Posted on August 20, 2016 | Back to Literature
Here be spoilers.
For three superlative novels, author Maggie Stiefvater has entranced us with the story of a group of high school students searching for the lost tomb of Owen Glendower, the Welsh “raven king” who lead an uprising against the British in the early 15th century. Glendower was a real historical figure, a capable military leader whose revolt was initially successful but ultimately doomed to fail before superior British technology and naval power. When his rebellion collapsed in 1409, Glendower when into hiding and was never found by his enemies. Likewise, his final resting spot remains unknown and from this mystery has sprung legend. Like King Arthur, Glendower’s myth promises that he can be “awakened” from death under certain conditions, and this is the starting point for Stiefvater’s books.
The teens in Steifvater’s Raven Cycle books are searching for Glendower’s bones in rural Virginia where they believe the ancient Welsh hid them from the British. Each of the characters has certain attributes which assist in this quest. Richard “Dick” Gansy is the group’s leader and a gifted historian. Ronan Lynch is a troubled classmate who can pull objects from dreams and make them manifest in the real world. Blue Sargent may not be a psychic like her mother, but she can amplify supernatural phenomenon at will. Adam Parrish is the magician who has a special relationship with the local ley line, a naturally occurring geological feature tied to the paranormal. And Noah Churney is the ghostly classmate who was murdered years earlier by a teacher who was also looking for Glendower.
Purported to be the last book in the series, The Raven King, brings this long and complex adventure to an end by pitting Gansy and his friends against a ruthless collector of supernatural items who's systematically destroying the magical realm they seek to protect. Having been stymied from finding Glendower in all the previous books, Gansy and the others are now working against the clock. Finding Glendower may be the only way to save not only their world, but Gansy’s life as it has long been foretold that he would die before year’s end.
Stiefvater is a gifted storyteller. She’s able to effortlessly create realistic dialogue, paint stunning imagery and evoke deep emotion. But sadly, I think The Raven King is the weakest book in this series for several reasons. First, I found Stiefvater’s prose to be overly-mannered compared to the other novels, as though she abandoned her more conversational tone for repetition and hyperbole. These devices became increasingly distracting as I progressed through its pages. In respect to plot, The Raven King offered neither the intimate character study of The Dream Thieves nor the colorful personalities and interactions depicted in The Raven Boys and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. At times, it felt like loose threads were quickly tied off rather than thoughtfully resolved. This was certainly the case with how the protagonists find Glendower’s tomb and how they deal with Gansy’s forecasted death. Though I can’t say Stiefvater cheats the reader by failing to resolve these storylines, their resolutions felt rushed and insufficient.
While The Raven King was a disappointment in many ways, the world Stiefvater’s created in these novels is a place I would love to visit again. Fortunately, the last scene in the book leaves the door to future novels noticeably ajar. I, for one, hope we see these characters again.