Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Review – The Raven King

It’s been a while since I’ve done a review of any kind, and even longer since I did a book review. That’s in part because books take a while to read when you’re in college, especially leisure reading.

Today, however, I’d like to return to this idea of reviewing to talk about a book that came out last year that I got for Christmas and read and have thoughts on for you.
And to tell you the truth… I don’t know what those thoughts are.

The Raven King

Before I begin, I’d like to explain what this book is, for those who didn’t know. The Raven King is the fourth and last book in the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stievfater. I’d try to sum up the book with a synopsis of my own, but I’m too lazy so I’m just going to borrow the synopsis from goodreads and leave it at that:

“All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love's death. She doesn't believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore.”

I… suddenly realize that this book sounds super sappy and like a romance novel. It’s actually really not. It’s a paranormal/urban fantasy slice-of-life about English mythology, but set in modern day Virginia.
It’s about these kids looking for the Raven King, and it’s very character-based. So character-based, in fact, that it’s hard to really say what it’s about because the books are more about who than what.

Well… I may as well start telling you why I don’t know what my thoughts are on this book, even though I have them.

First Thought: What An Aesthetic

Whenever I think of this series, I think of that word: aesthetic. While I think that word is quickly becoming overused and underappreciated, it really is the best word to describe them. Maggie has a way with making her words and her sentences flow in such a way that the reader can’t imagine it being said any other way. It creates an aura that extends beyond the pages of the book. When I put the book down, I continued to feel the emotions she’d created for hours after I stopped reading.
That’s power.
It’s the power of repeated elements and styles that were unexpected and original, but welcome and exciting.
Since I’d already read the first three books, I was deeply invested from page one. I knew these characters, I cared about the story goal and the themes. It made them live.

Second Thought: Where Is This Going?

One of the downsides to this book?
It has no drive.
Sure, there are stakes, and there is tension and plot and character development, but… what’s making all of that happen? Only one of the characters has any true motivation, and the rest are there because? They’re in love? They’re friends? They’re bored? They just wanted to go to the store but ended up having to purchase a demon from a crazy lady?
To be honest, any of those motivations could have been applied, but I didn’t really seem them happen.
The characters just… did things; the plot just… did things.

While it was all beautiful and amazing and I really do love this book (at least the characters), I don’t know why. It just… happened.

Third Thought: I Love Magic

This book has one of the most interesting magic systems I’ve ever read, which is weird coming from me, because I love structured magic systems and this one has… well… no structure.
There’s so few limits defined for this magic system that literally anything can happen. Dreams coming out of dreams? Sure. Demons? Sure. Old dead kings coming back to life? If you can find them, why not. Psychics? By the dozen, all female if you please. Spirits and ghosts? All over the place. Telepathy, telekinesis? Why not. BEING A LITERAL WIZARD? Well of course.

At the same time, however, it’s so limited. The magic itself is amazingly powerful and unlimited, but here’s the deal: Maggie makes her characters the exact opposite. She made her magic incredibly powerful, and then made the users of it incredibly weak.
Not like… wimpy, simply weak.  They have so much power at their fingertips, but they’re too inexperienced or too human to use it to that full potential.
It’s brilliant.

I’d have to say that the characters and the magic system are the only real reasons why these books have intrigued me for so long. The plot? Only occasionally interesting, when there’s a new twist (usually involving a character more interesting than the real twist). The setting? Only interesting when it becomes a character in and of itself because she describes things so. Freaking. Beautifully.

Fourth Thought: Was That… Worth It?

In the end, the one thing that’s been being built up, alluded to, and outright stated through all four books finally happens. The Big Event. The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For.

And then…
To avoid spoiling things, I’ll sum it up in this: it happens, and then… doesn’t?
I don’t really know how to describe it without spoiling it, but basically there’s a moment where something happens that could be Dues ex Machina, except you can’t quite call it that. See, the story has built up the thing that happens in such a way that I should be able to say “okay sure, that can totally happen and not be Dues ex Machina, yeah”.
I shouldn’t have to.
Not in this instance.
Because, in the end, this specific instance makes me wonder: why did I read this? Nothing physical has changed, and nothing really mentally has changed, either.
The only real change?
A few relationships. Characters who didn’t know each other now do. Characters once in a particular type of relationship with each other are now in a different type of relationship.

In a way, it mirrors a lot of daily occurrences. Nothing huge changes. Just a few relationships.

Maybe that should be enough. Maybe I shouldn’t care this much.

Or maybe I should.
Maybe I should be desiring something more, something stronger, something meaningful.

Final Thought

Did I enjoy this book?
Did I love this book?
Did I think this book was worth it?

Why then, did that last thought end so… negative? I kinda sound like I don’t particularly care for the book.
But I do.

That, you see, is the power of relatable characters. The power of making your readers care and be so deeply invested that they’re willing to hang on for the final ride.

So let’s ask a few more questions:
Do I think The Raven King is a good book?
Sort of.
On a scale of 1-10?
Like a 6.4 (on average, I consider a GOOD book – one I’d read again – a 7-8, for reference).
Do I recommend this book?
I recommend the first three first. Of course. But seriously. Read the first three, and then this one. You’ll understand how I feel.

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