The Dream Thieves (by Maggie Stiefvater)

16 03 2014

dreamthievesThe Dream Thieves is the follow up to Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, which was probably the cat’s biggest surprise of 2013: paranormal fantasy could actually be good, a (conventional) good old-fashioned bulky read, you know ? That is why I could not have been more disappointed with The Dream Thieves.

Even though I already had the feeling that Ronan would become an important character – and he is really the focus of The Dream Thieves – the way that this is done is… well, dull… as opposed to the wild and exuberant way in which his character deserved to be at the center of things.

Oh, this book is written well enough but plot and characters just couldn’t hold my interest here because it was soooo slow-moving and really isn’t furthering any of the elements of book 1. The Raven Boys was really an ensemble book. Yes, there was a girl protagonist (Blue) and a boy protagonist, (Gansey), but all the other characters weren’t really secondary… they really all played a pivotal role. That has definitely changed in The Dream Thieves, which is mostly about Ronan (as a dream thief) and when the other characters do appear they don’t really add anything to the overall plot. Their quests from The Raven Boys are almost ‘forgotten’ and they just seem to be filler characters, especially Adam and Noah, who could both be such interesting characters.

This one has all the stereotypical weaknesses of the middle book. Anyway, major major letdown and I don’t really know if I want to continue this series.


The Raven Boys (by Maggie Stiefvater)

24 09 2013

ravenboys1It pays off to go into a book without expectations! Especially when dealing with a paranormal fantasy thingie, which is so not my thing! This just to say that I absolutely loved reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys: it was mysterious, it’s a real bulky read (love me some of those!) and it provides some good old-fashioned fun to get sucked into.

I’m glad too that paranormal fantasy doesn’t always need to equal paranormal romance. Even though there’s a bit of romance involved obviously (that’s the whole prophecy thing that starts the whole book!), it really is more in the background of the book, and the focus is definitely on “the boys” (with Gansey being at the forefront here) and their friendship and I’d argue that the female protagonist Blue is – up to now – merely a character in the margin of that friendship and the mystery of the ley lines and the search for this really weird Welsh king!

Yes, yes, you got that right: we get a whole tapestry of strange and X-filesy stuff here. And although it’s definitely a book that sets up a whole new series (complete with slow buildup, which I actually liked) and is as such not entirely satisfactory (lots of unexplained elements), there’s more than enough here to get the cat interested in the rest of the series (which couldn’t be said of other firsts in a series…), especially the somewhat unusual male protagonists (I feel Adam and Ronan will become quite the characters, more so even than Gansey…).

More please!

The Scorpio Races (by Maggie Stiefvater)

30 04 2012

A complete novice to Maggie Stiefvater’s writing, the cat went into The Scorpio Races without too many expectations. A good thing too, because if she’d had them,  she surely would have been disappointed. The Scorpio Races is not about “Scorpios” nor is it about “Races” at all,… so far for the title giving away the whole plot. Not necessarily a bad thing, of course.  The Scorpio Races is actually about Maggie Stiefvater painting a picture of an island, Thisby, in a non-descript period of time. A painting of a place-less place in a time-less time, if you will. Stiefvater definitely does her utmost to make that painting as universal as possible, which is bound to alienate a bunch of readers, amongst which also the cat…

First off, we do get at least an indication of where exactly this island Thisby might be. The protagonists of this little prizewinner are called capaill uisce (“water horses”), which sounds definitely Gaelic enough for the island to be situated near Ireland or Scotland, especially taking the incredibly detailed characterization of the angry wild sea and the roughness of the shoreline into consideration.  Many books are either plot-driven or character-driven and in only a few instances you get the perfect combination of plot & character. The Scorpio Races, however, is really neither. If anything it is setting-driven. The descriptions of the island and the sea surrounding it, out of which these magnificently cruel beasts capaill uisce are born, are what should suck you in from the start. Stiefvater’s prose is vividly atmospheric, the perfect tool to paint an almost impressionist tale of a temperamental island and its long-standing traditions.

In this almost mythical setting, two characters are juxtaposed: Kate ‘Puck’ Connelly and Sean Kendrick. Puck is the first girl to race in the Scorpio Races, which take place every year on the first day of November.  Sean is a 4-time winner of the Races. Both have their own motivations for wanting to race. Puck’s parents were killed by the savage horses, leaving Puck and her two brothers orphaned. Now, Gabe (the oldest brother) wants to leave the island, leaving behind Puck and their youngest brother Finn. Puck wants in on the races to prove to herself and the islanders that she can do it…that and the fact that she needs the prize money to save her house.  Puck being the first girl to enter the races means that all sorts of gender issues are brought to the fore too, of course (an indication that the time period is probably somewhere in the early 20th rather than in the 21st century). Sean, on the other hand, enters because of some sort of ‘oath’ to the owner of his beloved water horse, Corr. What he actually wants is to obtain Corr, the capall uisce, he’s been riding since forever and with which he has an almost transcendental connection. Puck and Sean are two sides of the same coin: one stands for future (Puck) and everything it entails (change), while the other stands for tradition (Sean) and honoring the sea and the land that brought forth the capaill uisce and the islanders.

Despite the fact that almost nothing really happens – large vague-ish brushstrokes, rather than a firm outline, to stay with the painting imagery – it’s a tale that could work (and yes, I’m now totally overlooking the fact that besides Puck, Sean, the island and the capaill uisce none of the other characters have any sort of personality) . However, the one almost insurmountable obstacle for the cat was a linguistic thing: that damned present tense this book was written in! Unlike in Collins’ Hunger Games, the present tense here annoyed the hell out of the cat. Speaking about reading pleasure being spoiled by a linguistic device… It serves a purpose for sure (universality), but it’s also the element that made sure there was almost no distinction in characterization between Puck and Sean. Add to that that both narrations are first-person narrations and you get two voices, which are almost exactly the same (again the universality of it all, the fact they’re two sides of the same coin and all that). Their pasts and motivations are different, despite the fact that there are obvious similarities. Their voices should be complimentary rather than identical. I felt the present tense narration just stood in the way of that.

Like with for instance David Almond, I can see where the attraction lies: atmospheric prose, scenic landscapes, mythical creatures, yadda, yadda, yaddaStiefvater is a pro at creating mood, for sure. But it’s a mood that will not satisfy everyone, especially if you are also looking for a plot advancing at a decent pace (the pace here is sloooooow!), or if you like your books to have more than one interesting character. And also just like with David Almond, the cat really isn’t feeling the love here…

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