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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:  Beloved Enemy by Mary Schaller

REVIEW: Beloved Enemy by Mary Schaller

Dear Ms. Schaller,

When I was looking at the Harlequin Historicals for this past April, this cover seemed familiar to me. The generic blurb rang vague bells. Looking back through my reading list, I discovered why. It was first published in 2004 and I had read it then. Curious to see how it would hold up, I decided to read it again.

beloved-enemy
Julia Chandler lives in Alexandria, VA with her staunchly Confederate family. Their political views have almost totally ostracized them from society as Alexandria has been occupied by Union forces from across the Potomac. Most townspeople have either embraced it or made their peace with it but not the Chandlers. As such, Julia and her younger sister long for the chance to go out a bit. Dance a little, flirt and have some fun. Their chance comes when they get the opportunity to attend a masked New Year’s Eve ball. Only suddenly Julia has another, very important reason to attend.

Julia’s fiance was killed at Manassas and her mother is hot to get her married off before she turns, gasp, twenty-one. And the man mama picks, a second cousin, is enough to make Julia’s skin crawl. Julia knows he’s a bully and wastrel but mama won’t listen. He’s family and an entree to Richmond society. So, gathering her courage, Julia sets out for the ball looking for a man to “ruin” her hoping the resulting scandal will force her mother to chance her mind.

But the man Julia finds is not only too honorable to ruin her but he’s also taken with this pretty young woman who can quote Shakespeare. Major Robert Montgomery of the Rhinebeck Legion has no reason to love Rebs since they started the war and he lost the use of his hand at Gettysburg due to a Reb minie ball. But he finds himself engineering meetings with Julia and thinking of what might be. Until his superiors at the Office of Military Intelligence offer him a chance help the war effort by infiltrating the infamous Libby Prison for Union officers in Richmond and helping with a massive breakout. By agreeing to the plan, he thinks his chances with Julia are over but Julia has other plans.

A good book will make me want to learn more about the history behind it and this one had me googling “Libby Prison” to find out more about it and the famous escape of 109 Union officers on the night of Feb 9-10, 1864. The reasons behind the plan that are told to Rob – that the recent cessation of prisoner exchanges have left the Union forces with a dearth of experienced middle level officers needed for the planned military campaigns of 1864 – make sense. Whether it was true or not I don’t know but it sounds plausible. And you work the actual event so well into the story that I wonder if something like it might really have happened. The addition of Miss Lizzie “Crazy Bet” Van Lew, a Richmond native who worked undercover as a Union spy and who helped with information for the breakout, as a secondary character also helps me buy into the whole plot.

I like Rob and Julia even though a time or two they made some snap judgments. Julia comes across as extremely naive – she has no idea what being “ruined” entails – but then I thought, how many gently brought up young ladies of the time would? The fact that she and Rob can extensively quote Shakespeare to each other makes more sense since they’re both supposed to be highly educated people and this was an age when such memorization was more common. Their realization that they’re in love comes fairly quickly though they do at least question it a little before diving into it. Another thing I enjoyed is how the differences between war torn Richmond and Alexandria, with its proximity to Washington, are highlighted after Julia’s trip south.

I recall that it was about this time that Harlequin seemed to be shortening their Historicals leaving their authors with less time to flesh out the stories. I felt then and still feel now that there are a few things about this book that might have been handled better given more space. The Chandler family is supposed to be isolated among Alexandria society but aside from being told this in relation to attending the ball, little of it is shown. I would like to have seen more of Julia’s feisty younger sister who seemed like a great character with sequel potential. Julia’s bully mother, who ruled the family with the threat of her “nerves,” was a nicely done nod to the stock Southern woman stereotype though she descends into “foaming at the mouth territory.” The villains of the book are fairly standard and suffer from the lack of word count needed to flesh them out but I do like the twists that you use to bring them to their ultimate downfall. But the major shortfall of the book for me is the lack of much attention to the subject of slavery. Julia tosses out the information that their two house servants were once family slaves to whom her father gave their freedom after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet after that, there’s almost nothing on the subject beyond a trite thought from Julia that the Yankees just don’t understand the institution as practiced in the South. At that point, I thought “I need some realization from her that her thinking is wrong.” I never got it.

Overall, the book held up fairly well as a reread though I’m curious as to why no mention is made that it is a reissue beyond the original copyright date. I would give it a B- for the unusual setting and nice use of actual history but a fail in regards to the issue of slavery.

~Jayne

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