Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Raven King


Book Title: The Raven King
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Series: The Raven Cycle #4
Date Started: July 25th 2016
Date Completed: August 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Star
Final Rating: Three stars

I'm conflicted about the conclusion to The Raven Cycle, but the thing that just keeps slipping back into my head is what was the point of these books as a series? There's no reason the story had to take this long: everything has been in place since the beginning, and though it's taken a while for that to be revealed to the readers, the characters were effectively aware of this the whole time. If the characters had needed to develop to a certain point before everything resolved itself then I would understand, but I don't feel like either that happening or it even being a requirement came across.

It’s taken me four books to work it out, but the reason this series has felt off for me right from the start is because Stiefvater couldn’t quite decide what she wanted. These books are caught halfway between a YA supernatural romance and see sort of poetic magical realist literature, being dragged one way when it suits, and the other in between. The writing is overly poetic at times, but then the characters speak in annoyingly modern ways; not a lot of physical events happen so we’re inclined to lean towards the emotional subtext, but anything important is only given to us in dramatic events; there’s all these little backstories and side narratives that end up being irrelevant to the actual story; one moment Blue's a main protagonist, then she's sharing it with Gansey, then neither of them are important and it's Ronan and Adam's story. I have no doubt that it could have been pulled off, but it didn't even feel like Steifvater was trying to get a balance or mixture - it just felt like she wanted to keep her options open and couldn't commit to either. On the one hand I understand why this happened, but it left me so uncertain as to what I should react to and how, and kept drawing me out of the story throughout the entire thing. This was personally a huge thing that got to me because this series has had so much potential from the start but it's never quite made it there.

For all these books I’ve felt a little detached from the narrative, but more so this time. I think by this point there were so many people to keep up with when I really just wanted to get to explore the protagonists, so I wasn’t really engaging with the side narratives which take up at least half of The Raven King. We end up having these huge sections on one character, then a strange almost interval from some irrelevant secondary character and then a huge section for a different protagonist, but there’s no cohesion between everything. It didn’t feel like Blue and her Raven Boys; it felt like Blue and Adam and Ronan and Gansey separated with other one-off people.
This is particularly apparent when it came to the antagonist storyline. Did ‘Team Evil’ (pokémon reference anyone?) actually have any impact whatsoever on anything in the end? Considering how much time and effort throughout this series has been put into drawing us away from the protagonists to see what’s going on with this host of evil people that all blend into one honestly, I would at least expect something to come out of it. But I’m genuinely struggling a bit to remember what they did past killing each other every other chapter.
Now, it’s always hard to end a series. The more conclusions I read to series the more I empathise with the authors that have to somehow tie things together for the story to be resolved, but gently enough to open up opportunities for the reader’s imagination on what happens next. Sufficed to say, I wasn’t happy with the ending of The Raven Cycle - but only on one side of it. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the climax being a let-down, but personally I felt it was done well enough to close the story (keeping in mind that this story has always been a little illusive on what’s really going on). What disappointed me was the emotional cop out, and that quite frankly ruined it. The whole mystery is tied up and done with, sure, but where was that proper emotion at the end with these characters. Up to now, The Raven Cycle has been a series about people, but it felt like that just couldn’t hold up at the final hurdle, and so we got a nice neat plot end, but just a bit of an empty mess for everything else.

The characters have always been the strongest parts of these books, and while having such a wide variety of protagonists, antagonists and side characters is great for building up a world, it just became too much in this last book.
Gansey and Blue are probably the ‘main’ characters of this series, being at the heart of the primary storyline and given a little more screen time than everyone else, as well as being mentioned by every other character we meet. But in a series like this where we’re supposed to be looking at a community instead of an individual, things have been getting a bit muddled: they’re not really supposed to be the protagonists, but they end up feeling like this. I think Stiefvater tried to balance this out more in The Raven King by just not featuring them as much, but instead of them not being quite so much the center of attention, they just felt less solid than in the previous books. That might also be down to the fact that they’re officially a couple now, and all storytellers seem to struggle to create interest when two people are no longer beating around the bush about their feelings for each other.
Ronan and Adam are much more interesting to me - even more so now that I’ve reached a place where the way Adam’s narrative is presented doesn’t annoy me. I’ve never had a problem with his story, in fact I think it’s one of the strongest parts of these books, but just the way Stiefvater got it across always made me just a little bit irritated. A lot of me coming to terms with it finally is because of Adam’s involvement with Ronan in this book. Ronan’s been one of my favourites since the start, and he’s become increasingly interesting as the books have progressed: and finally we actually get to really properly explore him. While I don’t like how overflowing this series becomes with unnecessary characters, it has meant that Ronan has slowly been given more and more time in scenes. Rightly deserved, too.
However, the issue of all these irrelevant characters being added was a huge one, not least because it cut out some of the strongest figures in this series. I don’t really understand why someone like Henry - a painfully average and new character that hasn’t created a bond with the reader - is suddenly brought in as a main character, and people like Noah and the women of 300 Fox Way disappear for no reason. The logic of replacing characters that have been properly developed over three books and just in general are so interesting, and new people just doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m personally quite annoyed by this because Noah and the psychics were by far the most interesting people in this series, and yet we get to see them for collectively about four pages worth, if that.

Stiefvater's books have always taken me that little bit longer to read since I find her writing hard to read in big chunks, and even more so in this book where everything feels quite static to begin with. However, that last third of the book I enjoyed more than the last three books put together - it was just ruined by that cop-out at the end. I know other people are a little disappointed by how the climax itself played out, but I was actually okay with the resolution to the event-driven plot; it's the emotional relationship-driven plot that fell down for me.

The Raven Cycle has been a fun ride and worth the read, but I’m still quite conflicted about where I stand with it. The big thing for me was the fact it housed a lot of potential but chose to focus on some strange areas of development within that. The Raven King itself was a good conclusion to the quartet, and kept up the themes and feel of the books - I was just hoping for a little more in the end.

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