Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme originally created by The Broke and the Bookish. Check out their list here!
This week’s prompt is Ten Reasons I Love X
I chose The Raven Cycle quartet by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s been over a month since that last book in the series came out and I still haven’t been able to stop thinking about this world. I already know these books are going to stay with me for a long time. This post is basically me trying to figure out why.
Although I’m discussing the series as a whole, this list will NOT contain spoilers. The last thing I want is to ruin these amazing books for you!
This is the most personal point in the list and obviously it won’t apply to anyyone but me. These books came into my life just at the right time! I remember I had an essay to write when I hit the halfway point in The Raven Boys, and let’s just say I had to pull an allnighter to write the essay because I was completely enthralled by the book all afternoon. The last book came out during my last week of high school which seemed so fitting. And again studying for my exams be damned! I finished that book that very day. It goes without saying that these books carry a personal significance.
I was going through many of the same things the characters were living in the story.Unfortunately not the magical parts. That’s the thing about these books, they go beyond looking for a sleeping Welsh king. The kids face the some of the same problems as real teenagers: trying to figure out who they are what they want to do, and who they want to be. Wanting and searching for something more, to put in the books’ terms.
It’s really hard to sum up the plot of these books concisely. It goes beyond Glendower, beyond Blue’s prophecy, beyond the villains. Even then, the actual story is so much more than the plot itself. I went into the books expecting a certain kind of story which was so far off of what they actually are about.
For me though, the plot always was an excuse for the characters, their relationships, and the world. An overall well-written and engrossing excuse, though. That’s why it’s ranked relatively low on this list. (Maybe this is why I didn’t have the same problems other people did but that’s a whole other discussion.)
These books have some of the dreamiest locations (pun kind of intended?) I’ve encountered and Stiefvater describes them beautifully. From magical forests to a house full of psychics and so much more, each location is unique and incredibly vivid. They are such an intrinsic part of the story and characters. Few books manage to weave together the atmosphere and story as well as this series. Also being set in rural Virginia allows many real issues to come alongside the magic. It’s an excellent mix between reality and fantasy.
It’s hard to describe the magic system in this series, mainly because there isn’t one. There’s no point in the book where the plot halts for a long explanation of how magic works in this world. It’s not a single type of magic, either. There are tarot readings and ley lines and a lot more I can’t talk about without going into spoiler territory.
Mixing as many types of magic could have gone so very wrong, instead they come together in a cohesive and intriguing way. The magic can range from very funny to downright creepy. And for the reader, it can also gain a whole other layer thanks to how symbolic it can become.
Magic is treated as something very tangible and at the same time very surreal. Things are explained (the topics have clearly been thoroughly researched by the author), sure, but you also get the sense there’s a lot more to it. Many things that the characters don’t or can’t understand but you get to experience all of it along with them.
This kind of comes hand-in-hand with the plot and I can’t go into specifics for obvious reasons. I decided to give them their own entry because I was left surprised and shocked so many times in the books. I normally don’t make noises while I read but I remember audibly gasping at several different times while reading these. Special shout-out to the last lines of the first three books.
5. Foreshadowing of the Aforementioned Twists
What’s a twist without set up? The hard thing about pulling off shocking twists well is that, if they come out of nowhere, you get taken out of the narrative and start feeling cheated. But if they’re set up in the wrong way then you might see them coming. For me, a good twist is not I didn’t see that coming, but how did I not see that coming. A truly great twist makes you reevaluate what you thought you knew.
These books manage to strike a perfect balance between foreshadowing and still being able to make you go omg what just happened before making you think back of all the previous scene involving that have been affected by particular twist. More than that, some of the foreshadowing for book four or three can be found as far back as book one. And it comes together perfectly. It’s not just in the throwaway lines and little hints, but also the tension that comes from the prophecies laid out early on the series.
Needless to say, this makes the books a joy to reread. When I reread, I found myself loudly sobbing over lines that didn’t seem significant the first time around. Even after I finished the last book, I knew there was still a lot to discover in the previous books.
4. Side Characters
This series also has a bunch of really funny and vivid side characters with varied degrees of impact on the main story. Virtually all of them are very clearly defined. I’m not saying they’re all super rounded characters but they’re original enough to stand out. They make the world so much bigger.
That said some characters aside from the main ones do get developed and even have their own arcs. Especially when they get their own chapters (the series is written in 3rd person limited). My favorites have to be the women from 300 Fox Way who are always up in their own psychic shenanigans.
3. Writing Style
This point depends on taste really, but I loved the writing style. It’s full of metaphors and imagery that helps create the surreal atmosphere of the series. In that way the quartet is one of the most “poetic” ones in YA (that I’ve read).
More than once, Stiefvater plays with the wordchoice so things that you thought weren’t meant to take literally actually are, which showcases the magic of this world at purely textual level. Again no examples because of spoilers.
As I mentioned when talking about the setting, some of the descriptions are amazing.
I included a few quotes to give out some examples but it’s not the same as while you’re reading the books. The first two come from The Raven Boys and last one from The Dream Thieves.
And everywhere, everywhere, there were books. Not the tidy stacks of an intellectual trying to impress, but the slumping piles of a scholar obsessed.
Being Adam Parrish was a complicated thing, a wonder of muscles and organs, synapses and nerves. He was a miracle of moving parts, a study in survival.
Time was a circle, a rut, a worn tape Ronan never tired of playing.
2. Character Arcs/Growth
Now onto the main characters. They don’t only have their own distinct voices and personalities, they are also deeply flawed. The flaws come from their own humanity, not necessarily the magic itself which makes their journey pretty powerful (especially Adam’s). For example, Gansey is privileged and tends to accidentally make remarks that hurt other people. The thing is that the narrative holds him accountable for it. He’s allowed to try to grow.
Each of the main characters has an individual journey and arc. These are well executed for the most part. The characters have their own motivations and internal conflicts that evolve throughout the books. And the story really works in their favor to highlight and explore them. When you compare how characters were at the beginning with the place they’re at in the final book, you truly get the sense that they’ve grown. No growth comes without being earned in these books.
I don’t think I would’ve loved the series if the characters were half as vivid.
But what she didn’t realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another […] Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.
Ultimately, at the core of these books is the dynamics and friendships between the main characters, their foundation, what made fall in love with them. Like the characters, the friendships are flawed. They struggle, disagree, fight, but they also care about each other so deeply and earnestly about that you as a reader understand why they are friends and want to stay that way.
Each dynamic is unique and evolves throughout the books. Though some get more focus than others, they’re all layered. It’s not only in the big moments that you learn about them, it’s the dialogue and the little moments that make up these friendships. Even the romances stem the kind of friendship described above (from Blue Lily, Lily Blue). I cannot really make them justice without going into spoilers but I will mention my favorites are probably Blue/Noah, Adam/Gansey, Ronan/Blue and of course the main couples (but really I love them all).
Few books value friendships as much as The Raven Cycle. They are what is at stake, what move the plot forward, what I won’t forget about the quartet.