Searching for Glendower: Reflecting on The Raven Cycle

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic, 2014

In 2012 Scholastic took the Young Adult book world by storm when they published The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, the first book in the new Raven Cycle series. It stared a young girl named Blue Sargent, who lives with her aunts, all of whom are clairvoyant, in a small town. Blue’s life may be unconventional but there three things are always constant – she’s always been told that if she kisses her true love he’ll die, every year she goes with her mother to stand on the ley line and watch the soon-to-be dead walk by, and she really dislikes the spoiled rich kids who attend the local private school. That is until she see’s Gansey walk along the ley line. He represents everything she hates and yet she feels strangely drawn to him and his three friends, Ronan, Noah and Adam. And before she knows it she’s helping them on their quest to find the long lost Welsh king Glendower.

Over the last few years a number of us at WWAC have been swept up in the magic and mystery of this unique series, so now that the final book has been released we wanted to take some time to reflect on the series as a whole.

How far into The Raven Cycle are you?The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic, 2012

Ardo Omer: I’ve read all four books.

Al Rosenberg: I am in the middle of Book 2.

Wendy Browne: All of them.

Anna Tschetter: All of them!

Christa: All of them.

What was it about the series that initially appealed to you? Has it been what you expected?

Ardo: I had a friend tell me about it and it wasn’t until it became a book club pick when I finally read it. I didn’t think I would like it at first but The Raven Boys had such a strong voice and point of view that I couldn’t help but get hooked. It’s a series with layers upon layers, and multiple re-reads reveal something you didn’t notice before. Stiefvater is just such a great writer, especially when it comes to building distinct and fully realized characters. It’s a book I recommend to people who aren’t into heavy fantasy or want to get into fantasy with just a toe dip into the genre.

Al: Ardo actually told me to read them. I had just wrapped up Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series and I was looking for some fun reads, preferably a finished series. It honestly took me a while to get invested in the first book. There are a lot of characters and the author is careful to not give away too much about some of them at first, which makes following some of the underlying narrative a little slippery. I went in with few expectations though, so there’s only been joy, no disappointment.

Wendy: I’m not sure how I found it. YA usually isn’t my cup of tea, but when I find the good ones, I glomp onto them. This sucked me in from the start because Stiefvater treats its young adults the way I appreciate seeing young adults treated: like people with brains and emotions that don’t melt into a puddle of love juices and angst over their love interest. Stiefvater allows Blue and the Raven Boys to express their maturity, to learn and to grow, even as they struggle with their emotions and relationships that go well beyond who <3s whom. And the relationships are great. The friendship between the boys is so heartbreakingly beautiful, and the unquestioning loyalty between Blue’s aunts is so powerful. This is a YA book that does not forget that there are others who help shape the lives of the main character and gives those people such depth.

And–unf–Stiefvater’s writing makes me so jealous. I love how she words and wish I could word like her. Her descriptions don’t merely bring up a visual in my mind. They evoke a feeling. Intensity. Especially when she describes Ronan Lynch.

Anna: I’m not sure how I found it either, even though I do read a lot of YA. I actually try not to get too attached to series-starters because I’m very impatient. But I have a feeling that maybe someone recommended it to me as I was reading and loving Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. You could make a case that they are similar in having unique main characters (Blue and blue-haired Karou) and a magical world that intersects with the “real” world. Both authors are great writers – luminous is a word that comes to mind reading both of their works.

Christa: I was at Book Expo America the year this came out and I remember everyone going nuts waiting for the galleys to drop. So I picked one up to see what the big deal was. I didn’t end up reading it however until a few months later (in the same book club as Ardo). I think I resisted it for so long because even though everyone was telling me how great it was, I had already read and disliked Shiver, the first book in Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls series. I didn’t think I would like The Raven Boys after be so thoroughly disappointed by Shiver, but I was happy to be proven wrong.

Do you have a favourite character? Why are they your favourite?

Ardo: This feels like asking me who my favourite child is! Right this very moment, I can say that I connect with Blue more on a personal level because her frustrations feel similar to mine more in feeling than in cause. However, my favourite would have to be Gansey. Gansey normally wouldn’t be someone I’d like in fiction for the same reason Blue wanted to dislike him but he grew on me which is who he is. I’m a fan of fancy faced Gansey.

Al Rosenberg: I think Maura or Ronan. I crave quality mother figures in fiction, and Maura is absolutely excellent. She is kind, and smart, and forthright, and sexy and just so wonderful. Ronan is basically the complete opposite. I think my affection for Ronan was immediate. I was also a very angry Irish (I think they describe him as Celtic, but whatever) teenager. Also, I immediately read him as gay, and I don’t know if that’s true, or if I will find out if I’m wrong or right in later books (DON’T TELL ME), but to me he’s a fellow angry, Irish-ish, gay teenager.

I suppose Adam and I are the most alike, or our upbringings are, but I sort of hate him because I think I’m afraid of that?

Wendy: I enjoy all of Blue’s aunts, and Gansey is a much better Bruce Wayne than Batman could ever be, and I want to hug all of the Raven Boys and keep them safe, but it’s Ronan Lynch that I truly love.

“And you, Ronan,” Niall said. He always said Ronan differently from other words. As if he meant to say another word entirely–something like knife or poison or revenge–and then swapped it out for Ronan’s name at the last moment. “When you were born, the rivers dried up and the cattle in Rockingham County wept blood.”

It was a story he had told more than once, but Ronan’s mother, Aurora, insisted it was a lie. She said when Ronan emerged, the trees all grew flowers and the Henrietta ravens laughed. When his parents bickered back and forth about his birth, Ronan never pointed out that both versions could be true.

Anna: Like everyone has said, it’s hard to pick just one! I love a character with a gruff exterior and a soft inner filling, so it goes without saying that I love Blue and Ronan. I love Blue because I relate so much to being a “sensible” teenager and her wanting to rebel against that sensibility. I was very much a sensible teenager for most of my teen years as well – I’m very boring – and I think Stiefvater portrays her maturity and lack thereof well in the book. I also love that she’s so prickly, opinionated, and stubborn.

And Ronan. Oh Ronan. I love that he’s angry – for good reasons – and kind of an asshole, without being malevolent. There’s anger and frustration but no malice in him. He loves tiny field mice and golden haired brothers, so he’s not all bad news.

I also love Calla’s harsh, brusque manner and Persephone’s ethereal wisdom. I think I’d like to live at 300 Fox Way. I’d sleep in the phone/sewing/cat room – I wouldn’t mind!

Christa: I love Ronan. When I had the opportunity to meet Maggie Stiefvater a little while back I was so nervous I got a little choked up and just started rambling on and on about how important Ronan was to me and thanking her for writing this character – none of which I had actually planned to say. This was after The Dream Thieves came out, which is really Ronan’s book, and his character arc at that point just felt so relateable to me in so many ways.

If I have to look at the series as a whole though, I think my favourite character is actually Adam. He changes and grows so much throughout this series and I can definitely recognize a lot of myself in him. From his background, to his pride, to his stubbornness. He makes some bad (or a least questionable) choices throughout the series but I always felt like I understood why he made them.

The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic, 2013Blue has always been told that “If she kisses her true love, he’ll die.” How do you feel about her family’s decision to share that information with her and how she handles it?

Ardo: I think not telling her would have been worse and she’d be pissed knowing Blue. They gave her the knowledge so that she has a choice in the matter which is a pretty neat thing for Blue’s mom, Maura, to do. Usually parents in YA think that by keeping important information, concerning their kids, from them is somehow protecting them and half the time, it doesn’t. It just keeps them in the dark, helpless. Another way in which Blue and I are similar is being sensible and I’m that way because I’m the eldest of four. She was told she’ll kill her true love with a kiss and thought, “Okay. So no kissing. Cool. There is other things in life that I can do that won’t kill people.” I think that’s a mature decision to make so young.

Al: Oh man, I’m such a skeptic. My family is super, super superstitious (see above about being Irish) and I’ve just been so skeptical my whole life when no one else is. I’m not an easy believer. Even in Blue’s shoes, where the magic seems to be surface level right around her, I don’t know if I’d really believe.

Plus, while cautious in most worldly affairs, I always do the dangerous thing in love. I’d kiss the boy, prophecy be damned (and then wallow in despair the rest of my miserable life if it actually killed him). Ardo’s right, it’s a super mature decision to make so young.

Wendy: Blue’s family is fairly open about just about everything important, though they may be evasive about some things, such as the truth about her father’s identity. Based on the weight they place on their abilities, I just can’t see them not telling her and letting her determine her path. Because they also trust in her. They don’t trust her to necessarily do the right thing. They understand that sometimes, the heart wants what it wants. But they also understand that very thing is why Blue needs to know all the cards she’s playing with. They trust her to make her own decisions instead of treating her like a child, which is what I love about this series–the young adults are treated with the respect they deserve and are allowed to prove themselves.

Anna: I think it works for Blue. Other teens would go the impulsive, rebellious route and kiss away but Blue knows the gravitas of such things. And she is so very sensible! As others have said, Blue’s family’s decision to tell her makes the books so unique in YA. The role of mothers and mothering figures in the books is so important and Stiefvater allows Maura, Calla, and all the rest of the Fox Way women to be their own characters. They are also so much more present in Blue’s life than mother figures are in other YA books. It’s a much more realistic portrayal of family, in a way, than other YA books. Usually, the teens are left to their own devices and parents are a mere cardboard cut out of authority. But here they have personalities, desires, and make decisions like telling young girls they may kill someone with a kiss one day. It makes the book altogether more grounded and fantastical at the same time.

Christa: I agree that they were right to tell Blue about the curse, especially given Blue’s personality – both her sensibility and her tendency to go against the grain. However, I just can’t imagine being a parent and having to make a choice like that. How long do you keep it to yourself before you’re potentially risking someone’s life? How do you know when your child is mature enough to handle it? It couldn’t have been an easy decision for Maura and the other women of Fox Way. I really appreciated that this series examined the complexity of family life, even though most people won’t be dealing with magic and curses, there’s definitely a universal quality to their relationships.

Have you read other Maggie Stiefvater books before? How do you think The Raven Cycle compares?

Ardo: I read The Scorpio Races while I was dealing with my grandfather’s failing health. It’s so good and it helped with the uncertainty in a time of my life where I needed a great book like that. It’s a standalone book which makes it a much tighter story but The Raven Cycle series has characters that I love so much and a world that I’d like to be a part of more. I have Sinner> sitting on my shelf and waiting to be read.

Al Rosenberg: I haven’t, but I’m definitely going to after I finish these. I remember seeing Shiver on shelves at bookstores.

Wendy: I hope to read more, but I fear the disappointment of finding out the other books just don’t compare. I’ve heard good things though, so I’m sure my fear is unfounded.

Anna: I love The Scorpio Races as well – my friend even made me November Cakes this year. I grew up fairly horse-adjacent, first with a thoroughbred farm in the backyard and then with friends with horses, so that book brings up great feelings for me. I haven’t read the Wolves of Mercy Falls series yet but would be interested just because Stiefvater wrote them. As of right now, the Raven Cycle books are my favorite. I’ve read all but The Raven King multiple times and the characters feel like old friends. I’m sad for the series to end, but I know I can always re-read!

Christa: As I already mentioned I’ve read Shiver, and it just didn’t work for me. I don’t think this is entirely Stiefvater’s fault – I don’t think I’ve found a werewolf book yet that works for me. I did read The Scorpio Races between The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue and really enjoyed it. Just like The Raven Cycle, I found it so unique, so unlike everything else in YA at the time. After much prodding a friend convinced me to read Sinner, which is a companion novel to the Wolves of Mercy Falls, and I was surprised by how much I loved it. Even though I didn’t know the outcome of the original series I was still captivated by the characters, the setting and of course her fabulous writing. I would put it on par with the Raven Cycle in terms of quality. I think Stiefvater is one of those writers who learns from every book and you can really see her grow as a writer as you read through her work.

SPOILERS AHEAD – If you haven’t finished the series stop reading here!

How did you feel about the ending of the series? Was the ending what you expected?Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic, 2015

Wendy: I expected them to find Glendower and deal with the true love’s death kiss and all that, but I didn’t really care if they did. I just wanted to spend more time with the characters. I was disappointed that Blue’s aunts didn’t play a larger role in the final book, there was a lot of Blue and Gansey and Adam and Ronan which was great, but not enough of everyone else. Henry was added to the mix and, while I liked him, I found his inclusion, along with his deus ex machina Robobee to be far too convenient. He served to too easily wrap up the storyline, as well as add diversity to the cast, which Stiefvater has had issues with.

Al: I have finished the series while this roundtable happened. I devoured the books. Four books in five days, and it would have been less if my job hadn’t gotten in the way. Anyway, I sort of liked the end, or at least that Glendower was dead. BUT WHERE WERE THE WOMEN??? They just disappeared and I miss them. AND ALSO I WAS RIGHT ABOUT RONAN BEING GAY.

Anna: I figured it would all get sorted though I thought Gansey might stay dead for longer? The terrible part of me who loves horribly tragic and depressing books thought he might stay dead forever, but I’m glad he didn’t for Blue’s sake. I admit I wasn’t expecting Noah’s circular time speech and bit and was pleasantly surprised by that. I’m with Wendy and Al and wanted more of Blue’s aunts. Always give me more of the 300 Fox Way women!

Ardo: I agree with a lot of the criticisms above but as someone who treated these characters as my fictional kids, I felt emotionally satisfied. I think it could have been a stronger book and you can check out my specific issues here but I finished it so emotionally FULL.

Christa: I am satisfied overall with the ending. Although I also think Gansey could have stayed dead for a bit longer. It just seemed to…easy? That doesn’t feel like the right word but it will have to do. I really liked the way Adam and Ronan’s relationship developed in this book. And though I liked Henry as a character I think Robobee felt totally out of place. Partially because it all of sudden made this great and dangerous quest so easy and also because it didn’t feel like it fit was the magic already established in the series. That being said, I would love to read a Sinner-style companion novel about him. I feel like we only scratched the surface of his character and I’m eager to learn more.

Which book in the series ended up being your favourite and why?

Wendy: I’ll have to go with The Dream Thieves because of its heavy Ronan focus.

Al: Hard. I will have to say the first one. I love world building and story set-up. It’s always my favorite part. (Although my favorite moment of the entire series was the second Adam-Ronan kiss.)

Anna: It’s probably a toss up between The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue because I love Ronan and Blue. Blue and her aunts really get to shine in Blue Lily, Lily Blue. Plus, I really like Gwenllian–I realize I may be the only one – and Jesse Dittley. Jesse Dittley and Blue’s strange friendship is another favorite of mine.

Ardo: Blue Lily, Lily Blue is my favourite. The Raven Boys was a great set up and The Dream Thieves was a bit all over the place but BLLB was a tight narrative with characters who’ve grown a lot. It’s the most well rounded book and it gave you characters who’ve been around for two books already. They’re starting to feel at home in their skin and prepped for the finale. It’s a great book. (The Raven King has the best cover in my opinion which says a lot because the series has stunning covers!).

Christa: I can’t choose between The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. I love them both so much for different reasons.

Christa Seeley

Christa Seeley

Books Editor. Maple Flavoured Darth Vader Fangirl.