A secret is a strange thing.
After waking the ley line (or corpse road, or fairy road), nothing is the same for Blue and her Raven Boys. Ronan, a boy broken and made savage from trauma, loses himself to the seduction of being the Greywaren: a being who can pull objects from the dream world into reality. Adam’s promise to be the eyes and ears of Cabeswater is consuming him as it attempts to work its will through him. Blue still can’t make out with anyone but poor dead Noah without risking killing whichever poor boy she decides to smooch. And to make things more complicated, a hitman has been sent to retrieve the Greywaren from Henrietta and decides to make out with Blue’s mom in the meantime. Life is rough.
This book, on the surface, is about magic. It’s about a bunch of teenagers and some other rascally bad guys trying to find a mythical Welsh king who is basically a fairy god mother only he’s a dude and he’s dead. As their search progresses, it becomes clear that the side characters from the previous novel are almost more important than their traditional lead, Gansey. I mean, Gansey is cool, but he’s almost too perfect. I loved the shift of focus to Ronan, though I didn’t really love the way Adam developed (every time he wondered if his wealthier peers could smell the white trash on him I wanted to thwack him on the head and tell him there are ways to deal with classism other than angst).
But what this book is really and truly about is finding, and acknowledging, those empty spaces within us that need to be addressed if we’re to be happy and whole. There was something so lonely yet piercing about this novel: Blue, who wants to be more than a conduit for other people’s gifts, and who aches to be able to follow through on a crush like a normal teenage girl; Adam, who so desperately wants to prove that he is more than his battered child white trash upbringing; Ronan, who needs to exorcise the demons left in his father’s wake as well as certain other aspects of his self that need to be unnamed lest I dump way too major of a spoiler on ye readers. Even Gansey, perfect, perfect Gansey must look his shadow full in the face. This book is so resonant with the (dare I say) universal human experience of searching for what we need to be whole that I couldn’t help but fall in love with its aching beauty.
Stiefvater’s writing has matured immensely, and this book is evidence to it. It is simultaneously so wise yet so captivating and magical – she pulls the reader in with an incredible story but then speaks to you with something so true and universal that it kind of breaks your heart a little. We are all missing some integral piece, and the resounding theme of being honest with yourself about what that piece is very, very close to perfect.
There are also a lot of nods to prior works that I couldn’t help but love. The night terrors that Ronan accidentally drags into the waking world screamed Ged’s shadow in Ursula K. Le Guin‘s A Wizard of Earthsea, but not in an obnoxious copy-cat way. The themes in this book actually so perfectly fit Le Guin’s idea of how fantasy and science fiction can be manipulated to meet literary, soul quenching ends (she claims that through these genres the invisible can be made visible, so that the darkest recesses of the human psyche can be explored through magic and crazy futuristic hootenanny) that I couldn’t help but feel a rush of satisfaction as I was reading.
Style-wise, Stiefvater’s writing has matured almost preternaturally since her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Her combination of flowery figurative language and candid teen speak has become a bit of a trademark, and something that I truly love about her. There were a few wonderful moments in which she was clearly making fun of herself and of the ridiculousness of teen literature, one of my favorite parts being the origin story of Adam and Gansey’s friendship:
“It shouldn’t have happened at all, but their friendship had been cemented in only the time it took to get to school that morning – Adam demonstrating how to fasten the Camaro’s ground wire more securely, Gansey lifting Adam’s bike halfway into the trunk so they could ride to school together, Adam confessing he worked at a mechanic’s to put himself through Aglionby, and Gansey turning to the passenger seat and asking, ‘What do you know about Welsh kings?’” (118)
So good, right?!
Now, this book isn’t perfect. I thought Kavinsky was almost cartoonish as a villain. He served a very useful purpose as the Faith to Ronan’s Buffy, but I never actually believed him as a real character, which is unfortunate because one thing that Stiefvater excels at is character creation and development. The Gray Man, on the other hand, was a PERFECT villainous anti-hero who I just couldn’t get enough of. So I guess I can forgive the existence of Kavinsky.
I could go on and on and on about the ridiculous dramatic tension of wanting Blue and Gansey to make out SO BADLY but knowing that doing so would a) kill Gansey, and b) maybe send Adam into a homicidal rage (the connection here is actually kind of obvious but whatever), but I’ll refrain. Except: guys, the romance here is SO GOOD, because it feels SO REAL. It’s the same perfect slow burn romance that made The Scorpio Races so hot.
The point being, this book freaking rules. You have to read The Raven Boys for this to be even a little bit worthwhile, but that book is also awesome so no harsh task there. A+++.
Musically I choose The Dead Boys’ “Aint it Fun” for Ronan’s self-destructive, you are your own worst enemy sub-plot.
Where I got it: Scholastic ARC (advanced reading copy) borrowed from a friend.