So, a few months ago, I decided to re-read the 4 books of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Initially I read books 1 and 4 several years ago (when each was first published), and I just could not get into the writing style, the characters, or the plot. And quite honestly, this really bugged me, after thoroughly enjoying The Scorpio Races, and being so love in with The Wolves of Mercy Falls that I called it my top trilogy of the 2010s.
So, what made The Raven Boys so different for me? I couldn’t even put my finger on it, but there was an underlying tone to the writing that just seemed…somehow off. It wasn’t until recently, when I found out that Stiefvater had been tremendously ill for a number of years — while trying to finish writing The Raven Cycle — that it clicked.
Not wanting to just give up on one of my favorite authors, especially now that I understood there were extenuating circumstances, I determined that acquiring copies of and reading the entire series immediately was the way forward.
That part was an interesting journey in itself.
To begin with, the first set I ordered had really uneven printing — on some pages, the text was so light, I could barely make out all the words. It became really frustrating, to have to sit in just the right light, at just the right angle and right time of day, merely to be able to follow the story. So I returned that set, and ordered another, from a different store.
I experienced the same exact problem. While it wasn’t as pronounced in this set, and seemed to be mostly confined to books 1 and 4, there were still pages in books 2 and 3 where the words inexplicably faded considerably, then the density of the ink picked right back up in the next paragraph. It was disconcerting, and actually hampered my enjoyment of reading.
It made me sad.
Especially since I had finally found what was missing from my first experience with this series: its heart.
It all washed over me at once: Gansey and Blue are ADORABLE, Ronan is awesome, Adam is such a precious misunderstood cinnamon roll, and Noah’s tragic backstory, just…sobbing emoji. By the end of The Dream Thieves, I was IN LOVE with The Gray Man, the Lynch brothers, SO BADLY rooting for Blue and Gansey to beat their curses, and IT WAS ALL SO AMAZING.
And then…it all began to fall apart for me in Blue Lily, Lily Blue. *sobs*
I have mentally gone back and forth about whether it’s mean or not to attempt to objectively critique the work of an author who was very sick at the time of writing. Because my respect and appreciation of the author remains intact — possibly it’s even gone up, knowing that she still managed to churn out bestselling novels despite suffering with serious health conditions.
Which is why it’s a little painful to admit that…the second half of this series falls distinctly flat for me. Evaluating as a reader, I have to say there were many inconsistencies, secondary characters that just kind of disappeared, subplots simply gone away, the introduction of new characters whose purpose was lost on me, and too many scenes that should’ve been pivotal felt either cut short, or the transitions were jumpy and it seemed like there was too much happening “offscreen.” I don’t agree with the direction of some of the character arcs, because they didn’t make sense for me as I was reading, and their choices seemed to come out of nowhere.
It’s why, in the end, I’m still going to rate this series as “in the middle” for my own enjoyment. It won’t probably ever rank up there with The Wolves of Mercy Falls. This does tug on my heartstrings a bit, I won’t lie. I do still kind of wish I could so deeply devote myself to all of the books written by an author who has given me so many cherished moments of laughter and tears.
But that’s also an important part of being a reader: Realizing that you are allowed your own opinion, that the writer doesn’t owe you anything, and making that special connection is worth savoring. We can’t expect every single book we pick up to change our lives. We should relish the ones that do.
And I know I do. Every time I catch a glimpse of the spines of Shiver, Linger, and Forever on my bookshelves, I smile. I sleep on a pillowcase bearing raven feathers and the words, “You are made of dreams.” Hanging from my light fixture is a wooden ornament announcing to the world, “Trees in your eyes, stars in your heart.” I know I’ll read whatever Maggie Stiefvater releases in the future, whether I adore it, or merely appreciate it.
There are so few authors I’ve read in my adult life who have spoken to me on a personal level, letting go because of one or two disappointments is simply not an option.