Sunday, October 19, 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Cycle is composed of novels that each transform the ones that came before; they illuminate corners of the world we hadn’t fully seen, and unlock bits of the map we have been waiting to explore. 

Maggie Stiefvater has called Blue Lily, Lily Bluethe third installment of The Raven Cycle, a book about mirrors and the story is full of them. Previous books have used parallels and foils, but this one repeating use of characters acting as reflections/distortions for each other. For example Aglionby student Henry Cho, who in a specific scene illuminates how far Gansey has outwardly come from the President Cellphone character Blue first met in The Raven Boys. Reading Lily Blue, Blue Lily is playing a game of spot the difference without having to worry that the book is going to lose itself in trying to be "clever."

Stiefvater is a smart writer. Her series rewards close readers and welcomes revisitation. What other books might treat as revelations, these books treat as confidences; it is as if we have become good enough friends with the characters that they feel comfortable sharing what we only saw in glimpses when they thought we weren’t looking. These are real, imperfect people.

Adam Parrish and I do not always get along; I always understand his character's motivations but I don't always agree with the actions that result from them. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the novel where I feel like Adam gets his shit together. There's been an arc trajectory happening since his decision in The Raven Boys, and it felt like this book was natural conclusion to where that was headed. I can feel proud of him for stepping up in the way I could feel proud of Ronan at the end of The Dream Thieves.

No relationship in this series is simplistic; it's one of the many things that makes these books so captivating. As the characters grow, their dynamics also evolve and change. That should be a given for any series, but there's a natural progression to the pacing of Stiefvater's writing that is refreshing. These shifts in character and growth happening subtly, layer upon layer, until they form the shape of individual growing up. They become someone they were always going to be. (There’s a scene involving Blue and Ronan where after reading it, I stopped and thought that couldn’t have happened two books ago. I highly recommend rereading The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves before reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue.)

Another of her feats of wonder is how Stiefvater continues to juggle all of the subtly moving parts while adding new characters. Some of them are names or shadows that have been skirting the edges of things in the previous events, which results in no one in this book reading like they shouldn’t be there.

I have to call out the delightfully antagonistic Colin and Piper Greenwood. They present a darker mirror of Dean Allen and Maura Sargent, and perhaps that is why I found Colin and Piper much easier to like than Kavinsky (who was Ronan’s mirror in The Dream Thieves.) 

I loved every chapter the Greenwoods were in, despite the fact that I’m convinced they don’t even like each other that much. I'll take interesting and well-developed characters over “likeable” ones every time. While I feel that I know certain characters better than others by the end of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, there is not a character in this series that I don’t find interesting.

Reading The Raven Cycle is the delight and frustration and excitement and anguish of searching for something as grand as a Dead Welsh King. When something is that big, you may not find it. You may not get the answer you wanted. But in the looking, you might an answer that you needed. That is part of what keeps the series buoyant even when it often features weighty issues like anxiety, abuse, and betrayal. The story balances itself, again and again, going as down into the darkness as it needs to then climbing upwards again to daylight. (Structurally speaking, Blue Lily, Lily Blue is both the tightest and the most ambitious of the books so far.)

Perhaps I should not feel as hopeful at the end as I did, but hope is what makes Blue Lily, Lily Blue belong to Blue Sargent. She’s one of the few characters who consistently has her head on right; she is the one actively seeking to be optimistic without being unrealistic. I enjoyed learning why, and what drives her. Blue at her best isn't just a Page of Cups; she’s an entire ocean of hope. This book brims with it—which is not to say that it's lacking terrible things or all hell isn’t going to break loose in the next book. But we can be like Blue and actively choose to believe the future is going to be better.

Whatever waits in that final book, I will love it. Even when these books don’t do what I expect—and that’s that often, actually—they always give me what I need. I love them very much, and I can't wait to talk about this new one with you.

Thank you to Scholastic Canada, who allowed me to read Blue Lily, Lily Blue early. It should be available in stores by November 1st.