Thursday, May 26, 2016

Initial thoughts on The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater

It's been around eight months since I read a book that wasn't backlit. Yes, ink and paper, and my beloved third generation Kindle are gathering dust on the beautiful bookshelves we built shortly after moving to Bangalore.

Most of my reading is now done in my phone as it's the only gadget I have on my person at all times between feeds and naps and feeds and more naps. I'm not complaining because the books I have been reading this last year aren't the sort you'd want to collect in physical form. Also, since most of my reading is done either with the curtains drawn during the day or with the lights out at night -- motherhood is a strange adventure -- my good, old Kindle isn't getting much use either. 

But every once in a while, I come across a book that I wish I could just read, touch, smell and lovingly display on my bookshelf until the end of time. And while I've only just started Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle series, I already know that these are books I would have loved to add to my collection.

While I'm a huge fan of Young Adult fiction, I was afraid that I had read every good title in the series before the genre and its sub-genres became formulaic. Witches, vampires, werwolves and trolls; dying girl loves boy who dies first, suicidal girl loves manic depressive... Ok, about this second set of examples, I have to justify myself by saying that I have nothing whatsoever against books about star crossed lovers, torn apart painful circumstances that are very, very real. I'm just against writing that jumps on the bandwagon of whatever is making YA enthusiasts swoon and/or cry. It's like publishers are picking novels they think will find their way to the top of your Recommended Reads list on Amazon and GoodReads. Seriously, after a while, the stories start to sound like clothes that tumbled about in a washer-drier stained by one bleeding red sock. 

When I first read the blurb for The Raven Boys, book one in the series, I was absolutely sure that this was going to be no different in essence from titles such as The Vampire Diaries and Bloodlines. But the price of the book, twice as much as mass fiction bestsellers, caught my fancy. So I decided to download a sample because what had I to lose, right? 

I'm so glad I did because this series has me absolutely hooked! And this is despite the fact that the blurb heavily emphasises that protagonist is fated to kill her true love with a kiss. Really, it should be talking about a young man's intellectual obsession with finding the last Welsh ruler who is fabled to be asleep since the 15th Century and whoever wakes him will be granted a favour. Set in a small town that is a hotbed of spiritual energy, our protagonist is joined by four misfits who each have their own reason for helping him out.

What I love about the novels is that they're driven by characters whose backstories and personal battles fuel the plot. It's also so much more than fantasy/paranormal fiction because every theme built up in the book has a basis in actual fact. Like the Ley Lines for instance, are places theorised for their intense mystical and spiritual energy along significant landforms. The motely crew's obsession with the lines and their hunt for Owen Glendower, is an intense study into history, mythology, religion and dead languages.

As readers we get a fascinating insight into all of this with a pretty immersive story to go with it. What's more is that while there is a love angle to the story, it's more of a detail, one of many in a series that's filled with so many I just can't wait to see how they all come together in the end.

My reading had reached a plateau this last year and I was afraid that I would be stuck like that forever. Sure, the view was pretty scenic but it was as good as gazing at everything and nothing at the same time. I'm glad to have discovered this series which is promising to be a good ascent back into the world of literature. I'm not expecting a life changing experience here, as was the case with the Harry Potter series and Elenor and Park. But it's good to be back on track and see where I go. 

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