One of the reasons I try really hard to keep an open mind about books that don’t seem to fit with what I normally like is that every once in a while, I end up reading something I love despite it being out of my comfort zone. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys was one of those books, and I have been anticipating the follow-up, The Dream Thieves, for months. This review will likely contain spoilers for The Raven Boys, so proceed with caution if you’re interested in the series but haven’t read the first book.
The Raven Boys was an odd book; one that was difficult to describe and didn’t really fit into any particular genre. While I tend to have a bit of an aversion to paranormal themes in YA, I loved how Stiefvater approached those themes from a very unique angle, weaving in mythology and ESP and placing these things in the context of a small southern town and a story dripping with ambiance. These things that I enjoyed so much about The Raven Boys are still very present in The Dream Thieves, which picks up shortly after the mild cliffhanger of book one.
We rejoin our main girl Blue and her “Raven Boys” from Aglionby Academy: Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah. In book one we learned that Gansey has been leading the boys on a quest to find the hidden tomb of an old Welsh king, Glendower, who is supposedly buried along a line of energy in Henrietta and, if found, will grant a favor to whoever wakes him. Blue’s family of psychics has some information that can help with this search, so Blue joins the crew – despite not having any psychic powers of her own, she amplifies psychic energy, and this turns out to be a helpful tool.
The Dream Thieves continues to follow the group’s search for Glendower, which is complicated when the line of energy they discovered in book one starts fizzling out, making it harder to know where to look for the king. That thread of the story, however, takes a backseat to a storyline that explores Ronan’s newfound ability to bring objects from his dreams into reality. Throughout the book we learn more about how this ability has affected Ronan’s family and watch as he tries to get a better grasp on how to use it. Meanwhile, Ronan’s deceased father’s shady past continues to haunt him, and he is not safe.
Much like the first book in the series, book two takes a similarly slow pace to introduce the characters and plot points that will become important in the more fast-paced climax of the book. For a series book, there is actually quite a bit of backstory provided – this is one of the few cases where I think someone could jump in to the series on book two and have a pretty good grasp of what’s going on without having to read the first one. Still, I really appreciated having the character background that I had from The Raven Boys, because character development is a huge part of this series and seeing the journey of all the main characters makes everything that’s happening resonate so much more. Plus, since the focus shifts so much to Ronan in this book, you don’t get as vivid of a portrayal of some of the other characters (like Blue and Adam) that were more central in the first book.
Despite it taking a while for the pace to pick up, I really enjoyed The Dream Thieves. I love the unique ambiance that Stiefvater brings to the story, and I really appreciate how authentic most of her characters seem to be. I feel like I know this group of characters, and I care about what happens to them. The Dream Thieves is, by any reasonable standards, a fantastic book.
But…there is a but. Since this book is part of a series, I can’t help but think of it as part of a larger entity, and in that context, it feels like the plot at large – the search for Glendower (and even the prophecy of Blue killing her true love if she kisses him) – is not progressed much at all in The Dream Thieves. These things are present, but what actually happens is almost entirely specific to Ronan’s abilities. While it makes for a reasonably interesting story on its own, it feels a bit superfluous to the grander story. It’s arguable, of course – Stiefvater does a great job of ultimately making a connection between Ronan’s ability and an important step forward in the search for Glendower, but the fact remains that the plot point could have been skipped entirely. I’m assuming Ronan’s ability will play into the plot more as the series progresses, which will ultimately validate all the backstory in The Dream Thieves, but without that context there are certainly moments where I was thinking, “Okay, this is interesting, but what about the plot I was expecting to read about?”
Still, The Dream Thieves strikes the same ambient mood as The Raven Boys and makes the story feel cohesive, if not entirely relevant. And despite feeling a bit separated from the main plot, I will admit it was nice to see some evolution in Ronan. I wasn’t particularly interested in him in The Raven Boys, and he still isn’t one of the more intriguing characters from the main group as far as I’m concerned, but I enjoyed getting to see some growth in his character and am interested to see how it impacts the dynamics of the group in the next book.
So yes, as a series book I did have some points of confusion when it came to The Dream Thieves, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the book on its own. Stiefvater is clearly a very imaginative writer who cares deeply about her characters and expertly avoids plot holes in a rather complex story. Despite any quibbles I may have, I can’t deny that I enjoy the opportunity to jump into the world of Henrietta and am happy to follow along with these fantastic characters throughout their journey. While I am certainly interested in the resolution of this story, Stiefvater makes taking the scenic route to the end incredibly fun and satisfying.