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Maggie Stiefvater

REVIEW:  The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

REVIEW: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Note: I’m attempting to be vague on plot details to avoid spoilers for both this book and The Raven Boys, however I strongly recommend they be read in order.

Dear Ms. Stiefvater:

Those who have read the young adult urban fantasy The Raven Boys, know that it ends on a line from Ronan which is… not exactly a cliffhanger, but more of a promise, a promise of something arcane in store. That promise is fulfilled in The Dream Thieves.

dreamRonan Lynch is one of the three Aglionby prep school boys who, along with a local girl, have joined their friend Gansey on his quest to find the burial spot of the ancient Welsh king Glendower. But that quest is no longer central in this book. Adam is struggling with three jobs to pay for his education, while also trying to figure out the meaning of his cataclysmic actions at the end of The Raven Boys. Noah is barely clinging to existence. Blue, the daughter of a family of psychics, is troubled by knowing that her kiss is prophesied to mean the death of her true love, and by her increasing fear about who her true love will turn out to be. And as always, Gansey is trying to keep all of his friends safe, and discovering the limits of his astonishing wealth and privilege when it comes to dealing with their problems.

And after having lost his beloved father Niall, the hostile, defiant, but strangely honorable Ronan learns he inherited the secret dream power that caused Niall’s death. A secret that now makes him a target.

Secrets are the theme of this book — secrets, and lies, and confronting what lives inside of you. Ronan makes a point of being utterly honest, but he’s full of secrets, and as he discovers, “There was not much difference between a lie and a secret.”
[spoiler]Although it isn’t a major plot element, the information slowly creeps in that Ronan’s most deeply suppressed secret is that he’s gay. Although it’s irksome that the only one of the four Raven Boys who isn’t in love with Blue turns out to be gay, it’s kind of a beautiful story arc. I loved the way Ronan’s feelings for Gansey are described — sex doesn’t enter into it and doesn’t need to enter into it; the brotherhood he gets from Gansey is everything in itself.[/spoiler]

 

As someone who loved the first book and these characters, I found this story went to some upsetting places — not just because Ronan is in danger (and by extension, so are his family and friends) but because the tight friendships are fragmenting. The complicated differences between have-not Adam and have-everything Gansey begin to seriously stress their relationship. Gansey is also challenged by Ronan’s anger, constantly trying to hold on to the memory of the person he was before his father’s death and reassuring himself that, “Ronan was broken, Ronan was fixable, Ronan had a soul.” Blue is full of complex jealousies and a yearning for more than what being a poor girl in a small town can bring her — meanwhile, her mother is drawn to a dangerous stranger. And Ronan’s reckless thrill-seeking, as well as his need to explore what’s  happened to him, take him into squirm-inducing experiments with danger.

But once again, except for a true cliffhanger ending this time, it all comes together; the fantastical elements of the story thematically link to the character arcs for a surprising and satisfying resolution.

I love the way this series is written — so evocative, in a tart, sassy, sometimes biting way. Here’s a typical description of Gansey:

He stood in the sun-soaked driveway of the Ganseys’ Washington, D.C. mansion, wearing a furiously red tie and a suit made of tasteful pinstripe and regal swagger.

What more do you need to know? Well, quite a lot actually, because there’s so much more to Gansey than his family’s money and power. But it remains an integral part of his personality.

Here’s a stranger’s view of Ronan:

…there was a carefully cultivated sense of danger to this Lynch brother. This was not a rattlesnake hidden in the grass, but a deadly coral snake striped with warning colors. Everything about him was a warning: If this snake bit you, you had no one to blame but yourself.

And a characteristic interaction between Blue and her mother:

It had been a lot easier when Adam, the poorest of the lot, had seemed more like her. Now she felt as if she had something to prove. The others were Team Power, and she was supposed to be Team Ingenuity, or something.

Her mother waved a card at her in farewell. “Bye. Will you be home for dinner? I’m making midlife crisis.”

“Oh,” Blue said, “I guess I’ll have a slice. If you’re making it already.”

Still, this is not the complete masterpiece its predecessor is. Plotwise, it feels more like a television show than a novel: the introduction of new villains, and characters that were supposedly there all along, gives it a “Monster of the Week”  feeling, which is very antithetical to the atmosphere created by the first book.

[spoiler]I particularly disliked how Ronan’s younger brother, barely mentioned in the first book, conveniently appears here as someone he cares about, to be used as a weapon against him.[/spoiler]

 

We also don’t see enough of Blue, who was previously an important person in her own right. When we do see her, it feels like she’s struggling not to fade into another cliched teenage girl bone between two dogs, but doesn’t succeed. The continued formation of a love triangle between Blue, Gansey and Adam, which felt organic in The Raven Boys, starts to feel more obligatory here, though the actual depiction of romantic feelings is bone-melting in its subtle way.

It’s disappointing to not have my socks completely knocked off a second time. But even with its flaws, I’d say this story at least unrolled them. B.

Sincerely,

willaful

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REVIEW: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

REVIEW: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Dear Ms. Stiefvater,

When Shiver came out last year, it was touted as Blood and Chocolate meets The Time Traveler’s Wife. Since Blood and Chocolate is one of my favorite books, I eagerly picked your first foray into the werewolf YA arena. In the end, I decided it was more accurate to describe Shiver as Twilight for the werewolf crowd. Despite my issues with the book, however, I liked the prose and was curious to see how you intended to continue the love story of Grace and Sam in Linger since I could easily see Shiver as a standalone novel.

In the world depicted by Shiver and Linger, werewolves are the result of a virus. The shift between human to animal and vice versa is triggered by temperature changes. In the warmer seasons like summer, they take human form. In the colder seasons like winter, they become wolves. It brings a whole new meaning to developing a heavy coat of fur to guard against the cold.

Unfortunately, the older a werewolf gets, the more extreme a temperature change is needed to trigger the shift and the longer they spend in their wolf form. So instead of taking the warm temperatures of spring thaw to trigger the change to human form, they eventually need the scorching heat of summer. Eventually, they become unable to change back to their human shape and in fact, if they spend over a decade in their wolf shape without changing back, they die.

In Shiver, we learned that Grace was attacked by a pack of werewolves as a child but never became one herself. Ironically, instead of the lasting trauma you’d expect from such a violent, childhood attack, she developed a lifelong fascination with wolves.

Linger starts after the events of Shiver, which ended with Sam being cured of his lycanthropy through unlikely means. Grace and Sam now enjoy an idyllic love, teetering on the border of adulthood and with it, the impending question of their future plans after Grace graduates from high school. In addition, Grace has developed an unlikely friendship, if you can call it that, with Isabel, the sister of a boy who became a werewolf in Shiver but died of the same cure that saved Sam’s life.

But it isn’t meant to last, and complications arise. After having spent the majority of Grace’s life absent and uninvolved, Grace’s parents show concern over her deepening relationship with Sam. Now that she is on the verge of turning eighteen, they make every effort to show their disapproval and keep them apart. Grace and Isabel also discover a dead wolf in the forest and determine its cause of death was the fact it had remained in wolf form for too long.

Sam has issues of his own. Despite being glad that nothing no longer separates him from Grace, he misses being a werewolf. He has no choice but to face this regret every day. Because the pack leader was lost to his wolf form permanently last year, it’s now Sam’s responsibility to take care of the other wolves. This includes three new werewolves the former leader made last year, one of which is Cole, a former rock star gone missing who simply wants to disappear but soon learns it’s not that easy.

I still enjoy the prose of this series. It’s dreamlike and sweet, heavy with angst and foreboding. If you’re in the mood for that sort of thing, this is a perfect book.

The wolves in the woods are strangers now that I know the secret of the pack. Beautiful, alluring — but strangers nonetheless. An unknown human past hides behind each pair of eyes; Sam is the only one I ever truly knew, and I have him beside me now. I want this, my hand in Sam’s hand and his cheek resting against my neck.

But my body betrays me. Now I am the unknown, the unknowable.

This is a love story. I never knew there were so many kinds of love or that love could make people do so many different things.

I never knew there were so many different ways to say good-bye.

Because of that prologue, I as a reader spent the entire book waiting for the inevitable to happen. The book does deliver on the promise made in the prologue, so readers not in the mood for a bittersweet ending might do best to skip this book. That said, I thought the similarities to Twilight were even more pronounced in this book, so fans of that series might find this one worth checking out if they haven’t already.

After my complaints last year about Grace’s oblivious parents and how I’m weary of the trope of absentee parents (whether by death, lack of caring, or otherwise), I was glad to see their increased involvement in their daughter’s life. It wasn’t for the most positive of reasons, true enough, but I found it to be a very realistic portrayal. Her parents were never really involved with her life, always being wrapped up in their own, and until Sam came along, Grace never had a reason to rebel or cause trouble and was in all ways the perfect daughter for them. I can definitely see the conflict that would arise when Grace starts making decisions of her own, that run counter to their own preferences, and they realize that they have no true control over their daughter because they never formed a close relationship with her. Cole said it best when he said the parent-child relationship between Grace and her parents is most accurately illustrated by the fact that they locked her in a car at the height of summer and she was almost boiled alive.

On the other hand, I found the relationship between Sam and Grace saccharine and almost unbearably perfect. Even with the inevitable tragedy hanging over their heads, the perfection of their relationship grated on my nerves. There’s conflict surrounding them, but there’s no conflict between them even when the external conflicts affecting them separately should affect them interpersonally. Instead, the text continually reinforces the idea that Grace is perfect for Sam. Grace and Sam are perfect together. Even Isabel and Cole make these observations and in many ways, that kind of opinion espoused by those two is nearly unbelievable. It was a bit much.

Speaking of Isabel and Cole, I found their characters far more interesting, separately and together. Both are broken in their own ways, and both are trying to run away from their pasts. It’s true these kinds of characters would appeal to me more than Sam and Grace regardless of the depicted perfection of the latter pair, but I found their perspectives a breath of fresh air over the course of the novel.

For the most part, the novel does maintain a dreamlike pace, swinging back and forth between Grace and Sam trying to stay together despite her parents’ efforts, the foreshadowing of the dead wolf found in the forest and how it ties into Grace’s deteriorating health, and Sam’s attempts to initiate Cole into pack life. But much like its predecessor, everything comes to a head in the final pages of the novel. This can be jarring, and I’m starting to dislike the narrative trend of having all the action take place within the last 30 pages of the novel.

The scientific explanation still makes me frown a little, stretching my suspicion of disbelief a bit too far, but it was easier for me to buy than the “cure” from Shiver. I suspect most readers won’t have the same issues. It’s just that the science used in most novels works for me about as well as the law used in most novels works for Jane.

I do intend to read the next book whenever it comes out, and I assume there will be one considering the way this one ended, but I doubt I’ll be running out to get it. Linger isn’t a bad book, but the book-to-reader mismatch was very apparent since I found Sam and Grace more interesting apart than together. In fact, the more memorable things for me have nothing to do with their relationship with one another and have everything to do with things that impact them as individuals. I think I’m simply growing to dislike the idea of presenting romantic relationships in YA as all this all-consuming thing that shuts out friends and family, and I know I have Twilight to blame for that distaste. But for that reason, I still think it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of Twilight and werewolves. C+

My regards,
Jia

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