In Henrietta, everything is opportunity, magic and myth. The ley line has been woken, Cabeswater has taken its frightening yet wondrous sacrifice and dreams perch on the shoulders of boys. Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah stand on the brink of discovery, the sleeping king, Glendower seeming tangibly close. Yet Henrietta crackles with menace. Shadowy figures and frightening forces press ever closer while demons of a more personal nature stalk the minds of those vital to their containment. In this second instalment of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, ancient forces converge, friendships are tested and fate brings the full force of its terrible, wonderful power down on the Raven Boys.
The Dream Thieves is a triumph of characterisation. In The Raven Boys, Blue’s eyes were the prisms through which we were introduced to Henrietta and Aglionby. Here, Stiefvater moves through multiple viewpoints – an astonishing amount, in all honesty, yet the story never loses cohesiveness. If anyone drives The Dream Thieves, however, then it’s Ronan Lynch. Ronan is an oxymoronic mix of loyalty and loathing, pissiness and piety. He’s wreathed in secrets that are both wondrous and terrifying, yet he himself is fearless and almost blindly accepting talents. He is an incredibly intricate, cleverly drawn character who rather owns this instalment of Stiefvater’s story. Contrasting Ronan, is new character Levinsky. Levinsky is a psychopathic, foul-mouthed creation of carefully orchestrated fecklessness and cruelty. He is what Ronan would be without the inhabitants of Monmouth Manufacturing: a dark mirror on Ronan’s reality. Their interactions also suggest more hidden aspects of the story, coming across like an illicit affair, thrilling but ultimately sordid and with one always wanting more than the other.
While Ronan is accepting of recent events, Adam is not. He’s losing time to visions that he doesn’t understand and is terrified. For almost the entirety of The Dream Thieves he fights to hold onto the identity of Adam Parrish but flounders awfully, lashing out where he should be asking for help. His overwhelming self-pity and pride could be irritating but In Stiefvater’s hands becomes a tragic hubris, almost noble in its very destructiveness. Anyway, it’s hard to be irritated at someone who is so desperately lonely and sad. Of all Adam’s moments in the book it is those he shares with Blue that hit home hardest in terms of his loneliness. This is not lost on Blue but she is realising that she could quite safely kiss Adam and this realisation leads, in turn, to one that has been inevitable since the opening scenes of The Raven Boys. Blue remains slightly in the background of The Dream Thieves but is still at the heart of the group of characters, drawing together the boys, the women and the energy.
Blue’s inevitability (and not only hers) stems from her friendship with Gansey, who remains as fascinating here as he ever was in The Raven Boys. Stiefvater cleverly allows readers to see a Gansey who is, while still enigmatic and driven, very much a teenage boy with a beloved car, the impulse to throw caution to the wind and girl troubles. Except even as a teenage boy with a beloved car and girl troubles he is one part seventeen-year-old rich kid and ten parts seemingly timeless wonder. An old soul, perhaps, or maybe someone who’s lived through more time than anyone yet realises.
Alongside this core group, there are many others who become indelible parts of the ongoing story. Noah, the living dead boy, is far more present than before and demonstrates an unquestioning innocence and lust for life that seems strange in someone who suffered such a violent death. More than anything he delights in his friendships and is particularly lovely with Blue, just when she needs it. The women of Fox Way are also very present in this book and, unusually for a YA title, are allowed to emerge without the presence of Blue or the boys. They do this largely in the company of the mysterious Mr Gray, a character who it is best for readers to discover themselves. Above all, Stiefvater’s characters contain not a stereotype among them. They are utterly unique – something that is seen less often that one might think.
So often, the second book in a series is the equivalent of “that difficult second album” but not so Stiefvater’s tour de force. The multiple viewpoints and shifts in focus hang together to create a story that is utterly mesmerising and full of moments that are beautiful because they are sad and sad because they are beautiful. The darker moments, which include some rather well written horror, are contrasted with moments of utter glee, humour and the kind of knowingly glorious potential that can surely only be felt by watching dreams fly with dreams. Yet the menace is there, surrounding the story as surely as her characters are surrounded by Mitsubishi shark teeth.
The Dream Thieves is storytelling at its best. The kind of storytelling that makes you reflect on how much better the world is for having stories in it. The characters are unique yet ancient, the story new yet timeless. King Arthur is referenced more than once in The Dream Thieves, allowing this reader to spend many happy hours wondering who might Merlin, or Lancelot, or Morgana turn out to be but also leading me to turn to other great tales. TH White’s The Once and Future King and The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper among others. Read them, read The Dream Thieves and then be glad because this story has yet to be finished and that there is surely yet more magic and yet more wonder to come from a writer at the top of her game.
This review was brought to you by Splendibird. The Dream Thieves is available now. Thank you to lovely Nicole, who posted a copy across the Atlantic. You rock. Also, we'd like to recommend the audio recordings of both The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves - Will Patton has a voice like syrup.