It’s a scary and exciting feeling when you dive into the finale of a much loved series. I had so many wants and needs to be fulfilled after three books worth of world building and character development. Does it accomplish what I hoped it would? Am I satisfied? Overall, yes. Is it flawless? No, not even close. I think two big groups will form out of this who will either love this book in spite of its flaws or hate it because of them. I’m the former.
Beware! Spoilers below!
I loved a lot of things about The Raven King. For me, the series’ life blood is in the main squad and their relationships. I’ve told my friends that Gansey, Blue, Adam and Ronan are like my fictional kids and I wanted them to grow and be happy. They do grow and they push passed their anxieties to the point where they’re open to happiness or have learned to be happy with who they are. Adam is the child you’re worried will fall between the cracks but watching him accept himself so that he can have a productive future and relationship with Ronan was fantastic. I think awwww’d and gushed during all of the Adam and Ronan scenes and that conversation that Adam has with Gansey where he asks how does someone know they’re in love was precious. I also really liked that Adam ends his story at his parents story because he needed to go back to the source of his baggage and face it head on before he could move on. I also loved the growth that Ronan experienced where he’s able to more comfortably experience his joy, wants and needs effectively.
I was in love with the toga scene. It’s my favourite scene in the entire book because it does a few things. It gives us a Blue and Gansey date like situation where they are openly affectionate and who doesn’t love that? It gives us a group of raven boys who Blue connects with instantly (more so than when she first met Gansey, Ronan and Adam) and it’s great to see her make such gratifying friendships. Lastly, it gave us a glimpse at the racial dynamics at Aglionby. I’ve written about race in the raven cycle before which I’ll talk about it more later and in this scene, Blue asks why Henry is always making fun of Koreans and himself (he’s half Korean) and he responds, “I will do it before anyone else can. It is the only way t not be angry all of the time”. It’s safe to say that Aglionby is a place that isn’t immuned to racist side comments or microaggressions which is good narratively speaking (that this is mentioned in the text and not that microaggressions exist) because this series has lacked meaningful racial diversity in at least two books. Does that exchange play well? Yes and no. I’ll get to that later. I will say that it’s nice to see Blue and Gansey respectively see a future for themselves by the end of this.
I really liked the Glendower reveal. I thought I’d be upset if it ended in any way that wasn’t Gansey being Glendower because of how it was built up in the last three books. However, I think Gansey finding a dead Glendower was what he needed to happen and I think it was fitting that Noah was the one to say that line to 10 year old Gansey which he’s been attributing to Glendower for the past 7 years. They both died on the leyline at the same time so they have a connection this whole time and we’ve been told again and again that time is circular so the time travel is not a surprise. It was handled really well.
Now it’s time for the flaws. I’ll start with the biggest one which involved timing. I LOVE Henry Cheng and I grew to love him in this book. With that said, I think how the character was introduced and used was done so poorly. He went from a minor character who felt too present for what little he contributed in Blue Lily, Lily Blue to a character who was there with the gang in the finale like he was the fifth living member (sorry Noah!) that was always there. If Stiefvater wants to keep his role as big as it was in The Raven King, then she should have mentioned him briefly in The Raven Boys, given him smaller page time than he did in BLLB in The Dream Thieves and then take some of The Raven King characterization to be placed in BLLB. He shouldn’t have had that much space in the final book because it felt unearned.
This isn’t the only time that characters or roles where suddenly introduced without a build up. Piper’s dad and his brothers who form the triple felt so unnecessary since there wasn’t enough in this book that justified their existence. Henry’s mom is a very interesting character and introducing her sooner as someone the psychics could play off would have been great but she got her own point of view in this book! Why? Why do that with a character we’re meeting for the first time when she’s talking to a character we do know (The Grey Man) and who has had a POV chapter in the past? Her chapter was mostly used to explain her background/origin which is unnecessary when we’re pages away from from the end. It’s also strange that we’re just now learning about Declan’s role as his father’s successor in the business of selling dreamed objects as just regular found magical objects. I think this would have been a better reveal at the end of BLLB to be honest so it can more naturally come out in The Raven King when referring to the magical antiques road show side story (that’s what my friends have been calling it).
There were also dropped threads in this book. The death of Ronan’s mom felt kind of callous and the character was fridged without a real second thought. The demon…there was such a build up with the demon and Piper that it just fizzled out at the end. I think the most annoying thing was the psychics after the possession of Noah. We never see a follow up scene down the line with the psychics, Calla is never mentioned again after that, Orla and Jimi were set away as an aside or off stage, and we get Maura for the hospital scene and briefly at the Barns. I get that this book is ultimately about the teens but the psychics – specifically Calla and Maura – have played such an integral role in the series that you’d think they’d at least be given the chance to help with the B plot like they did in the last three books. It’s like they were disappeared. It’s really sad because what made this series stand out to me was the presence of parents/guardians in the lives of teens. I understand that the book is trying to say Blue will need to eventually leave 300 Fox Way but why does that have to equal “you gotta fight this bad thing on your own”. Freeing yourself from a place doesn’t mean your roots can’t offer support because that’s their function. They’re there to ground you when you need it.
I did say I’d talk about race and I will do so briefly. In this book, Stiefvater handles it well for the most part. There are so many minor characters that she added who are people of colour and it was done waaaaaay better than how Calla was handled. Speaking of Calla, we finally get a look at her background. Right at the beginning, Calla uses her statues of Oya, Yemaya, and Oshun who are Orishas aka spirits that reflect one of the manifestations of God in the Yoruba religion. This means Calla is likely Afro-Caribbean. Overall, some of the things she’s done with race like that Henry/Blue moment don’t hit as well as they could have due to the lack of build up re: POC characters.
Overall, I love the book but that’s because I was more invested in the main characters’ developments and ever afters than the plot. I like it but the issues are still evident.