This fall, I undertook the mission to reread one of my favorite series – The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater – and attempt to write reviews of them for the first time. I’ve read this series twice before, but both were before I started blogging, so despite the fact that I constantly talk about these books, I don’t have actual reviews for them. But that’s about to change!
And just to get it out of the way – all of these book are 5 stars. That’s kind of a given.
⚠️Warning: these reviews are FULL of spoilers.⚠️ I don’t know how to talk about a full series without spoiling things, especially this one. So if you haven’t read The Raven Cycle yet, stop what you’re doing and go read them now. It only took me a week the first time. I’ll see you back here when you’re done!
Okay. *deep breathe* This is gonna get long. Let’s do this.
Book 1: The Raven Boys
“She recognized the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, that strange happiness that was sometimes so big that it felt like sadness.”
There’s something about reading these books that feels like stepping into a dream.
It’s more than simply the themes about sleep and dreamers, the magical atmosphere that permeates every word, or the luscious, poetic writing. It’s the fact that I’ve now read this book three times…and I don’t think I could tell you most of what happens in it. While I’m reading (or in this case, listening), I’m swept up in this strange world of magical forests and psychics and private school boys and Welsh kings and ghosts, but as soon as I finish, the details fade away like a dream, leaving me with a wistful longing for a place I’ve never been.
“’Is this thing safe?’
‘Safe as life,’ Gansey replied.”
I don’t think I appreciated what a masterpiece this book is the first time I read it, since much of its genius comes from being able to pick up on foreshadowing for later in the series. Even reading this again knowing that Noah is a ghost changes everything. The Raven Cycle is such a complex series that I could probably read it 500 times and still pick up new details.
The beginning of this book sets up the entire series perfectly. We get a clear image of Blue Sargent from the very first chapter. The scene where she sees Gansey’s spirit in the graveyard never fails to give me chills. Then we’re introduced to Gansey, Adam, and Ronan, who we also get an immediate feel of from their first scene, and the rest unfolds from there.
“Blue tried not to look at Gansey’s boat shoes; she felt better about him as a person if she pretended he wasn’t wearing them.”
Watching the whole gang circle around each other for the first few chapters before they finally meet is wonderful, and their first meeting is hilariously disastrous as well. Despite the fact that they don’t immediately get along, it’s clear that they’re meant to on a deeper level. There’s this motif of wanting that ties them all together beautifully.
This book is about all of these characters, but it belongs most of all to Adam Parrish. His journey even over the course of this single book is so much – seeing him finally walk away from his abusive family, struggle to maintain control of his life, and then give up that control in order to save his friends. I want to reach into the pages of this book and give him a big hug and tell him he’s going to be okay.
“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.”
Special shoutout to Will Patton, who narrates the audiobooks, for gifting us with the beauty of Adam’s Virginia accent. Actually, all of the accents in this series. Thank you.
The Raven Boys is only the first part in a much bigger story, so it’s a joy to revisit it while knowing what’s to come. Blue befriending the boys, discovering Cabeswater for the first time, finding out the truth about Noah, the revelation of Ronan’s dreams – it’s magical seeing it for the first time even when you’ve seen it before. I’ll never, ever get tired of this book.
“They were always walking away from him. But he never seemed able to walk away from them.”
Book 2: The Dream Thieves
“He was brother to a liar and brother to an angel, son of a dream and son of a dreamer.”
As I recall, the first time I read this series, The Dream Thieves was my least favorite. A lot of that came down to the fact that I just didn’t understand Ronan, who is clearly the main character in this book. We never got his POV in the first book, so he was a mystery, and to jump into a book all about him was a little jarring at first.
This time around, though, having read the series multiple times now, I understand Ronan and this book so much more.
Before we get into anything else, can we talk about how perfect this cover is?? All of the covers are gorgeous, but this one is especially symbolic, with ravens literally bursting out of Ronan’s glowing heart. I need to lie down for a minute.
“In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them.
Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness.
Her raven boys.”
There’s so much to talk about in this book…
The Gray Man makes his first appearance! What a weird and delightful character. Even though he’s a side character, he gets a remarkable amount of characterization and development over the course of this book, and I absolutely love every scene he’s in.
Kavinsky is this book’s main antagonist, and he’s arguably this series’ best antagonist because even though he’s genuinely awful, he’s sympathetic at the same time. I hate him but I love to hate him.
Blue and Adam’s relationship disintegrates while Blue and Gansey’s begins to grow, and everything inside me hurts. Even though I know that things are going to work out for them all, it’s hard to see Adam so broken and Blue and Gansey so guilty. But still!!! The late night phone calls! The car rides!! The pining!! Be still my heart.
“’I wish you could be kissed, Jane,’ he said. ‘Because I would beg just one off you. Under all this.’ He flailed an arm toward the stars.”
The Dream Thieves is really Ronan Lynch’s story, though. From self-hatred, denial, and isolation, Ronan grows to accept what he is and open himself to his loved ones (or…at least start to). It’s absolutely stunning to read. Like…that scene at the end when Orphan Girl asks Ronan why he hates himself and Ronan says “I don’t” and wakes up from his dream to save the day!!! I cried!!!
The interesting thing is that out of all the main characters, Ronan feels like the one with the least development over the whole series. Obviously he undergoes a ton of change (mostly within this book), but his story still feels incomplete by the end of The Raven King, which is what makes me even more excited for Call Down the Hawk. Ronan’s story is far from over and I can’t wait to see where it goes when he is once again the main character.
“When Ronan thought of Gansey, he thought of moving into Monmouth Manufacturing, of nights spent in companionable insomnia, of a summer searching for a king, of Gansey asking the Gray Man for his life. Brothers.”
Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue
“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.”
If I was held at gunpoint and forced to pick a least favorite book of this series, I’d have to choose Blue Lily, Lily Blue. Of the four books, it feels the least focused. But, like, in the grand scheme of my love for this series, that’s really not saying much at all.
This is undeniably a middle book; more questions are raised than answered, and it feels like the deep breath before the plunge into the finale. Despite this, I enjoyed every moment of reading this. And that ending scene in the cave of bones is one of my most distinctive memories of the series, so.
I think it’s time to talk about Blue Sargent now.
“It was true that Blue was just shy of five feet and it was also true that she hadn’t eaten her greens, but she’d done the research and she didn’t think the two were related.”
The thing about Blue Sargent is that she doesn’t have as many big, dramatic character moments as the rest of the main characters, so it’s easy to overlook her development when looking back through this series. Her big moments are more internal and understated. This is the book where she’s most unmoored, though; her mother is missing, her future is unclear, and she’s terrified of losing the boy she loves.
I want everything good in the world for Blue, and this book only reminds me of how much I love her.
We also get Malory and the Dog in this book! As well as Colin and Piper Greenmantle! We get Gwenllian and Jesse Dittley and our first glimpse of Henry Cheng. We get caves and magic and dreams and demons. So much to get excited about!
“Friendship of the unshakeable kind. Friendship you could swear on. That could be busted nearly to breaking and come back stronger than before.”
And we get some agonizing romantic moments as well with BOTH of our main couples. Blue and Gansey make me want to claw my heart out. Adam and Ronan become a team in this book and my slow-burn-loving soul LIVES for it. Because we all know that true love is framing your Latin teacher for a string of gruesome child murders together.
Adam also manages to break my heart with his insistence that he’s unknowable. I adore his relationship with Persephone…but of course that also has to hurt me in the end. Also??? The scene where Gansey and Ronan run to Adam’s court case > the entirety of the Western literary canon. I cried in public and it was embarrassing.
I’m constantly blown away by the precision with which Maggie Stiefvater constructs each word and phrase, and how she’s able to pull me along with every thing emotion. When she wants me to feel sad, I’m sad. When she wants me to laugh, I laugh. I can’t help it. Blue Lily, Lily Blue might not be my absolute favorite of the series, but it’s still unbelievably beautiful and I’m helplessly attached to all of the characters.
“He remembered Gwenllian saying that it was starting, and he could feel it, winding out faster and faster, a ball of thread caught in the wind.”
Book 4: The Raven King
“He was a king.
This was the year he was going to die.”
So…The Raven King is my favorite book of the series and I genuinely do not understand why this is so many people’s least favorite.
I’m sitting here pounding my knuckles into my forehead trying to figure out how to express my love for this book in words and I don’t know if I can do it properly. My love for this book encompasses my love for this entire series: overflowing, unending, indescribable.
Basically, everything that I love about The Raven Cycle as a whole is at its height in this final book: the found family, the strange magic, the romance that makes my heart ache, the quiet moments that add up to something huge and important. The mysteries that have built up over the course of the series are finally answered. Nothing will ever be the same again.
“There was something newly powerful about this assembled family in this car. They were all growing up and into each other like trees striving together for the sun.”
Not to mention the fact that this book is all about Gansey, and Gansey is basically my favorite character in just about anything ever. So it’s hard for anything else to compete.
Allow me to ramble for a moment about my son, Richard Campbell Gansey III. A mess of PTSD and anxiety and self-doubt rolled into a ball with a nearly unbreakable veneer of charm and confidence. He says things like “what fresh hell is this” and “top shelf” and “aquamarine is a wonderful color” and I LOVE HIM. He’s desperate for answers. He’s terrified of what those answers will bring. He needs his friends desperately and always says the wrong thing and tries so, so hard and–
*deep breath* Yeah, I understand completely why his friends want to break the laws of the universe to save his life.
“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.”
There are so many things in this book that feel iconic to me – the toga party, the night for truth, “the ocean burned,” Henry introducing Gansey to RoboBee, the moment when Adam and Ronan finally kiss, “what a strange constellation they all were,” Gansey commanding the ravens to take him to Glendower…everything. This book feels like the culmination of everything we’ve built up to over this series and it’s glorious.
And then, finally…the ending.
The devastation of finding Glendower’s body. The terror of the demon taking control of Adam. The heartbreak of Gansey’s sacrifice. And the absolute poetry of his resurrection. Every tiny piece comes into play and everything is finally explained – Noah and Cabeswater and the entire mystery surrounding Gansey. I can’t even talk about the fact that all that time Gansey thought he was looking for Glendower – the Raven King – he was really looking for himself. Oh no, I’m crying again.
I’ve seen complaints that it’s cheap to tease a character’s death for an entire series only to turn it around in the final chapter, but for me, there’s something so hopeful about it. The fact that these characters love each other so much that they can undo fate itself.
“Good-bye,” Noah said. “Don’t throw it away.”
(This line gets me every time!!!)
This is one of those series that transcends beyond merely “a series that I like.” Yes, it’s obviously not perfect, but I don’t care about that because every time I read it, I’m swept up in its beauty. It’s found its place in my heart and it won’t ever let me go.
Anyways, this book is perfection and if I spend any more time talking about it then I’m never going to be able to stop. So that’s all for now. Thanks Maggie Stiefvater for my life.
What are your favorite moments from The Raven Cycle? Who’s your favorite character?