Pretty much spoiler-free.
This is an odd review, because I’ve now read the book twice. I generally try to write my reviews while the story is still fresh in my mind but missed that pass when I first borrowed the hardback from the library not long after its release in April 2017. The paperback I read in late April 2018.
The Raven King wasn’t what I was expecting—and I don’t know why I thought it would be; no book in the series has been what I expected. But I guess I thought that by the fourth book, the only one that I couldn’t read immediately when I wanted to because I had to wait for its publication, I would have come to a point where at the very least the tropes of the genre would steer the book in a direction that I could anticipate. The tropes did not. Stiefvater ruthlessly undercuts expectations and genre clichés. And ordinarily I’m 100% down with that, but this time… it was a little bit of a let down, to read 4 books about a quest that ultimately falls a little flat.
But hold that phone.
I love how writing reviews can solidify my views of a book. Now that I’m thinking about the book less as a reading experience and more as an undercutting of every built-up expectation, I’m becoming more and more on board. And I guess I’ll just have to read it a third time and revel in its unmaking of the tropes (yeah, I said it).
What a fine, fine line to toe though, between failing to fulfill a reader’s expectations and desire and surprising them. There are lessons to be learnt here.
That ability to surprise me despite how many books I’ve read in the genre, despite both the first in the series and this last beginning with the characters musing about their foretold destinies, is astounding.
And I know I’m an easy mark, but still.
The second time, knowing the conclusion, I was more on board. I was more on board with an unconventional conclusion, with an unexpected resolution, with an improvised solution.
And of course I was here for the prose, the beautiful, beautiful prose that had me rereading passages and reading passages out loud to anyone who would listen to hope that they would revel with me in the language, in the thing so beautifully captured and expressed, in the pointed description that is at once perfectly succinct and poetic.
One of my favorite lines from the prologue is this:
“A Gansey reached bravely into the night-blind water, fate uncertain until the hilt of a sword was pressed into a hopeful palm.”
And of course I was here for the characters. Tumblr user h-abibti once described this series like “long road trips and the sound of laughter in a car full of people you love and its singing on the top of your lungs to lame music” (the quote continues beautifully; follow the link and read the full quote), and that’s so accurate. I think the intimacy with which the characters treat one another invites the reader into that intimacy and refuses to let the reader not care. I care deeply. These are friends. A stew of psychoses, yes, but friends. There are new friends here too. I want to give a shout-out to Henry Cheng, the unexpected, late addition to the court, Chinese/Korean American who though he has an extensive vocabulary and sharp wit struggles to communicate how he’d like to do out loud in English or any other language.
I have to give this book 4 stars because I was still not on board totally this second read, but I suspect that a third reading might raise my rating of the book.
Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Cycle, Book 4: The Raven King. New York: Scholastic, 2018. First published 2017.
This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.