Dead Welsh kings and then some: “The Dream Theives”

The second instalment in New York times bestselling author, Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle quartet — a four part, supernatural YA series, that takes place predominantly in your typical small Virginian town of Henrietta. “The Dream Thieves” carries on from where the previous novel “The Raven Boys” dramatically concluded, with the revelation that one of the characters, Ronan Lynch can remove things from his dreams. But whereas “The Raven Boys” acted as more of a story of origin, following a young girl called Blue, as she enters the mysterious world of the Raven Boys — a cruel nickname given to the boys who attend the town’s local private boys school, Agloinby Academy — “The Dream Thieves” centers more on Ronan Lynch, a boy still scared by the death of his charismatic but absent father, whilst dealing with an unpredictable new reality, full of magic and danger that he and his friends: Gansey, Adam, Noah and Blue now inhabit.

Attempting to pander to the largest, and possibly the most stereotypical of YA audiences, the blurb of “The Dream Thieves” presents the novel as being your everyday teen romance. Stating that ‘Blue didn’t mean to fall in love with The Raven Boys […] the more her life entwines with theirs, the more dangerous it becomes.’ Although all of this is true, it barely scrapes the surface. “The Dream Thieves” is more than just about an angst-stricken teenage girl, incapable of dealing with her emotions. In fact, Blue’s story about how kissing her true love will result in his death — the catalyst of the first novel, takes a back seat to Ronan’s story, which brings to light issues that many young people and adults are forced to deal with: grief, destructive behaviour, drug abuse and sexuality, in an honest and yet sensitive way; through clever character development and a clear, if sometimes complicated storyline that introduces a new character, Joseph Kavinsky to the Raven boys world. kavinsky acts as a parallel to Ronan, showing the reader what he could become. He has the same self-destructive behaviour and the same arrogant but self loathing attitude. But unlike Ronan, Kavinsky comes to a tragic end as he lacks the support network that Ronan has.

One thing that I found particularly interesting was the way Stiefvater expertly uses a play on words to reveal details about her characters. For example, through her poetic and sometimes unexpected style, Stiefvater perfectly captures the dynamic of the Lynch family in the prologue. In particular, Ronan’s feelings towards his deceased father. Stiefvater does this by describing Ronan and his two brothers as ‘copies of their father.’ ‘although each flattered a different side of Nail’ but it’s the way she describes these sides that I loved: using phrases such as ‘Declan had a way of taking a room and shaking its hand’ and describing Ronan as ‘molten eyes and a smile made for war,’ that struck me as an absorbing way of characterising Niall Lynch (the father) and his sons connection to him. Declan inherited his father’s politician-like charm and Ronan inherited his anger, his passion and that part of him that is hard to control.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for an action-packed adventure or an epic love story, then “The Dream Thieves” is not for you. Already a fan of Stiefvater’s previous work, when I first came across this book I was disappointment as it wasn’t any of these things. But when I found myself returning to it a year later, it was exactly what I needed. All the central characters, even some of the not so central ones, like a Hitman dressed all in grey, who moves to Henrietta with a primary goal of unveiling the Lynch family’s darkest secrets, struggle with their identity. As someone who as a young teenager struggled with mine, this book told me that this was okay and that you don’t have to know who you are when society tells you you have to, because the rest of your life is there for you to discover that.

Image from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17347389-the-dream-thieves

Written by, Maureen Tuyishime

Things will never change

Every so often, as I’m just minding my own business going about my everyday life, it suddenly hits me like an unexpected punch in the face: the world is seriously unfair. But then I realise that of course the world is unfair; it was after all created by the rich for the rich. And so far, in spite of the occasional decade or so of upheaval and short spouts of unrest, their creation has yet to fail them.

The world, as I’ve occasionally glimpsed, is a wonderful and magical place: full of both natural and manmade beauties — from the Eiffel to Niagara Falls, the Egyptian pyramids to the Grand Canyon — that I will never get to see, expect maybe in a book or on the internet: because I am poor, because I was born to two loving parents’ who can’t support my curiosity because they too are poor. If I had been born to wealthy parents’, things would be very different. The world (as so-called grown-ups like to condescendingly say to the unenthused and disenchanted youth) would be my oyster. But it’s not, and it doesn’t seem as if it ever will be. The system I was born into would never allow it. People like me, who have always lived in what can only be described as poverty, have little if any hope of ever affording a house to rent, let alone a life as an intrepid explorer, existing for the sole purpose of learning and discovering new things — whilst there’s still a functioning planet to discover — because things will never change: the world is controlled by the lovers of Capitalism, and Capitalism demands that the minds of the impoverished be still, be silent and unquestioning. Capitalism demands that our poor bodies work, aimlessly and tirelessly to fill the greedy pockets of its champions. Until they have no more use of us.

In this unfair world, the poor are forced to live and die by this: work to survive and survive to work. It’s almost as if the creators of society were so insufferably wealthy, so removed from reality, that to them the poor weren’t really people, the unlucky many didn’t have any hopes or dreams; the word aspiration wasn’t even in the vocabulary of the poor, and people like myself were simply there for their own gains. It’s our great shame as a supposedly compassionate race, that things have yet to improve. Those of us who are already at a disadvantage due to a fate of birth, are still forced into lives we hate and into jobs that suck us dry of anything that could be described as happiness or fulfilment: by governments voted in by the people to help and support, but instead, waste time and money demeaning and maligning, contributing to an environment that sees the most vulnerable members of society dismissed as being: cheats, workshy and lazy. Whereas the future rich are advised by the current rich to bide their time, to invest and collect. To in franker terms, plan to be richer. And governments all over the world don’t just allow this to happen (oh no!) they actively encourage it. In fact, they probably do this themselves — which is probably why we see examples of the greedy rich selfishly hoarding wealth and goods, to little if any consequence.

We’ve seen this many times before: from the mere slap on the wrist bankers received after their callus risk taking caused the financial meltdown of 2007/2008, to the million pound houses that stand empty in our cities because they belong to the global rich, whilst the poor are forced into unthinkably dire circumstances that government do nothing to correct: because apparently, there is a housing crisis, caused in part (might I add) by the greed and indifference of people and governments that existed before I was even born, (Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, I’m talking to you). To the landlords gleefully rubbing their hands together, as they run around buying houses, like overexcited children in a sweet shop; just so they can rent them out at ridiculous prices, whilst at the same time eyeing up a higher bidder. And then there is a type of wealthy individual (you know the sort) who, after squeezing the wealth out of a country, relocates to places like Monaco; a shameless country that doesn’t even try to hide its status as a designated land for wealthy tax dodgers. Or happily take the advice of unscrupulous accountants; divesting wads of cash to places like the Cayman Islands, to avoid paying their fair contribution — because apparently, once you’ve made your millions, society no longer exists.

Then there is the grand manipulation. The super-rich aren’t happy with their endless supply of money (no!) they want everyone else to be happy about it too. And even though we know how they achieve this — dragging their shills and mouth-pieces in the media and in the government on our TV screens 24/7, to vouch for them and for their money — nothing will be done about it, because that’s the way things are. And to rub salt into the wound, the rich have managed to convince certain poor people that eventually, through so called hard work, and through so called determination, they too can be the hoarders of the world’s wealth. For an example of this, look no further than the United States of America and the so called “American dream” an idea that I’m almost certain was created by the rich, to further control the poor. But John Steinbeck put it best: ‘Socialism never took root because in America the poor see themselves as not the exploited, but as temporary embarrassed millionaires’. This can be said for most of the world and almost all of human history.

Image from: https://edition-m.cnn.com/2011/10/05/opinion/rushkoff-occupy-wall-street/index.html

Written by, Maureen Tuyishime

A Tale of Ageless wonder: “How to stop time”

Written by Matt Haig, the same man who gave us one of my favourite semi sci-fi novels, “The Humans”, “How to stop time” is another Semi sci-fi novel (I say semi-sci-fi because the only science that effects the main characters is their biology), that tells the story of Tom Hazard, a man who due to some freak genetic condition, can live much longer than other human beings. So, although he appears to be a typical 40 something year old, his age is closer to 400.

Reading the novel, I was struck by the way it uses the main character, Tom; a person who can assess people through the prism of time and history, as a way of observing human beings and humanity. This is done by presenting Tom as someone trying to navigate the modern world, whilst being plagued by flashbacks of a distant past: a time of intolerance, (shown through the tragic death of his mother and his eventual decision to leave his beloved wife and daughter) but also a time of great beauty and culture (with references to Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald). Tom himself is also a talented pianist, with the piano representing a time when music was an escape from his loneliness. We see glimmers of this intolerance and beauty in Tom’s present life — where he works as a history teacher — with observations of the current political climate, but also with the realisation that an old friend of his has now resurfaced, but unlike before, he no longer has to fear that the discovery of his condition will lead to witch trials and disaster. From this, I felt that the novel was trying to argue that we humans don’t change drastically, but when we do change, it tends to be for the better.

Overall, this novel was a very fast read for me: I finished it in less than two days. I found it to be a very philosophical novel, more about the bigger picture, created by singular moments than the moments themselves. And even though it normally irritates me when authors incorporate historical figures into their novels, I felt that in this case it was done not as a way of trying to make the protagonist seem more important, but as a way of showing how unimportant we as individuals are: Tom has absolutely no influence on the historical figures he encountered through his life. And even though he’s the one still alive, they are the ones whose works have been immortalised in our cultural consciousness.

Image from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Stop-Time-Matt-Haig/dp/1782118616

Written by, Maureen Tuyishime