On my journey through literature, I often encounter a period of several weeks, sometimes months, when I just don’t find reading material that satisfies me. I was experiencing this dry spell some time ago when I came across The Raven Cycle series, written by Maggie Stiefvater. And let me tell you, the dry spell soon cleared right up.
Maggie has a valuable knack for harnessing language to create something truly magical. And yet, the magical elements of the narrative don’t overrun the story, because the story itself remains grounded in the authenticity of the characters. They are so complex and dynamic, and I think this has a lot to do with the fact that every book in the series is composed in third person. Ordinarily, this might distance the reader from the characters a little too much (in my opinion), but it happens to be close third person, which almost feels like first person, but offers the writer more freedom. As a result, we, as the reader, are painted lavish, all-round views, close, intimate encounters with a character’s thoughts and feelings, and are even made privy to the omniscient voice of the narrator who embodies the kind of fated core of the narrative. In amongst all of this genius layering, I like to think of Maggie, seated at the easel, capturing every detail of this carefully crafted world. Literature is art, and this is a perfect example of the validity of that statement.
All good novels offer up feel-good moments for the reader, and The Raven Cycle series is no exception. Whether it’s a prophesy coming to fruition, the finest sliver of truth falling into place, or a narrative circle drawing to a close, this series has an amalgamation of feel-good moments. Plot twists aren’t spelled out for the reader, instead Maggie offers up a few well-chosen words or phrases that trigger realisation, leaving the reader to supply the rest. That is when you know you are reading good literature. It is not the telling which makes a story great, but the effect a writer’s words have upon the reader’s imagination, and the feeling the reader gets from this. In a nutshell, that is one of the great things about reading.
But mostly, Maggie’s characters are what endeared me to this series so definitively. She explores the complexity of human nature and human resilience, and it makes for a truly compelling read. I love all the characters from the series, even Piper and Greenmantle, because of the way humour is sewn into every syllable. Gansey is probably the most wonderful character name I’ve ever come across. Ronan’s incessant and increasingly creative methods of cursing surprisingly became one of the reasons why I enjoyed him so much as a character. As for Adam, I loved loved loved the description of him being made from the dust of the trailer park, and the evolution of his character was one of the most gratifying. Blue Sargent is prickly and difficult and unorthodox, and that is what makes her so likeable. She is the girl I have always wanted to be: unafraid of sticking to her principles, can hold her own no matter whose company she is in. And she is sensible, which makes her feel ancient around people her own age. Personally, that is something I identify with above all else. Blue is other, just as we all feel other at some point in our lives. For me, she was my tether to the story. She is the girl who dreams of doing what she loves and experiences that crushing disappointment when she realises it has never really been an option because of her class. She is the girl who seeks to change the world despite its enormity and her relative lack of resources, and is willing to try anyway, despite having the odds stacked against her. Ultimately, this story is about belonging and wanting to belong, and that will always be a universal theme that I think many people can relate to.
In fact, there are so many universal themes in this series that only seek to enrich the story. Sexuality, domestic abuse, and class struggles, are merely a few. Throughout her series, Maggie has successfully navigated the space between real life and escapism. People read fiction to escape from reality a lot of the time, and Maggie draws on this beautifully. She explores the more mundane struggles of everyday life and marries them with magic in a way that kind of breeds hope. It’s that childhood innocence again, of being ignorant of cynicism and no longer trapped by reality. Maggie creates a space for us to believe in magic again, in a space where the struggles of reality, of everyday life, are still close at hand, are still affecting these characters emotionally, but just as the characters have an outlet, so do we. And it’s this that gives the series a uniqueness that is quite difficult to pinpoint. But perhaps that is the point. This is a great work of fiction, and maybe we shouldn’t seek to understand it quite so completely. Perhaps it is simply enough to acknowledge that whatever Maggie does, works.