It was a long wait, but Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series concluded this week with the release of The Raven King. In the past few weeks, I reread all three of the preceding books. (This included listening to The Raven Boys on audio, which I highly recommend. Will Patton’s rendering of the various accents was perfect.) So when Tuesday came, I was past ready for this final book, and it did not disappoint.
But let me step back and share a bit about the series. Set in the fictional town of Henrietta, Virginia, the Raven Cycle is the story of Blue Sargent, the only non-psychic member of her family. It’s also the story of Richard Gansey, a student at the local private academy who is searching for the Welsh king Owen Glendower on the ley line near Henrietta. Gansey’s friends Ronan, Adam, and Noah each have a role to play in the search—and a special ability related to the ley line. The series follows the group through a year of searching for Glendower, a search that is complicated by their own feelings about each other and about life. It’s a marvelous series, where the magic is central and consistently exciting but never quite as important as the characters’ personal growth.
As the characters have grown, so have the questions. There are still the questions from the beginning of the series: Can Blue escape the prophesy about her true love dying if she kisses him? Can Gansey escape his death, which Blue’s vision on the ley line revealed will happen in the coming year? If they find Glendower, will he grant them a favor, and what will that favor be? But there are also questions about Blue’s family, about the sleeper who shouldn’t have been awakened, about Ronan’s dreamed-up family, about Ronan’s feelings for Adam, about Adam’s newfound powers, about Noah’s fading presence. Never mind that there’s also the future to imagine. Can Adam escape Henrietta? Can Ronan restore his home? Does Gansey have a future, and can Blue consider a future without him? What about Greenmantle? Mr. Grey? The Orphan Girl?
It’s a lot, and each question is heavy. This book is an emotional roller-coaster. The good kind.
One of the things that I like about this series—and about this book in particular—is how expansive the story is. And it manages to be so without losing the intimate connection with the central characters. But the story is bigger than this five people. The series is structured to be about Blue and Gansey, but this book returns again and again to the idea that it didn’t necessarily begin with them. Does it even have a beginning at all? It certainly doesn’t have a single beginning. There are too many lives, on too many separate trajectories that become interwoven, all leading to this point in time.
I will admit that I was initially a little frustrated at the introduction of some new major characters in this volume, especially when it appeared that one of them would be there for the end when others were absent. I liked the character, and I liked how his presence caused Blue to rethink some of her own ideas about Aglionby boys. But he seemed too central, too fast. But in her post on the book, Ana makes a good case for his presence, and I’ve come around. The thing is, beginnings and endings don’t happen on a schedule. There may be moments in our lives when a lot of them happen at once, but they happen all the time.
And that brings me to the book’s ending, the ending of the whole series. There was a moment near the end when I had to put the book down in frustration because I thought it was telling a story I didn’t want, that it was essentially using a trick I’ve seen done better in another series that I love (and that I will not name here because it’s a spoiler for both series, but I don’t actually know anyone else who has read both series in full). But Stiefvater had tricks of her own, and I wasn’t disappointed in the ending. She’s been saying all along that Gansey would die, and her readers have been saying he can’t. The way it shakes down isn’t wholly surprising, but the how is where the surprises are.
So this book is about endings and beginnings and how they all weave together, with leavings and joinings, disappointments and delights. It’s a fitting conclusion to a fine series.