First, two disclaimers: one, I’m using this review as an opportunity to recommend the whole series, so if you haven’t already, don’t start with The Raven King, which is the newly released fourth and final book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series – start with The Raven Boys and its two follow-ups, The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. And two: I already knew I was going to love this book even before I read it. I know that might be a little overconfident, because conclusions to series can often be a let-down, but the first three books in this series are not just some of my favorite young adult books, but some of my favorite books in general, so I was pretty confident this installment would be no exception (and I was right – I loved how this book wrapped up the series as a whole).
To briefly sum it up, the books follow Blue Sargeant, the daughter of a psychic, and the four “Raven Boys”, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah (called Raven Boys because they attend a private school whose crest is a raven) she’s tentatively found herself forming a friendship with. The action follows their quest to find an underground sleeping Welsh king named Glendower, who is rumored to be buried in Virginia and who can (hopefully) stop Gansey from meeting his untimely – but maybe unavoidable – death. The search for Glendower (and all the other magical goings-on that sidetrack them) is fascinating, unique, and well-written, but what ultimately makes this book so engrossing is the characters in it. The plot is almost secondary to the five of them navigating their new-found relationships with one another in ways that are thoughtful, hilarious, and heart-wrenching, sometimes all at once. The setting, which is lush and atmospheric from page one, is almost a character itself, and leads to a whole host of new characters, powers, and foes cropping up during the series, some dreamily magical and some heartbreakingly realistic.
This series ticks every box on the list of things that make me love a book series, including:
- Fully fleshed-out, multi-dimensional characters (who still manage to believably act like teenagers)
- Creepy magic, ghosts, psychics, and the looming specter of imminent death
- Co-dependent friends and found families
- Dreamy, atmospheric writing that has a style all its own
- Cliché-free romance
(And that’s an abbreviated list).
I already miss these characters so much that I’ve started re-reading the series from the beginning, and in the mark of truly great books, it’s just as good – if not a little better – the second time around. This is a young adult series, but I think it has appeal for adults as well. If you only try one YA series this year, I recommend this one.