“Blue Lily, Lily Blue” by Maggie Stiefvater

Oh, hi. I’m not dead. University kind of ate my life and I barely remember the last time I finished a book except for last night, so I’m sorry I haven’t been around. But I’m here now.

The cover of this book is absolutely gorgeous. The UK edition has different colouring to the US one, but the pinkish flowers go all around the spine and they're lovely.

The cover of this book is absolutely gorgeous. The UK edition has different colouring to the US one, but the pinkish flowers go all around the spine and they’re lovely.

So, Blue Lily, Lily Blue. If you know me or read my regular blog, you’ll know that I’ve been a fan of Maggie Stiefvater since 2009, and I’ve been looking forward to this book for a while. It’s the third book in the Raven Cycle, and I pre-ordered it a couple of months ago. (Pre-orders are like getting presents from your younger self, and it’s great.) I received it yesterday, put all my actual work on hold to read it because I am just that committed a student, and read the whole thing.

Okay, so maybe reading it more slowly would have made it easier to review, but let’s face it: this book was always going to be almost impossible to review fairly.

It is nearly impossible for me to evaluate this book in a way that is fair to it as a book in its own right. I can’t review it as a standalone: I can’t separate its individual strengths and weakness from the rest of the series, and my opinions of it are always going to be coloured by how I feel about the others. This isn’t just a book. It’s the sequel to The Dream Thieves.

The Dream Thieves was the exact book I needed to read at the time that I read it, and had a profound impact on me because of the extent to which I identified with Ronan Lynch. As a result, the story itself was secondary to the message it sent to me at the time, and I would have overlooked any little flaws. I needed that book, Maggie wrote that book. Therefore it was perfect.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue could not have that effect.

Partly this was because I was almost expecting it to, and books tend to touch you most when you weren’t seeking out their underlying messages. But it didn’t hit the particular tender spot that its prequel did. That’s okay. Not every book can do that — it wouldn’t be special if they did. However, it’s going to mean I respond to it differently.

This was a good book, and a strong addition to the series. There was a lot that I enjoyed within it, including the friendship developing between Blue and Ronan, which I thought was really important to follow on from his character development in book two. Adam’s increased self-reliance was countered by his ability to accept help, to recognise friendship as what it is and not as charity. He in particular has grown as a character since the start of the series. And Gansey, too, has changed: anxious, almost afraid, in a way he never seemed before. Yet changed is probably the wrong word. You get the impression, as Blue does, that he’s been hiding his true self and we’re only now beginning to see it.

Avoiding spoilers, Maggie also explores ideas like grief and change in a powerful way.

That said, the book didn’t seem perfect. It’s hard to clarify my thoughts here without giving away major plot points, but there were several events that happened and then weren’t followed up as much as I felt they should have been. There were things left hanging, some of which I imagine will be resolved in book four, but others which seemed almost forgotten about.

Okay, I can’t do it. There has to be a spoiler, but hey, it’s a minor one because this particular event didn’t figure as much as it felt like it should have done. So, basically, there’s a scene where Adam’s father is in court. Adam goes alone because he was too proud to tell the others; Gansey and Ronan nevertheless turns up and he accepts their help, having recognised that it was friendship and not them pitying him or whatever.

We never hear the result of the case. It’s never mentioned again. Its part as character development was played, but its part as plot just fizzled out.

At other times I found myself slightly confused, although I’m willing to allow the possibility that reading it quickly may have caused me to miss some subtleties. Moreover while there were a few moments that were simply entertaining, the easy humour of the previous two books seemed less prevalent. Perhaps Blue as a narrative focus is less amusing because she doesn’t have Ronan’s sardonic approach to everything – but I enjoy sarcasm, so I missed that.

To counter my apparent negativity, here's a picture to show how excited I was when the book arrived.

To counter my apparent negativity, here’s a picture to show how excited I was when the book arrived.

There’s also one event near the end that’s been building up throughout the series and yet it seemed kind of abrupt and unsubstantiated. I think this was probably deliberate: Blue, at this point, is exhausted and terrified and grieving and trying to get her head around a lot of things, so she doesn’t have time to think too much about anything or to deal with feelings. Nevertheless, it could probably have been slightly more effective.

And then there was Piper. An interesting character, but her transition from bimbo to psychopath was never really explained. Implied to be linked to Cabeswater and Glendower and all of that, but never quite stated. Perhaps that’ll be sorted out in book four.

Other things I did enjoy, to end on a positive note (because it was a good book, and I don’t want to give the impression that it wasn’t), included Blue’s own development and increased understanding of her power, the small gestures of affection that creep out through the shells in Ronan’s armour to look after Adam (and generally the affection and relationships between all of the boys and Blue), and the lack of romance. Despite the Blue/Gansey thing, that was kept to a minimum and of course there was no kissing. The book celebrates the kind of friendship that’s really intense and passionate without ever being about romance or physicality and as an asexual person, I love that. I aspire to have that kind of friendship in my life.

This was a good book, though I think its strengths lie in character development more than plot, as it was the characters that stood out to me as brilliant and the plot which I frequently found to be flawed in tiny ways. I kind of think that’s Maggie Stiefvater’s way, though: I loved Ballad not because of what happened, but because it happened to James Morgan. This one suffered in my estimation from having to follow on from one of my all-time favourite books ever. For you, though, it might hit the spots it didn’t reach for me.

I’m giving it four stars. A good read, but not quite the pinnacle of perfection that I thought The Dream Thieves was. In my mind, it’s going to be very hard for Maggie to top that one.

Rating: ****


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