The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.5

Summary:

And thus begins the worst plotline of the book: what did Barrington Whelk do? And was it because he was so unfortunate to be stuck with the name Barrington Whelk, or just because he’s a raging asshole?

The short version is that the Gangsey’s Latin teacher turns out to be the worst and also killed his roommate on St. Mark’s Eve when he was a student at Aglionby. He only works there because his dad lost all his money and now he’s as bitter as Severus Snape and probably just as mean to children. He especially hates the Gangsey, because he’s bitter that they have a beautiful friendship and he’s so, so alone.

The mere mention of Ronan Lynch’s name had scraped something raw inside Whelk. Because it was never Ronan by himself, it was Ronan as part of the inseparable threesome: Ronan Lynch, Richard Gansey, and Adam Parrish. All of the boys in his class were affluent, confident, arrogant, but the three of them, more than anyone else, reminded him of what he’d lost.

Boo hoo, dude. You lost it because you literally killed someone. But that’s neither here nor there. Whelk thinks nefarious thoughts for a while, and then resolves to steal Gansey’s research, because if he has to be alone he should at least have a purpose. End scene.

Thoughts and Feelings: As someone who went to a private school for thirteen years, I thought it was kinda nice to see how seriously these teachers take their jobs (if only there were a font that displayed the sarcasm I wish to be oozing right now). While my school was a co-ed day school, located in a progressive section of a city, and not full of quite so many rich kids, I certainly admit that there was a certain amount of prestige that came with just Being Very Expensive and had nothing to do with the quality of the education. I had some truly terrible teachers (and some great ones, but neither Whelk nor Milo justifies that description). It seems that the Aglionby elite are suffering through the same situation.

Other than that, this chapter was just to set up a Small Bad Guy™ who plagues our intrepid heroes and gets his comeuppance at the end. Not very interesting, but necessary.

Best character moment:

Whelk was suddenly afraid that Milo could see the memory on him, could hear the inexplicable voices in his head, incomprehensible but nonetheless present ever since that failed day.

Best turn of phrase:

Every time his heart beat, red lines streaked in the corners of his vision, the trees darkening with his pulse.

Action: I understand why this had to happen but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. 2/10

Magic: The only magic here was used to murder Czerny!!!! Very bad and no fun!!!!!! -4/10

Comic relief: Barrington Whelk is about as fun as a wet pile of paper. 0/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.4

Summary:

Declan visits his brother’s house/abandoned factory and, needless to say, it does not go well. He rolls up with a generic blonde girl and Adam, who’s suspicious someone’s trying to steal Gansey’s research on Welsh kings and thinks maybe it’s Declan. It’s cute, because in about five minutes we’ll realize that Declan doesn’t give a single solitary shit about Glendower and just wants Ronan to be less of a pain in the ass.

We’re then shown Monmouth Manufacturing as a tourist because Declan’s girlfriend has never been there before (her name is Ashley, which is important because she’s actually a smart cookie and shouldn’t be treated like an object regardless). She’s basically a stand-in for the reader and makes all the appropriate noises.

Beside Declan, Girlfriend held her hands to her chest in an unconscious reaction to masculine nakedness. In this case, the naked party was not a person, but a thing: Gansey’s bed, nothing but too mattresses on a bare metal frame, sitting baldly in the middle of the room, barely made. It was somehow intimate in its complete lack of privacy

(I included that quote for entirely selfish reasons; it’s one of those instances of absolute poetic brilliance Stiefvater doles out that I’ve thought about at least once a week since reading it).

Gansey then tells Ashley about Welsh Kings, not because she actually wants to know but because the reader would be absolutely lost without it and we’re already on chapter four, so getting the exposition out of the way is imperative for us to get to the action. Noah walks in, tells everyone he’s dead, and then Ronan’s entrance makes us forget that he doesn’t sound like he’s joking.

Ronan and Declan fight, everyone leaves angry, and then Gansey convinces everyone to go get pizza at Nino’s. Just another day for the good old Gangsey. Now we wait for the inevitable explosion that is Blue and her Raven Boys at Nino’s.

Thoughts and Feelings:

Adam’s first POV chapter! The first insight into the mind of our soft little guy. He spends most of it pretending to be invisible and worrying about money, but it wouldn’t be an Adam chapter without a healthy dose of self-loathing and a major case of impostor syndrome. But the beauty of Adam’s voice is that it’s the snarkiest thing in the whole world. He’d never say any of it out loud, but Adam spends the entire 12 pages he’s given judging everyone in a 5 mile radius and I love him for it.

On the other hand, I think my favorite part of the beginning of the book has to be the parallels between Blue and Gansey. Before this chapter, we’ve gotten Blue vs. Gansey at their respective church watches and then skipping school on the same day, which was nice, but Monmouth vs. Fox Way just feels more exciting. Seeing Blue in her natural environment and then seeing Gansey in his, both with these foreign intruders they don’t know what to do with (here’s the part where I growl at Declan and Neeve yet again) shows how they both present two different ways: rumpled scholar Gansey and Virginia money Gansey vs. sensible Blue and eccentric shredded shirts Blue.

Other than that, there are many simple pleasures we get during this scene: my perfect smudgy Noah, Gansey saying “excelsior” not because something exciting was happening, but because they decided to get pizza, and the fact that Declan ever thought Ronan would be caught dead playing tennis. Of all the sports for Ronan to be playing, and he picked tennis? The boy who got a full back tattoo to piss off his brother and supposedly taught his BMW to look like a shark is running around the tennis court in white shorts and sweatbands, and I’m supposed to picture it in my head without disbelief? I can’t, but apparently Declan can, because that’s why he showed up and started this whole mess. 15-love Ronan.

Best character moment:

“Oh! Your hand is cold.” Ashley cupped her fingers against her shirt to warm them. “I’ve been dead for seven years,” Noah said. “That’s as warm as they get.” BUT ALSO, Behind Ronan, his door, covered with photocopies of his speeding tickets, drifted closed.

Best turn of phrase:

He said you and Declan like it was a physical object, something you could pick up and look underneath.

Action: Adam took a scene where nothing happened and gave me some bomb ass character insights to make up for it. 8/10

Magic: There was no magic except for Gansey deciding Ashely was too much of a side character to explain it to because her eyebrows didn’t match her hair color. Boo that. 3/10

Comic relief: Full of so many good moments, plus an in-depth description of Monmouth which is very teenage boy and has a cardboard box town in the middle of the floor. 10/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.3

Summary:

Mornings in Fox Way: a three part drama starring a sleepy teen, a Cool Mom, and the weird aunt nobody invited but who showed up anyways. Except this morning, Blue missed the wakeup call and slept through the school day. She finds out this is because she let spirits walk through her while she talked to Gansey, and her battery ran out. Blue asks Maura if there’s any way she can save Gansey’s life, and Maura says of course not. They agree but Blue is ornery because she’s a teenager and won’t admit they’re on the same side.

“I probably can’t stop you from meeting him anyway,” Maura said. “I mean, if Neeve is right about why you saw him. You’re fated to meet him.”

“Fate,” Blue replied, glowering at her mother, “is a very weighty word to throw around before breakfast.”

“Everyone else,” said Maura, “had breakfast a very long time ago.”

Neeve decides to find out how Gansey is supposed to die using a bowl of cran-grape juice and a healthy dose of her sister’s disapproval. She finds nothing. This particular brand of nothing is interesting, though: being a psychic in Henrietta is very different than being a psychic anywhere else. Maura knew about this and didn’t tell Neeve. She also knew about Blue’s who amplification thing and didn’t mention that, either, so there’s some tension at the breakfast table.

Neeve said, “One moment he was there, and the next, he didn’t exist.”

“It happens,” Maura said. “Here in Henrietta. There is some place–or places–that I can’t see. Other times, I see”–and here she didn’t look at Blue in such a way that Blue noticed that her mother was trying hard not to look at her–“things I wouldn’t expect.” 

Blue decides there’s no use hanging around, finishes her yogurt, and heads to work, but not before Maura can remind her that kissing is off limits. End scene.

Thoughts and Feelings:

The biggest question of what comes out of this chapter is what happens to the giant bowl of cran-grape on the kitchen table? Knowing what I do about Neeve, I assume she’s not going to bother pouring it back into the jar. Does Maura do it? Do they just pour it down the sink? Is it cran-grape juice purchased exclusively for scrying, or is a Sargent woman going to open the fridge and be shocked and offended when her juice is gone?

Other than that, this chapter is one of the most masterful examples of creating a setting I’ve read in a long time. 300 Fox Way is as expressive as the characters that make it up. That’s good writing! We love to see it. We also love to see Maura enchanting a man so much he invites her to her house in Baltimore, only for her to reply with just one :(. That’s a baller move.

Best character moment:

Maura shrugged. “Nothing. I always wanted an eccentric daughter. I just never realized how well my evil plans were working.”

Best turn of phrase:

Blue kept thinking of what her mother had said: I won’t be responsible for anything that you see. It made this thing they did seem bigger than it usually felt. Farther away from a trick of nature and more of a religion.

Action: Blue is eating yogurt and getting ready for work at Nino’s which is Where Shit Goes Down. We are in a holding pattern but I like it. 7/10

Magic: Neeve does a bad job scrying. The casualty is an entire bottle of juice. I’m still not over it. 3/10

Comic Relief: Fox Way is the definition of playful, fraught, complicated female relationships—if that’s not a recipe for hilarity what is? 10/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.2

Summary:

Meet Richard Gansey III and his motley band of friends (minus one slightly rumpled ghost)! The first thing we learn about Gansey is that he’s definitely going to die this year. The second thing we learn is that his car broke down, and it’s bright orange. We learn that his car is full of junk and that his pizza order is one large deep dish, half sausage half avocado. Gansey is so busy pining for the mountains to tell him where Glendower is, he doesn’t notice how gross his pizza order sounds.

Ronan Lynch pulls up in a BMW and we know that he’s cool and also kinda scary. In the passenger’s seat is Adam Parrish, who we discover has a neat tie and slender hands (hand description is apparently the gold standard for learning things about characters in the Raven Cycle). After some arguing about who’s going to fill the car up with gas and mess up their clothes, we get the sweet, romantic flashback involving Ronan and Adam dragging each other behind a moving vehicle using an old scab of Ronan’s as an entry point. 

Then the exposition ends and the plot moves forward: Gansey sat in front of a church all night and recorded the sounds of nothing going on. Except, when he played the recording back, he heard the previous chapter’s conversation with Blue.

According to the ley hunters he’d spoken to, the ley line sometimes transmitted voices across its length, throwing sounds hundreds of miles and dozens of years from when they’d first been heard… The strange thing in all this was not the other voices on the player. The strange thing was Gansey’s voice: Gansey was quite certain he was not a spirit.

Not right now, anyways.

The chapter closes out pretty quickly after this. Their Latin teacher drives by and doesn’t stop which is a nicely placed bit of foreshadowing. We find out that Ronan’s brother is a dick and he’s visiting the gang later that night. Adam gives Gansey the number for a psychic who we know is going to be the Sargent family. But most of all we’re left with a description of the characters in broad strokes:

It could have been any one of the mornings in the last year and a half. Ronan and Adam would make up by the end of the day, Gansey’s teachers would forgive him for missing class, and then he and Adam and Ronan and Noah would go out for pizza, four against Declan.

Thoughts and Feelings:

For starters, of course we meet Gansey when the Pig crashes. This is such an undeniably Gansey Moment™ and I’m so glad we don’t see him whooping with the crew team or, I don’t know, schmoozing some teacher. I’m not so sure, however, about the initial descriptions of Ronan. It feels like every adjective we get is emphasizing how incredibly sharp he is, and it overwhelms a lot of the personality we could be getting from this interaction. Again, though: painting in broad strokes allows us to get a feel for the characters before we start to discover their nuance. Coming off the last chapter where Blue is practically leaping off the page, though, makes the introductions to our boys seem a little less special.

I’m just surprised Ronan was actually in class when Gansey wasn’t. Sure, he probably didn’t pay attention and actively tried to disrupt everything that was going on, but he was there! Which is more than I can say for literally any other day in the whole series.

Best character moment:

The way Gansey saw it was this: if you had a special knack for finding things, it meant you owed the world to look

(Spiderman, is that you?)

Best turn of phrase:

He was slim and tall, with dusty hair unevenly cropped above a fine-boned, tanned face. He was a sepia photograph.

Action: Well, Gansey misses World History and nobody gets him notes, so that’s no fun, but other than that it’s just our boys and Camaro drama. 6/10

Magic: Gansey hears his own voice on a recorder when he didn’t say anything! Adam wants to call a psychic!! The ley line is here!!! 9/10

Comic relief: Our boys really pulled through with some hilarious quips and made standing on the side of the highway look #chic. 8/10

And thus begins the journey

I just received a box set of books in The Raven Cycle (the British versions, incidentally, but I can call gasoline petrol without losing any of the original charm), and I figured I’m going to be reading them to death anyways so I might as well write it down.

For each chapter I’ll be doing a summary and a couple of paragraphs of my thoughts and feelings, because as a teenager I have a lot of those. After the chatty bits there’ll be a rating system with some criteria that I made up myself, based on what I love about the series and why I love it. Best character moment and best turn of phrase come first, and then I rate the chapter on how well it gives me the three most important parts of any novel: the action, the magic, and the comedic relief so I’m not crying all the time.

New chapters go up twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, and I hope you’ll stick around!

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.1

Summary:

This is the day Blue and her mother usually hang out watch next year’s dead make a nice neat parade through the grounds of an abandoned church. This year, Maura decides not to go and Neeve comes instead, because, as it’s very carefully explained, Blue is more of a battery than a psychic. She makes things louder for those who can see the future, and is absolutely blind to it herself. As we discover this, we are given generous descriptions of Neeve’s hands:

Blue was struck again, as she had been struck the first time she’d met Neeve, by her oddly lovely hands. Chubby wrists led to soft, child-like palms and slender fingers with oval nails.

The dead start to walk and we get a list of people who are going to die and the image of Blue frantically trying to spell all their names. I’d like to give a moment to remember Ruth, Robert, Frances, Dorothy, Clarence, Ralph, Esther, Herbert, and Melvin. May they rest in peace.

And then, suddenly, Blue can see someone! She’s excited for a second, and then she’s not because she remembers that he’s going to die.

His figure was as murky as dirty water, his face indistinct. There was no identifying feature to him apart from his youth. He was so young—that was the hardest part to get used to.

Blue asks his name and he tells her it’s Gansey. Everyone thinks, “what the hell kind of name is Gansey?” We’re confused but proud of Blue for seeing a ghost when she thought she’d never be able to. And then Neeve tells us why and we’re not so excited anymore.

“There’s only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue. Either you’re his true love,” Neeve said, “Or you killed him.”

Why not both?

Thoughts and Feelings:

Have I mentioned that I don’t like Neeve? Should I tell you again? I DON’T LIKE NEEVE. She just sits at the ghost watch and says things to confuse Blue, and waves around her beautiful hands, and just acts fishy all the time. I’m full of distrust and I wish Blue would take her fingerless gloves and go wait in the car. Then again, that probably wouldn’t do the plot any favors and it would be kind of boring if Blue never fell in love, but I digress.

Other than that, I’m just excited Gansey and Blue had the first meeting they deserved: a pre-ghost and a psychic’s daughter walk into a churchyard. They exchange names and have a pleasant conversation until everyone realizes the psychic’s daughter will turn the pre-ghost into a real ghost, and then they all go home. That’s one to tell the grandkids!

Best character moment:

Blue didn’t reply. She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.

Best turn of phrase:

He fell to his knees—a soundless gesture for a boy with no real body. One hand splayed in the dirt, fingers pressed to the ground. Blue saw the blackness of the church more clearly than the curved shape of her shoulder.

Action: Gansey’s ghost was featureless but I know enough about the genre to know he’s definitely cute. I want him to live and I want gratuitous makeout scenes, and I know I’m not getting either. 6/10

Magic: A death parade! Very fun very fresh very funky. 9/10

Comic relief: This chapter was sad and confusing but we did hear about Blue’s determination to look cool in her poorly knitted fingerless gloves, which was fun. 4/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.0

Summary:

The first thing we learn is that Blue Sargent’s kiss is deadly. Why? She lives in a house full of psychics that are 100% certain Blue’s love life will end in tragedy:

All the women came to the same conclusion, blunt and inexplicably specific. What they all agreed on, in many clairvoyant languages, was this: If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die

Blue takes us through several scenarios about how this will happen. We hear about a kiss-borne disease and a jealous ex-boyfriend and then, finally, that Blue’s just decided never to fall in love. This is a young adult novel, so we’re all skeptical, and then vindicated, when Blue’s aunt comes to visit and tells her this is the year she’ll fall in love.

Thoughts and Feelings:

As first lines go, this one is pretty cool. How could you possibly forget how many times someone predicts a murder? (Or, not a murder, but a death over which Blue has control, which is a pretty heavy thing to put on a six-year-old). And of course Stievfater doesn’t stray away from the magic. We are told immediately that Maura is, under no circumstances, a crackpot. What she sees is real, and it’s other people who are the dumb ones for thinking it’s not.

What really got me was the throwaway line about the fact that Blue could hear the Aglionby hounds crying from her house. First of all, I cannot believe that these 21st century boys are so bored with regular life that they’re still hunting with horses and hounds, but whatever. We want to show that they suck, and we’ve done that. But the fact that Blue is familiar enough with the sounds of hunting dogs that when hears the howling she goes “oh, they found a fox and they’re on the chase?” What kind of rich white nonsense is this?

And, of course, our introduction to Neeve, who I think of as so insignificant that I still forget she actually has a part to play in the plot. But here she is! Predicting a love story and setting the reader up for some good old fashioned Angsty Teen Sadness™. I can’t wait.

Best character moment: Blue deciding that her mother’s murder prediction didn’t matter because she would have a long loveless life and kill nobody

Best turn of phrase:

Again and again, she had her fingers spread wide, her palm examined, her cards plucked from velvet-edged decks and spread across the fuzz of a family friend’s living room carpet. Thumbs were pressed to the mystical, invisible third eye that was said to be between everyone’s eyebrows. Rune were cast and dreams interpreted, tea leaves scrutinized and séances conducted.

Action: Conflict revealed! The story can begin!! 7/10

Magic: Mystical and inevitable. 8/10

Comic Relief: It’s setting up the future action, so I won’t judge it too harshly, especially because it’s only four pages long. 5/10