Sometimes, Gansey forgot how much he liked school and how good he was at it. But he couldn’t forget it on mornings like this one—fall fog rising out of the fields and lifting out of the mountains, the Pig running cool and loud, Ronan climbing out of the passenger seat and knocking knuckles on the roof with teeth flashing, dewy grass misting the black toes of his shoes, bag slung over his blazer, narrow-eyed Adam bumping fists as they met on the sidewalk, boys around them laughing and calling to one another, making space for the three of them because this had been a thing for so long: Gansey-Lynch-Parrish. Mornings like this one were made for memories.
There would be nothing to ruin the crisp perfection of it if not for the presence of Greenmantle somewhere and the non-presence of Maura. If not for Gwenllian and Blue’s hands and looming caves full of promises and threats. If not for everything. It was so difficult for these two worlds to co-exist.
In this, the third of four books in her Raven Cycle series, she continues the story of Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah, and Blue and their quest to find and awaken Owen Glendower, believed to be buried somewhere along the ley line in Henrietta, a town in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Much of the book involves the characters learning to understand their own abilities and their own desires and to determine how to control both. It’s a coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist, but Stiefvater wisely avoids turning their growing skills into obvious metaphors for teenage problems. The story is of teenagers learning who they are—but in this case, some of them have magical abilities. The magic complicates the growing-up business, which is complicated enough, but it also makes aspects of it easier. It’s seamlessly integrated into their lives, even if, as Gansey observes in the quote above, they sometimes have trouble balancing the many different aspects of their lives.
The way magic is seamlessly woven into the story is one of the things that I enjoy about this series. It takes place in our world, where magical abilities are not the norm, but these characters are able to roll with the experiences and talents that come with living on a ley line. They don’t deny the magic or spend a lot of time marveling at it. They just accept it and get to doing it. It’s not that they see it as unremarkable; they know it’s strange, and they have questions about what it means for their lives. But those questions don’t bog down the plot in a lot of magic info-dumps. Adam is the voice of the forest. OK. Ronan can retrieve objects from dreams. OK. Blue can power others’ magic. OK. Gansey. Well, Gansey can study. And Noah … well, that would be spoiling it. Anyway, the characters spend a lot more time stewing over their relationships than they do fretting about their powers.
But I don’t want to give the impression that this is a teen romance with a magic plot laid across the top. Yes, there is a presumably ill-fated romance, but that, too, is not a focus. Blue and Gansey worry over their growing feelings and the prophesy that when Blue kisses her true love, he will die. They try to keep the romance a secret from the others, partly because of Adam’s feelings about Blue but also, I think, because they don’t quite want to make it real. The romance gets a lot of attention, but so do the friendships among all the characters.
I appreciate that Stiefvater takes friendship relationships (and family ones!) every bit as seriously as romantic ones. These friends all care deeply about each other, but each relationship is a little different, and the characters themselves are different, depending on who they’re with. The people we’re surrounded with, whether by choice or circumstance, shape who we become, and this series does really well at showing characters in the process of becoming together. There’s a marvelous scene in which two characters come to the support of another in a concrete way that he never would have asked for or accepted in the past, and seeing him recognize the gesture for what it is instead of resenting that they could help is just wonderful. The book is filled with wonderful moments of friendship teaching people to be their best selves.
So now that I’ve finished the latest book, I’ll be joining the throngs of fans waiting for the final book. This book ends with a major development (one of which was obvious and one of which was not), and the mythology that undergirds the story is getting increasingly complicated. I am filled with questions about how it might all play out—and just as many worries for the characters I’m becoming attached to. It seems like Henrietta is filled with stories, more than one more book might be able to hold. I want more of the Lynch family—they could have their own series. (Where was Declan?) And I’d read all about the Dittleys. Maybe there’s a way to beef up Greenmantle’s story. (You embed Greenman in a character’s name, and my expectations go up.) I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve found a new favorite fictional world, with lots of scope for the imagination.