This review contains no major spoilers.
I knew what I wanted from The Raven King: more magic, more friendship, more Cabeswater. I was worried about who might die and – more importantly – if my precious babies would have a chance at remaining lifelong friends, considering their socioeconomic differences and the different futures they craved for. Would Adam make it to college? Would Ronan? Would Gansey die or – also bad – go on to be a grown-up President Cell Phone? If Blue couldn’t make it out of Henrietta, would her friends ever come back to visit, or would shame tear them apart? Et cetera.
I didn’t care much about Glendower, magic wishes, or the caricature villains that have consistently been the weak point in the series. Having finished the book, I feel like Stiefvater had the same focuses that I had, which has triggered mixed results from readers.
The Raven King is the creepiest of all four books. It deals with literal and metaphorical darkness throughout, and Stiefvater pulls out her best metaphors and similes to create a spine-chilling atmosphere. She paints settings like theater backdrops. In fact, there’s one memorable scene that takes place in a literal theater. Adam enters Aglionby, and “[i]nstead of returning to one of the academic buildings, he [slides] down the stairs to the theater’s side door.” As he walks down the hall (underground, alone, dark, creepy), he passes “many-legged animals made of stacked old chairs, strange silhouettes of stage-set trees, and depthless oceans of black curtain [that hang] over everything.” Nothing’s happened so far, but you know it’s going to, and it makes a great punch once it does.
Then there’s the friendship/romantic bits. In one scene, Mr. Gray says, “I’ve been thinking a lot about Adam Parrish and his band of merry men.” Maura responds, “That’s a strange way of putting it. I would have said Richard Gansey and his band of merry men.” Depending on how you look at the story, different characters become central – which is indicative of how rich the inner lives of these characters are. They all have full arcs, and Stievater for the most part balances them beautifully, never shining one character too far in the spotlight and dimming out the others.
Just as in previous books, however, the antagonists are underdeveloped and ineffectual. Too many chapters were devoted to villains I didn’t care about, and I could have spent more time with the protagonists I’ve loved for over 1,000 pages. Nevertheless, ‘the book could have been longer’ seems like the best of all complaints.
My second reaction to finishing the book – after the immediate adrenaline rush – was disappointment. Disappointment might be inevitable with so many moving pieces of such a long series – especially when many of those moving pieces are so near and dear to my heart.
Now, however, I’m three days into my book hangover and I still can’t start another novel. The conclusion offered me the best thing it could: Hope. There’s somewhere to go at the end, more things to imagine. The gangsey’s futures mattered to Stiefvater in the same way they mattered to me. Ironically, this is not all there is. The gangsey is going to stay in my head for years, and I know I’ll reread the entire series to spot how all the different plots parallel and intersect. I think that’s the best thing a concluding book can make you want to do.