Coven Chat: The Raven Cycle

 

17675462It’s time for our Coven Chat about Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. If you haven’t read the series yet, please remember that spoilers lie ahead, beware!

Allison: Overall, the best thing about this series is the writing. Really, I don’t always care about writing style that much. I’m in it for the stories. If a story is well crafted and the prose doesn’t get in the way, I’m usually happy. But these books are gorgeously written and especially for The Raven King, it’s all that matters. Whether or not I like the Glendower storyline matters very little in the face of the writing and I love that.

Alyssa: Yes, Stiefvater’s writing is fantastic. Her rich and interesting characters make up for some weaknesses in the storyline.

Nicola: One of the things I’ve always loved about this series is the way that sometimes I catch myself reading 100 pages and being utterly unable to put into words what happened in the story, but being so completely engrossed I can’t wait to go back. There’s something about the characters and the worldbuilding that’s so completely encompassing, so that even when the plot moves at a leisurely pace it never feels like the story is stagnant.

Allison: Stiefvater writes amazing characters. I love how well I felt I knew the main cast in these books. There’s so much depth to each of the boys, as well as Blue (though I do feel she’s the least developed of the four). Even though I read the first three books over a year ago, my memories of character are incredibly vivid.

Nicola: Yes, the characters are so vivid. Partly because of that, though, I was disappointed that we didn’t see more of Blue in The Raven King.

Allison: I agree! There was a lot going on in terms of characters, both old and new, which I think is always the issue with the last book in a series. It struck me right away that she faded out a little in this one.

Nicola: Although characters like Adam and Gansey arguably have backgrounds more similar to the audience’s, Blue always felt to me like the novel’s ‘gateway’ character, the one through whose eyes we’re introduced to the wo17347389 rld and the story, perhaps because she comes to the group of Raven Boys as an outsider, as someone who is unfamiliar with the quest for Glendower, and in spite of her rather unconventional family she still feels like a ‘normal’ teenage girl, far more normal than a group of boys, two of whom have died and another of whom can pull things out of dreams, who chase after an ancient king. As such, she felt like the protagonist, and I rather missed her presence in this book, which focussed much more on Gansey, Ronan and Adam (even though I love those three as well). I also missed Noah in this book, although his gradual corruption was foreshadowed earlier in the series. He is, after all, dead. I did appreciate, however, that he still got to play a role in not only the culmination of the story, but also in the moment that set it all in motion.

Allison: Yes, it’s interesting that this series is primarily about male characters, even though Blue is set up as the protagonist. I’ve come to expect that the series I like best will probably have primarily female characters, so aspect of things has consistently surprised me. I really enjoyed getting to know each of the boys individually. Ronan is definitely my favorite, overall. I was, however, disappointed that Blue doesn’t have a female friend her own age that is an active part of the story. This series plays into a “I’m not like other girls, so I’m friends with boys” stereotype that makes me a little uncomfortable at times.

Nicola: This is a good point. I think it’s ameliorated somewhat by the fact that Blue’s life is filled with interesting, supportive women, as well as that the series makes it clear she didn’t have ANY friends before she met her Raven boys, but it does still fall into the “not like other girls” stereotype.

Alyssa: I agree. If we didn’t have the women of 300 Fox Way, then I would have found Blue’s friendship with only boys–the Raven Boys–more problematic because she does fall into the “not like other girls” stereotype. But it seems that Blue may be aware that she falls into this stereotype and perhaps is slightly critical of her own biases. Is Stiefvater critiquing such stereotypes while also celebrating Blue’s friendship with all males? I’m not sure.

Allison: Even though Blue doesn’t have female friends, there are lots of great women in these books. I appreciate that they range from good, to ambiguous, to outright evil. And I love that they are psychics. It’s a magical system that isn’t used a lot in fantasy, which tends to hone in on more exciting forms of magic, but I find divination really interesting. I also like that they’re all performing their craft in different ways. From classic tarot cards to pay-by-the-minute psychic readings, I like that the women Blue lives with have true abilities, but have to make a living in some nearly mundane ways.

Nicola: Yes! One of my favourite things about urban fantasy is the way it intermingles the magical and the mundane. The women of 300 Fox Way have magical talents, and Stiefvater could have gone the other way and had them hold down mundane careers and keep the psychic stuff to themselves, but instead they bring their magical talents into the mundane world and make a living with them. For some of them that comes with all the trappings that mundane customers expect when they go to a tarot reading, whether or not it’s necessary for the divination to actually work, whereas others are much more modern. And I really liked the contrast between Neeve and the rest of the psychics, in that it’s clear the others do draw a line in terms of how public they’re willing to go.

Alyssa: Yes, I love how Stiefvater mixes the magical and the mundane into all of her characters. I also love that the women of 300 of Fox Way are psychics, and that the other characters have diverse magical abilities. Ronan’s dreaming ability is my favorite.

17378508Allison: Ronan is my favorite character, primarily because he is so well developed. We get to know him and his motivations the best, as well as his family’s struggle overall, and I appreciate that.

Alyssa: Ronan’s probably my favorite character, too, for the reasons you mentioned and because of his magical ability. Adam is also one of my favorite characters because, like Ronan, he struggles with powerful magical abilities (Cabeswater) and with serious family issues. Their romance is my favorite because of what they have in common and how they support one another.

Allison: Oh yeah, the Ronan+Adam (Rodam? Adron? Whatever…) romance was definitely the one I had the most invested in. Gansey and Blue seemed like endgame no matter what to me, but Ronan and Adam were unpredictable.

Alyssa: I like that it worked in this series that Adam and Blue had a bit of a romance in the first book, and that Ronan and Adam didn’t get together until the end of the series. I’m curious. Did you see it coming? I think Stiefvater did a good job of hinting that it could happen, but she didn’t make a big deal out of it.  

Allison: I did see it coming from Ronan’s end, but I wasn’t sure about Adam, which I liked a lot. It wasn’t a question of “is Adam gay?” but “Is Adam ready to be involved with anyone, let alone Ronan?”  I really appreciate how both Adam and Ronan evolve as individual characters in this book and, of course, how they eventually grow together. I enjoyed their love story the most.

Nicola: Me too! I love how their developing relationship involves both of them growing as individuals.

Allison: I said this in my rec, but I really enjoyed the way that Stiefvater grows the characters into adulthood throughout the series, and I think that culminates a lot in this book. The extreme circumstances that they go through makes them into adults in a really cool way.

Nicola: There was one paragraph when Blue’s fetching her bike after school and feels totally out of touch with her classmates, like she and her friends are all a thousand years old:

She felt one thousand years old. She also felt like maybe she was a condescending brat […] She wanted her friends, who were also one-thousand-year-old condescending brats. She wanted to live in a world where she was surrounded by one-thousand-year-old condescending brats.

17378527It made me laugh because it’s such a perfect representation of not only Blue and her friends, but so many teenagers in YA in general.

Allison: I completely agree. Something we’ve all said at one point or another is that this series is a really interesting mix of extremely ordinary teenage behavior mixed in with extraordinary circumstances, which is why Gansey’s search for Glendower as the primary motivation for all of the action in the series leaves me a little cold. The Cabeswater storyline (even though it related to the Glendower theme) made more sense to me in terms of the characters themselves. There’s a part of me that wishes that had been the center of the series, and in some ways it is, which makes the Glendower search seem a bit peripheral at times.

Alyssa: Yes,I was more interested in Gansey’s search for Glendower earlier on in the series, and I think the storyline falls flat compared to Cabeswater and the characters’ magical abilities. I was slightly disappointed by how Stiefvater wrapped up the Glendower storyline in the end. But I loved all of the secondary characters involved in the storyline–Mr. Gray, Laumonier, Piper, Greenmantle, Henry, Malory, Gwenllian, Artemus–even if the search for the dead king didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Allison: Even though the Glendower storyline didn’t quite work for me, I kind of liked the fact that there were aspects of The Raven King that were totally predictable (and if you read Maggie Stiefvater’s blog she promised that they would be over and over). But things happen in ways that you don’t expect, which I also like a lot. I even liked that Gansey dies (like you knew he was going to) and he comes back (which you knew he would). Sometimes I hate that kind of predictability, but in this case it worked for me.

Alyssa: Yes, I think Stiefvater is really good at balancing the unpredictable and predictable. In some ways this is such an unusual series, but we also know from the first few pages of The Raven Boys that Blue will fall in love with Gansey, and he will die. And his coming back to life at the end of the series brings the right amount of hope without being corny.

Allison: I totally agree. I feel like things wrapped up nicely.

Thanks so much for joining us today! Let us know what you thought about the series in the comments. 

 


The Raven King

17378527This post originally appeared in May, but as we are having our Coven Chat about the series on Friday, we are re-posting it now. -CBC

In September of last year, Nicola recommended Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle to you. At the time, we were in the long wait for the last book in the series, The Raven King. One of the things that Nicola touched on in her recommendation was how these books are complicated in that they are in many ways what folks would consider “typically” YA, but in the tradition of what we talk about a lot around here, they’re much more than that stereotype.

While I was reading The Raven King, I was reminded of how odd these books truly are. Stiefvater’s style of writing is slower paced than a lot of YA, but is also lyrical and mysterious, which draws the reader in. She rarely out and out tells you something, but instead shows it to you from a variety of angles. The Raven King is constructed in such as way that even though the plots points of the nearly 600 page book are fairly straightforward, the telling of them is not. The understanding of them is not. It’s good writing and I love good writing.

When I look at the way the events in The Raven King played out, I have to admit they were fairly predictable. Things I thought would happen did. Things I figured were true were. But none of this reduced my enjoyment of the novel a bit. In fact, it was the understanding of how they were true that was enjoyable. The trick is that Stiefvater told you what was going to happen in the first book, The Raven Boys. You’ve known from the beginning how things will end, and they do end that way, but they don’t end the way you knew they would the way you thought they might. The whys and the hows are different from what you might expect.

Some things about the book are disappointing, as all endings are, and others are so satisfying that I’ll think about them for weeks. One of the things I adore about these books and have from the very beginning is the way friendship and family are portrayed as nebulous, ambiguous and ultimately so complicated we often don’t know what’s happening right in front of our eyes. I’m afraid to say much more, because I’d like those of you who’ve been reading The Raven Cycle all along to have your moments with these characters.

What I’ll say is that I love the ways in which the four teenagers expand into adults in this book. I love the way that Stiefvater shows that they were children before these things happened and now they are not quite grown-ups, but that they are most definitely adults. Of course, Gansey has always been the most adult of the four, but even this is complicated in that his enormous sense of responsibility breaks down to the fact that he is a scared child who doesn’t want to die, no matter how kingly it makes him.

Ronan is still Ronan, stubborn and full of bravado, but he is also openly tender and loving.  Adam confronts his past with his parents and his desire for love and belonging and is able to grow into a man who believes he is worthy of such things. And our dear Blue Sargent comes face to face with her own self and the ways in which knowing and loving all three of these men has changed her, as well as the ways her roots run deep and she is more the same than ever.

I think if you’ve been enjoying the series you’ll be happy with the way things turn out. It’s the kind of ending that makes you satisfied you read the whole series. If you haven’t read the series yet, I encourage you to go back and read Nicola’s rec again and decide if these books are for you.

Allison Carr Waechter will be in her hammock reading until June. Send messenger crows if you need her. 


Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle

The Raven Boys

This post originally appeared a year ago but as we are having our Coven Chat about the series on Friday, we are re-posting it now. -CBC

A few weeks ago, Allison, Alyssa and I talked about the liminal space between YA and adult fantasy, particularly highlighting books we thought were more adult-oriented that had been classed by publishers, bookstores, or other bookish organisations as YA. Today I’m recommending a series that fits into that liminal space. It’s a firmly YA series, about a group of teenagers struggling with the demands of school (including finding the funds for university), troubles with parents (ranging from healthy rebellion to abuse and bereavement), and other themes that place it solidly in the young adult category.

In Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle, Blue Sargent is the only woman in a house full of psychics with no supernatural ability. She’s distressingly normal, except for one thing: everyone who has ever read her fortune has told her that if she kisses her true love, he will die. When she meets a group of boys from a nearby prep school, she doesn’t consider herself at particular risk of falling in love with any of them – but she adheres to her strict no-kissing-just-in-case policy, regardless. Over time, however, she becomes wrapped up in their quest to find the tomb of the Welsh prince Glendower, befriending and coming to care for them and, just possibly, falling in love with one of them.

The Dream ThievesAlthough many of the themes are quintessentially YA, it’s also a series that I think would appeal to a lot of adult readers who have either been hesitant about trying YA or who have read a few YA books and found them not to their tastes. For one thing, the adult characters are given as much care and attention as the teens. Rather than being relegated to the periphery or antagonistic roles, as they so often are in YA fiction, the adults in this series are not only fully-developed characters, but also people who affect and are affected by the plot. They even get their own POV scenes at times, a rarity in YA books.

The use of multiple POVs is another way in which this series has a more adult feel than a lot of YA, which is so often told from a close first-person perspective. Though most scenes are told solidly from a particular character’s perspective, there are times when the narrative veers into third-person omniscient, as well as relating events from the perspective of a minor character, such as the wife of one of the teachers at the boys’ school. It’s a narrative choice many readers of adult fiction will be more familiar with than those who stick to the YA section, though I think it serves this story well.

Blue Lily, Lily BlueThe pacing, too, is more adult than YA, particularly the first book. It crossed my mind at one point around halfway through that, if pressed, I’d struggle to summarise what had actually happened so far, and yet I was utterly absorbed in the story. The small interactions between the characters, the magical quality to their pursuit of the Glendower myth, all these subtle elements create an overall atmosphere that draws the reader in.

The series’ strengths aren’t only in the ways it appeals to adult readers, of course. As I said before, it is a solidly YA series, and a wonderful one at that. It features rich, mythical world-building whose magic is enhanced by the real-world setting. It’s also the first YA book I’ve read since The Princess Diaries where the protagonist is not only an outspoken feminist, but one identified as such by herself and other characters.

Nicola lives and reads in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she’s eagerly awaiting the release of The Raven King. If you want to get in touch, your best bet is Twitter.


A Different Kind of Witch

26114389I’ve been looking for a good witchy read to get in the mood for fall (I am SO over summer right now). I love the A Discovery of Witches series, by Deborah Harkness and I’m constantly looking for something that evokes the same kind of high stakes drama, with a hefty dose of romance.

Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey wasn’t that book. At all. But I really, really liked it. It’s a book about grief, family and learning to love. It’s a unique book about witches in that it isn’t based on more typical Northeast U.S./Salem-ish witches, with spatterings of other more traditional magical creatures. Instead, Spells of Blood and Kin focuses on Russian folklore, which means that if you’re looking for something Salem-ish, move on.

When I scanned through Goodreads reviews, I found that the majority of people who didn’t like this book seemed to have trouble with the fact that the supernatural creatures in this book weren’t easy to pin down in terms of the usual fare. The “kin” aren’t werewolves or vampires explicitly, nor do we ever get a detailed definition of who and what they are, how many there are, or even the full picture on the primary kin character. No, this book does things its own way.

The book is told from a threefold POV: Lissa (our witch), Maksim (our centuries-old kin) and Nick (our brand new kin), accompanied by a small cast of side characters. When the story opens we find that Lissa’s grandmother has just died and she’s bound to follow in Baba’s footsteps as the local witch in her Russian-Canadian community. Barred from the church, but simultaneously respected and feared, Lissa is a bit isolated until her stepsister, Stella, crashes into her life.

Our second protagonist, Nick – and I kind of hesitate to call him a protagonist, as he’s the most unlikable and problematic character of the bunch – is a college student with a drinking problem. Even before his supernatural trip, he’s kind of a jackass and a bad friend. But his life gets turned upside down when he is mugged outside a bar, and a dark stranger randomly licks his bloody face. Yeah, that happens, which brings us to Maksim.

Maksim’s control over his violent urges are slipping, resulting in lost time and situations like the aforementioned oddity. Maksim is kin and when Lissa’s grandmother dies, he starts to lose his mind, which brings him to her for help. We get plenty of flashbacks into Maksim’s past to help us understand why he enlisted the help of a witch to begin with, especially when it seems his kind are largely repelled by them.

Sometimes I have a problem when multiple POVs exceed two perspectives, but in this case I think it works well. I’m not sure I would have understood the ending, which is a bit of a surprise, if I hadn’t had a close look at our three protagonists. I especially appreciate the way that Maksim’s perspective is a bridge of understanding between Lissa and Nick’s characters. Really, the book wouldn’t work if told from just Lissa and Nick’s perspectives, or Maksim and Lissa’s; you couldn’t understand the way the characters end up otherwise.

I liked that Humphrey doesn’t give us a “big bad.” Regular human problems like grief, family troubles, addiction and major life changes are all addressed with the amplification of the supernatural elements in the story. But honestly, all three characters are easy to relate to because they struggle with the kinds of things we’re familiar with: how the death of a loved one will change your life, the way some friends become family and some family will never fit into your life, no matter how hard you try to make it work.

I also appreciate that Humphrey writes Nick as the quintessential example of toxic masculinity. He’s angry at women, he’s violent, he’s entitled and a pain in the rear for everyone who’s trying desperately to help him. Sure, this is made worse by the fact that Maksim turns him into a supernaturally strong immortal creature, defined by rage. However, when we have Maksim and his companion Augusta to compare him to, it’s clear that becoming kin ramps up your “bad”side, but it doesn’t make you into a brand new person.

Even though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, Spells of Blood and Kin went a long way to satisfy my witchy-read itch. It has a slower pace than a lot of books about supernatural stuff and is also a bit shorter. I was a little surprised when I glanced down to find I’d read 97% of the book in two evenings. I recommend it to folks who enjoyed Station Eleven’s unique, slightly slower feel, even though this is a much different book in terms of subject matter.

Allison Carr Waechter is off to the wild next week. Enjoy our conversation about Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle while she’s gone.

 

 

 


The Darkest Magic

The Darkest MagicA few months ago I recommended Morgan Rhodes’ A Book of Spirits and Thieves, the urban fantasy spin-off to her high fantasy Falling Kingdoms series. Last month the sequel, The Darkest Magic, was released. Carrying on from where ABOSAT left off, The Darkest Magic explores the consequences of Farrell’s decisions, the darker side to Maddox’s magic, and what Becca’s supernatural heritage means for her family.

As I mentioned in my recommendation for ABOSAT, the sibling relationship between Crys and Becca is nuanced and realistic; they’re neither best friends nor constantly bickering. The Darkest Magic adds a new level to this, with Becca’s burgeoning supernatural connection. It’s not something Becca wants, and it’s not something she benefits from in any perceptible manner, yet it’s undeniably important in terms of stopping Markus and Valoria. This leaves Crys envious of her sister’s importance, because it dawns on her that she’s the only one in her circle who is replaceable. At once she envies Becca and realises how ridiculous it is to envy Becca for something like this. It’s such a very sisterly thing to do, to both envy her sister and realise she shouldn’t, and I love that Rhodes doesn’t shy away from such contradictions.

Although Crys and Becca’s relationship is my favourite, the character whose POV I enjoyed the most was Farrell’s. At the end of ABOSAT, he accepted the third mark from Markus, subsuming his will to his master’s. While reading the book, it’s never quite clear how much of his thoughts and actions are truly his, and how much of them are Markus’. At times he clearly appears to be acting under Markus’ influence, while at other times he appears himself. And yet it’s in those moments that we’re faced with the undeniable truth: We’ve never ‘met’ Farrell as himself, because he was already under Markus’ command when he was introduced. What results is a character whose motivations are nebulous even when we’re reading his own internal narrative.

This depth of characterisation will be familiar to readers of the Falling Kingdoms series, as will Rhodes’ willingness to heighten the stakes and create heart-stopping plot twists. The Darkest Magic will have you on the edge of your seat, desperate to learn what happens next. Without spoiling anything, there was one moment in particular near the climax of the novel that had me frantically reading ahead, unable to peel my eyes away from the page.

The sequel to ABOSAT is a thrilling, emotional installment that will leave you eagerly awaiting the conclusion to the trilogy.

Nicola has been reading more Canadian fiction than usual lately, and she thinks you should too. You can find her on Twitter.