book review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

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THE DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater
(The Raven Cycle #2)
★★☆☆☆
Scholastic, 2013

 

I think I may have to throw in the towel with this series.  In my weirdly negative 4 star review of The Raven Boys I more or less said ‘I didn’t love this, but I think it has the potential to grow on me as I get more invested in the characters.’  Instead, the exact opposite happened when I finally picked up the sequel: I became even less invested, and the characters became even less interesting to me.

To be fair, I was always going to struggle with The Dream Thieves (which I’ve seen widely hailed as the strongest book in this series) because its very premise hinges on something I can’t stand: fictional dreams.  But honestly, I didn’t care for a single one of the subplots, dreams or no dreams.  And something else that surprised me is how much I’m disliking Maggie Stiefvater’s prose in this series, given how strong I thought it was in her standalone novel The Scorpio Races.  Maybe I should stop trying to make YA happen for me?


Book Depository links: The Raven Boys | The Dream Thieves | The Scorpio Races

book review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

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THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater
★★★★☆
Scholastic, 2012

 

I’m going to do something a bit odd here and base my rating for this book more on what I think it has the potential to become than how much I actually enjoyed it. Because this feels more like a 400 page prologue than it does an actual book. But I’m willing to overlook the spectacularly poor pacing and haphazard plotting if the rest of the series actually builds on the foundation Stiefvater set up here, and she definitely hooked me enough that I want to keep going with it.

I’m still not totally sure what to make of this premise (apparently this series is about a group of students trying to find a dead Welsh king, WHO KNEW, not me), and I think the execution was a bit of a mess. The first 200 pages are total filler; the villain’s backstory is awkwardly shoehorned in without much exploration; perspective shifts aren’t employed effectively (sometimes I couldn’t tell whose head we were in until the end of a chapter); information that could have been withheld in order to build tension is readily offered up to the reader at all times; and the ending just kind of… plateaus without much of a climax. Stiefvater can clearly write (though I actually preferred her prose in The Scorpio Races) but I don’t think The Raven Boys is a well-constructed book at all.

But the characters I think are intriguing. By ‘intriguing’ I mean ‘have the potential to become interesting.’ Because right now a lot of them still feel like tropes – you’ve got the quirky loner girl, the leader, the asshole, the one with money problems, and… that’s just about it – but judging from others’ assessment of the series, it does seem like some character development is on the horizon. But what’s compelling me more than the characters themselves are the dynamics between them. So even though I wasn’t totally wowed by this book, it has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes me want to keep going with it… hopefully the second book picks up.

book review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater
★★★★☆
Scholastic, 2011

 

The Scorpio Races is a wonderfully bizarre little book about a horse race on a mythical Irish island… each year capaill uisce (Irish Gaelic for ‘water horses’) come out of the ocean – larger, fiercer, and deadlier than land horses – and a brave few ride them in a race for a significant sum of prize money. Nineteen year old Sean has been riding in the races for years, ever since his father died, and he’s won four times on his stallion Corr. Puck has never ridden a capall uisce in her life, but she enters the races in a desperate attempt to save her family house from repossession. (Incidentally, I used to be a horse girl and my nickname used to be Puck, so all things considered, I immediately had a connection with this book.)

I’d never read any Maggie Stiefvater before, but consider me hooked. This is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read – with the dreary November setting it almost begs to be read in the fall. Stiefvater’s prose is so immersive I could practically feel the wind whipping across my face when Sean and Puck were riding their horses across the Irish cliffs. One element of this story I loved was the fusion of Irish Catholicism with the fictional island of Thisby’s own mythos – the way the two coexisted in this narrative was fascinating to me.

These characters quickly and easily won me over. Puck instantly became a favorite (maybe it was the name thing at first, but she turned out to be pretty awesome), and her relationship with her two brothers was one of my favorite things about this story. Unfortunately I found Sean rather bland for the most part, but one element that I appreciated was the contrast between Sean and Puck’s relationship with the capaill uisce. Both of them had parents who had been killed by the water horses, but where Puck was repulsed by them as a result, Sean formed a stronger connection with them. While the story is leading toward an inevitable romance between Sean and Puck, I was glad to see that the romance never really took center stage. It’s more a book about belonging, and surviving, themes which are rendered subtly throughout the novel.

This was at a 4.5 star level the whole time I was reading, and whether I rounded up or down in my review was always going to depend on the ending, which unfortunately left me a bit dissatisfied… Too many plot points were rushed and tied up neatly in too few pages, and for me, the emotional climax of the story happened with about 30% of the book left… While on some level I do think the conclusion was tonally appropriate, I guess I had been hoping for a bit more pain to see out the novel. But that probably says more about me than the book. I really enjoyed this, and look forward to reading more from Stiefvater.

[This was a buddy read with Steph @ Lost: Purple Quill – read her excellent review HERE.  And if you aren’t already following her blog what the heck are you doing??]