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” centres 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 disappointed 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

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 affects 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