Queer Book Club: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven King coverThe Raven Cycle series is a four part YA paranormal series. Blue lives in a chaotic house full of psychics and witches, but she has no magical ability herself, other than to boost their power. When she meets Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah, four boys from the local private school, she’s drawn into their hunt for a dead Welsh king, thought to be buried along the powerful ley line that makes her home of Henrietta, Viriginia, such an unusual place. Hanging over the whole story is the foretelling that one of the boys, Gansey, will die within the year.

I just finished the final book in the series, The Raven King. I have a confession to make, before I go any further. These books have turned me into a frothing fanboy, and I’m far too old to be their target readership, and it’s all rather embarrassing. So this is not so much a review as a collection of enthusiasm.

The weird thing is, they’re not perfect. It took a good hundred pages of the first book to really pull me in. The point of view character changes per chapter, and sometimes at the start of a chapter, it wasn’t always completely obvious which point of view I was in for a little while. But those issues aside, I adore the characters and the paranormal mystery that’s at the heart of the story. Blue’s unconventional household full of eccentric women makes for an unusual and endearing heart to the story, and each of the young people is vividly painted. I even put aside the slight silliness of Welsh medieval history and mythology ending up in Virginia, because the plot was involving enough, and executed in such a creative way, that it didn’t matter. Stiefvater is very brave and imaginative in the way she expresses the world of magic and dreams, and I was often surprised and delighted by the twists and turns of the magical elements. By the second book, the stakes are so high, and the characters so enmeshed in the magic, that there’s no escaping it and everything becomes very personal.

The books took me by surprise, because the blurb on the first one, to be blunt, is kind of naff. It’s all about true love and kissing. I picked it up from the library, not expecting very much. It turns out that there’s much more paranormal plot than kissing, but there is also love and friendship. Friendship is one of the most enjoyable elements. All the core characters grow to love each other, whether that love is romantic or platonic. The celebration of friendship is so evocative of those strong, almost obsessive friendships that happen for young adults, and not necessarily later in life, and I was probably on a massive nostalgia kick. But I think it’s also that the characters’ love for one another is infectious.

The characters are complex, flawed, haunted, spiky, and completely involving. And the male/female love that’s promised from the start is not the only kind that is featured in the end. When it became clear in the second book that one of the main characters is gay, I was over the moon, not least because the books are so full of a heady homoerotic vibe that this pay off was so welcome and refreshing. And there’s more pay off with that character, but I don’t want to include spoilers. The love is beautiful to read, slow building, rewarding. The story takes the characters’ past traumas and hang-ups seriously. There are no crap clichés, just a feeling of truth and fulfilment and compromise and learning and negotiation. Like reality, but more lovely. I’m being slightly cheeky in labelling this a queer book, because really it’s an everybody book.

Read these books. Fall in love.

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3 thoughts on “Queer Book Club: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

    • He’s Owain Glyndwyr, the medieval Welsh king who led a rebellion against the English, although he functions more as a symbol and goal for the main characters. In the story, his body was brought from Britain to be hidden, and he was buried on a ley line. The ley line gives power to things around it, in various unpredictable ways.

      So, no, not really. 🙂 I love Susanna Clark. Strange and Norrell is one of my all time favourites. This isn’t really particularly similar., I wouldn’t say, although the magic does go to some pretty weird places.

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  1. Pingback: Top Five Queer Fiction for 2016 | Mr Volpone

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