bit late to be introducing them, since their introduction felt like the start of something else. Also, I thought there would be more to the big magical artifact conference at the end, and wished that had a more climactic resolution. I mean, I know she died, but…it felt like no threat to Gansey & co.
As I stated above, I loved Henry and Orphan Girl. Henry was fantastic, and I’m sure without him this book would have been a puddle of misery for our main characters. Also, I loved his Korean heritage. I buddy read this book with one of my best friends, who is Korean, and it was so interesting to hear her expand on him and critique him in ways that wouldn’t have occurred to me as a non-Korean. Kudos for Henry Cheng. My only thing about him is…I know he didn’t replace Noah, but there was something odd about the final five at the end consisting of Henry and not Noah.I felt like I needed something a bit more with Henry. Also, I liked his mother, and wanted more about her. I was very interested in her, I wanted more about her, and in the end she seemed mostly tossed in there. I felt as if that was a bit of a rushed plotline.
I loved Orphan Girl. She was so sweet and funny and weird, and I loved how it become apparent that she was a sort of physical metaphor for Ronan’s inner nature, and she represented Adam’s growing understanding and closeness to Ronan. On a symbolic level, I adored her. However, I did expect her to have a bigger part in plot. When she was pulled out of Ronan’s dream in the beginning I thought, Oh, she’s going to be a key part in the resolution of the story. But instead, she was just kind of…there. I loved her, I loved what she represented, but…I wanted her to do something more. I thought she would hold some key to the plot resolution, but I do love how she a key in Ronan and Adam’s character progress.
ARTEMUS. We’ve been hinted at about him since the first book, and all we really got from him was the story about the tree lights and the revelation that Blue is half tree. After all that anticipation throughout the books, I expected him to play a much huger role. I did like the chapter with him a lot, and I thought the tree lights revelation was interesting, but I thought…Maura went to all the trouble in the last book looking for him, and then we don’t even see them interact! I thought there at least might be some strife between him and the Gray Man, not that I really wanted a love triangle, but…there was nothing. Why did Maura even go to the trouble? Just so he could have that one conversation with Blue? What was the point of risking everything in the last book for him?
I felt that so much more could have been done with the tree light aspect, and with Blue’s revelation that she is one. I just wanted more to be done with it. And, overall, I thought more could have been done with Blue. I love Blue, but I wanted her to have a bigger…arc than she did, I suppose.
Gansey’s deal with Headmaster Child
This really bugged me. Gansey was being so shady about it in the last book that I thought it would be something bigger than him bribing the headmaster for a diploma for Ronan. I thought he knew Ronan better by now, and it kind of disappointed me. This tiny plotline felt like such a dud. I understand it shows Gansey’s do-gooder nature, but I thought it would at least lead to some sort of confrontation between Gansey and Ronan. But, like other things, it led to nothing and was just never brought back up.
Adam and Ronan
Lastly, Adam and Ronan STOLE THE SHOW for me. I loved every second with them. I loved the progression of their relationship, their deepening understanding of each other, the care they took with one another in that understanding. I loved Adam finally understanding that he was capable of love, and of magic, and that both of these things are what make up Ronan.I loved both of their character progressions, I loved them finding and accepting themselves and finding and understanding and loving each other.. I loved their friendship, the trust they really began to build in Blue Lily, Lily Blue and how it expanded in this book, and how they came together. I love Adam and Ronan, and am so, so pleased with what this book did for them. If nothing else worked in this book, Ronan and Adam were done perfectly. I was 100% satisfied with them. I LOVE THEM.
The kiss in Ronan’s room?? When Adam was exploring the barns, realizing it was a place made from love and getting overwhelmed by it, how this was the place that raised Ronan, how it was Ronan, everywhere, the love and warmth. How utterly opposite Ronan’s childhood was to his childhood, how Ronan finds him and sits beside him and probably can see the look on his face at recalling that memory and just…completes the love by kissing him, and perhaps then, (even though he was trying to get all analytical AS USUAL, but couldn’t, because he was too happy) Adam finally began to really understand love, that what he’d been feeling with Ronan wasn’t a game on his part, but a true reciprocation of his feelings. How he tries to work this out when he talks to Gansey, and Gansey tells him Blue makes him quiet, like Henrietta, and the next morning Adam wakes up in the barns, and everything is so quiet and still.
Finally they dream together and they get each other and they protect each other and they’re so careful not to hurt each other. When Adam is possessed and Ronan speaks Latin into his hearing ear and Adam is contained, he holds Adam up, and Adam is free, and Ronan doesn’t want him to stay, just to come back. MY HEART!!!
Ronan and Adam, as separate characters and as a pairing, were my favorite aspect of The Raven Cycle.
Depending on where you began the story…
I loved how at the start of the series, with Blue’s curse and all, it seemed as if Blue and Gansey would be the main characters, the main romance, and at some point during the third book this got flipped with Adam and Ronan. To me, it felt as if Ronan and Adam’s relationship really overtook them, which completely surprised me. In the end, I felt that this was Ronan and Adam’s story, their stories. I feel that The Raven Cycle was about them, together and individually, more than who the books began with- Blue and Gansey, her curse and his death, back when Ronan and Adam felt like mere secondary character, like Gansey’s sidekicks. There was a line by the Gray Man, “Adam Parrish and his band of merry men,” and Maura questions him with, don’t you mean Gansey?? I completely adored this part, how it played with exactly who story is about, whose it is, who’s we expect it to be about (also, I ultimately agree with the Gray Man- my opinion is that Adam is the central character of The Raven cycle). I loved how many chapters began with “depending on where you began the story, it was about…” I loved how the Raven Cycle was about our protagonists, how it turned characters we hardly knew into the lead, how it made the entirety of the story look different when it was about them. I loved this aspect about the series, and about The Raven King.
Overall, I have infinite love for the Raven Cycle. It was one of the best series I read this year, and I love how much it makes me think and consider and ponder. I love the metaphorical aspect of it, even if, in the end, I would have preferred a more concrete plot resolution. The Raven Cycle was a fantastic reading experience, and I’ll love it till the end of time :’)
If you’ve read The Raven King, what did you think of it? Have any different interpretations? I’d love to hear from you!