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The Dream Thieves

We put out a call asking for interested parties to take a shot at making the case for their top book of the year, and today, occasional guest poster Clair Segal is back to do just that. Or sort of that, because she’s taken on a challenge: talking about a second book in a series.

Clair is the library technology librarian at a New York City independent school. You can read more of her thoughts on Twitter, at her own blog, or on the AISL blog.

The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, September 2013
Reviewed from ARC

See, the thing no one told me about going to your first Annual is that it makes you act crazy.

Totally crazy. Librarian!crazy. (Which is frankly the best kind of crazy because all things in life are better when prefaced with “Librarian!”)

But crazy is crazy, and I acted the book-obsessed-fool in Chicago. I stumbled over my tongue telling Holly Black how “amazering” Coldest Girl was. I tried to show Emily Danforth that I was awesome and hip, and great best-friend material. I waited in an insanely long line to profess to an indifferent Tamora Pierce that she had changed my life forever at the tender age of nine. (“Hmm,” my childhood idol offered, nodding politely and sliding over a signed book as her handler motioned me on.)

Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves made me beg a stranger for pity.

Standing at the Scholastic booth making hopeful eyes at the lady in the red smock, I pulled my Truly Politely Pathetic voice out from wherever it goes when I’m pretending to be a grown-up, hands pressed together in a mad, desperate prayer to Librarian!Santa.*

“If there’s any chance you have an ARC left…? It’s the one thing I really want this year, really, truly. But I totally understand if you don’t have it, and I’m so sorry to bother you, and please please please oh help me please.”

(The powers of the Truly Politely Pathetic voice are strong, and must be used only for good.)

Clutching “the last copy” tightly to my chest with both hands, I carried The Dream Thieves through the McCormick Center like a rare antidote, destined to save a small village from an epidemic, or a dossier needed to bring down a corrupt politician.** Every librarian I encountered whose eyes strayed to the white-knuckled grip I had on my prize was competition– a potential battle. A thief who who might steal My Precious away.

And dear reader, I wouldn’t put it past them. Because The Dream Thieves is worth stealing. It’s worth throwing elbows. It’s worth a knock-down, drag-out, viral-video, Jon-Stewart-mocked librarian free-for-all in the McCormick Center, and I would have lead the brawl.

This book is calling-my-parents-for-bail-money good. And any book that good, deserves a Printz Award.

So. Let’s talk about why it’s not going to win one. [Thar be spoilers ahead.]

Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle will eventually stretch to (at least) four books. While the first in the series, The Raven Boys, follows the whole crew (with a focus on Blue and Gansey), The Dream Thieves is all about Ronan. Shark-like Ronan. Dagger-pointed and blunt-tongued Ronan. In the prologue we get one of the most poignant yet simple descriptions of his character, without him even doing anything:

“And you, Ronan,” Niall said. He always said Ronan differently from other words. As if he had meant to say another word entirely– something like knife or poison or revenge– and then swapped it out for Ronan’s name at the last moment.

Ronan is all hard-angles and unwelcoming scowls, from his rough shaven head, to his defiantly knotted tie and blazer. He’s the angry, bitter, biting teen of the group– the one that makes everyone go “why am I friends with him again?”

The Raven Boys ends on Ronan’s astonishing confession that Chainsaw, his pet raven, is a creature from his dreams; something stolen from the ether. It’s a moment that left students and librarians alike going: “WHAT? WAIT, WHAT? I HAVE TO WAIT A WHOLE YEAR TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? ARE YOU– WHAT? CAPS LOCK CAPS LOCK EXCLAMATION POINT!”

That confession drives The Dream Thieves from the very beginning– the idea that things can be taken from your sleeping mind and pulled into a world where they don’t belong. It’s a theme that runs through both novels– belonging somewhere else. From Adam, who feels out of place and judged for eating with a silver spoon he wasn’t born holding; to Gansey, who fits seamlessly into his world of privilege but feels the echoing hollowness of his future (parties, politics, and petit fours) pressing in from all sides; to the Grey Man, who doesn’t want to be an assassin but knows he’s too broken to be anything else.

It’s a theme that resonates because it’s universal and timeless; this is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife — well, how did I get here? Everyone has felt that shaky disconnect with reality — that heavy lump of angst swollen with the sense that you’re living life in the wrong skin, the wrong time, the wrong place — and, worst of all, that you’re alone in feeling this way.

Stiefvater lets that feeling play by piecing her characters together slowly and naturally. It’s a true “ensemble cast” book; in a story that could feel easily overcrowded with personalities, you never lose track of who’s who, just as you don’t forget which of your friends is which. These characters have problems that they’re aware of — imperfections and struggles and skills. They’re not written to be flawless idols for readers to look up to or archetypes to embody. They’re likeable because they’re real.

But that realness comes at a price, and in this case it’s The Series Issue.

Ahh, The Series Issue.*** How I loathe you and your logic. If the point of a Printz Award is to mark an amazing achievement in young adult literature — a moment where an author brushes something larger, and universal, and meaningfu l– then Stiefvater just dropped the mic and walked off stage. I’ve read books with multiple award stickers on the cover that weren’t half as memorable, moving, or true as the first fifty pages of The Dream Thieves.

But to get to The Dream Thieves, you have to go through The Raven Boys first. And at 416 pages, that’s no small investment. Ensemble casts take a lot of time to establish, and the characterization that feels so wonderfully naturally is made possible because Stiefvater has a total of 832 pages to do it in. We don’t need The Dream Thieves to explain Blue’s relationship issues or Adam’s past, because it’s been covered in The Raven Boys. Covering that backstory could have been done in one book, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as organic or enjoyable.

Which brings us to our second problem: The Soundbyte Issue.

Pop quiz, Hotshot: try summarizing The Raven Boys in ten seconds or less in a way that would make your teens not only pick it up, but push through it to get to The Dream Thieves (another 416 pages), and isn’t just you going “OMG THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVAR!!111!”

No, seriously. Go ahead. I’ll wait.


“Well, there’s this psychic girl but she’s not actually a psychic, and then there are all these prep school boys but they don’t spend a lot of time in school, and there are ghosts but not in a scary way, and there’s this missing knight buried under the town but…”

Mmmhmm. That. How the heck do you explain to people what this book is about when what the book’s about it kind of not really the point? The hunt for Glendower is the plot device that is used to bring the characters together, but the drive that makes The Raven Cycle interesting is the quiet character interaction. How these people act and think and behave doing everything from sitting in their cars to hanging out at home to going to dinner parties. It’s hard to hook a student (or a grown-up) on a book where your major argument is “I can’t even express to you how wonderful this is, never mind what it’s about.”

This is a prediction blog, and so I feel obligated to throw my own hat into the ring to earmark future “Nailed it!” bragging rights. The Dream Thieves will never win a Printz, but the fact that it’s better than whatever will win is wonderful. Wonderful! It’s tangible proof that we are no longer in the age of YA lit that saw artificially enforced page limits, crappy covers, and one-shot titles. Series — involved, intense, brilliant series — are here to stay. There are only so many years that we can bemoan an amazing title losing out because of its series status before someone goes “Hey. Series are good. We should recognize that.”

So here’s my prediction: The Dream Thieves will not win the Printz. But in the next ten years, YALSA is going to have to create a brand new award — one recognizing the excellence of series titles and the place they’re taking in our libraries and our hearts. And maybe we’ll be fortunate enough that it’ll be in the next two; just in time to catch the final two books of The Raven Cycle.

Because that award? It’ll sweep. (Hopefully without involving local authorities/hair pulling.)

*Yes Virginia, there is a Librarian!Santa. He doesn’t see you when you’re sleeping because that would be a gross invasion of patron privacy, but he judges you for your overdues. Quietly.

**Annual is much more fun if you imagine scenarios like this and act/internally-LARP accordingly. Adulthood is just childhood with an unlimited Hall Pass and no curfew. Enjoy it.

***Anyone want to start a librarian-themed band with me and call it The Series Issue? The songs practically write themselves: “De-ewy Fall in Love?” “Weed Me” “It’s Oh So Quiet”



  1. I think it’s a real shame that this book is pretty much exempt from Printz Award consideration, because I think it was one of the best books of the year for teens. But everything said above is accurate: a reader cannot fully appreciate or understand the Dream Thieves without having read the Raven Boys. In the reverse, the Raven Boys feels unfinished if it attempts to stand on its own. One affects the other in terms of quality. Discussions about the first book last year reflected this sense of “Raven Boys is awesome, but I hope this is going somewhere…” Luckily, it appears it is going somewhere, but Dream Thieves, while better than its predecessor also relies on the next installment. I know myself well enough as a reader, that I would re-evaluate the Dream Thieves if the next book (or even the conclusion in the series) pales in quality. I did this re-evaluation process with Stiefvater’s earlier Shiver series. It’s a real drag this book is going to lose out because of a technicality, but so much of life is technicalities! haha ; )

    • Clair Segal says

      It will be interesting to see how we all feel about these books when the series is complete. At the end of Raven Boys, I couldn’t imagine what she was going to do, and I have the same feeling reaching the end of Dream Thieves.

      Whatever larger story Stiefvater is planning must be massive.

  2. You know, we’ve joked about needing a series award (Megan Whalen Turner Award, for its first recipient) but seriously: MWT Award! Because I completely agree–I liked Raven Boys. Dream Thieves took my breath away. There’s so much that’s impressive: what Stiefvater does with Ronan, the way the other strands which seem unrelated actually mirror something about him, the sheer loveliness of the language. And yet, it absolutely doesn’t stand on its own.

    • Clair Segal says

      Totally– the way Stiefvater writes her prose is just stunning. And the scenes with Adam? I died with how beautifully honest his teenaged I-don’t-know-quite-why-I-feel-this-way-but-I-do angst was portrayed.

      A series award is needed; how can an ongoing story like this not be recognized when it blows 99% of the YA lit I read out of the water?

      • Since we’re spoilerific here, I’ll also mention that I was very worried Stiefvater was going to have either Adam or Ronan become evil (both as a personal thing and because it would have seemed so hokey and cliched). I was relieved by the fact that neither did–and convinced by the way she played that out.

        I know. And the Printz really rewards one-book realistic fiction. Which is all well and good, but it’s not the only kind of good. I would love to see more speculative fiction being honored, but when so much of it is in series, how can that happen?

      • This is kind of in reply to both Clair and Maureen:

        Adam I think might be the secret weapon in the series, as far as a big reveal, larger purpose, thematic commentary. That line he utters to himself regarding what he wants, “to feel awake when my eyes are open,” really stuck with me and remains in my mind many months after reading this story. I sense this character’s journey will reflect something pretty large that resonates throughout the rest of the series and throughout the rest of the cast. He’s not a character I’d especially want to “hang out” with, but I think he might secretly be the most complex character in the whole book. That being said, I’m not so sure Stiefvater *doesn’t* plan to turn this guy “evil.” His character path has been wrought with complication and actions he has taken, perhaps inadvertently, to alienate the rest of the cast. I’m fascinated by where Adam in particular is headed. Karyn noted in her review of Raven Boys on here last year that the reader has been given the edges of a puzzle missing all of the inner pieces. In a sense, we know what will happen – we just don’t know exactly how or why it’s going to happen and in what way. I thought that was a great observation, and I kept it in mind when reading Dream Thieves. I will continue to keep it in mind as the series moves on. Love this blog!

  3. Karyn Silverman says

    It’s funny how this series award idea just keeps coming back, but it’s for all the reasons everyone has said: you can’t give these books a fair shake looked at in a vacuum, because the things that make it admirable (ok, fantastic — count me in as another reader who thinks book 2 surpassed book 1) are not independent to The Dream Thieves — Ronan’s journey is meaningful in the context of this larger build, whereas in the vacuum of only this book it’s interesting but thinner; Blue’s ever growing attraction to Gansey isn’t that big of a deal without the events of The Raven Boys. And so on. But the Printz is for the best book of the current year; there are arguments that this doesn’t mean it has to be looked at in a vacuum (especially since the line that was usually interpreted to mean standalone was removed from the P&P a few years ago) but I can’t see any way those arguments make sense, because if we submit knowledge of previous books, everything is open and the whole thing falls apart.

    Here’s the last time we exhaustively discussed series books, for those who are interested:

    • I’m a big fan of Stiefvater (LOVED The Scorpio Races, found the first Raven book intriguing, the second a little too tidy, plotwise) but the series I worry about this year is the superb LUMATERE CHRONICLES, which concluded this year with QUINTANA OF CHARYN. The first two books each developed a discrete set of characters beautifully with a compelling, self-contained plot, and the third book took these two worlds and integrated them in an exciting and credible way.

      As the Kirkus review said, “this trilogy, taken as a whole, is stronger than each of its distinct parts”
      How could such a wonderful set of books not even be considered?

  4. I agree with all of the above. And I’ll totally join your band, Clair!

  5. LIbrarian!Santa! Love it! I loved Raven Boys and cannot wait to read this one.

  6. Joseph Miller says

    Having a series award makes a lot of sense to me, although what would the rules be? Would the series have to be finished? Would the first book in the series be eligible? Many questions would have to be answered and a solid set of rules and criteria would have to be hammered out. Still, I do hope to see such an award in the future.

  7. Barbara Moon says

    Maybe it is because I am on the MAE Award committee this year but can’t resist mentioning that there is an award which does consider a body of work: Margaret A Edwards.
    I of course, cannot reveal how many series I read this year – but none-the-less it was a significant number of series for the full run of the series published over a period of time. This means, of course, that the Raven Cycle cannot be considered for this award for some time – but it CAN be considered and recognized in its entirety.
    And I absolutely positively must join the growing ranks Dream Thieves fans. What a tremendous work – particularly when taken in context with The Raven Boys.

    • Perhaps it’s because the Edwards award considers a body of work, but I find it very interesting that the last three winners have all been authors of fantasy–Tamora Pierce, Susan Cooper and Terry Pratchett. Pierce especially is another writer I would give a series award.

  8. Karyn Silverman says

    Barbara, thank you for reminding us all of the Edwards, which is a fantastic award! It’s true, the Edwards can recognize a series. But only sort of — it’s an author award, really, rather than a book award. It can also recognize single books, so it’s not actually for series work, it just allows for it. And it’s something you can only get once and only if you are still alive, both of which present issues. If Tamora Pierce goes on to write something better than the Alanna series and it’s blow your mind fabulous, too bad: she’s already won.

    Joseph, Sarah and I brainstormed our version of the award last year, and here’s what we came up with: make it bi or even triannual. Make a submission process, maybe by the publishers? Or open to anyone, but some official — author or publisher — would have to sign off on whether the series was indeed “complete”. Submitted series are considered finished and if they win, can never be entered again, even if they eventually grow longer. And of course, the criteria would be specific to the sort of series-specific issues we’ve been discussing: whole greater than the sum of the parts, significant development over several books, etc. We didn’t answer every question, but I feel like it’s a start!

    Mary, I haven’t read the Lumatere Chronicles! I tried Finnikin when it came out and it wasn’t for me. Sarah loves them, and did read Quintana, but said it was so steeped in the world that she didn’t see it having a proverbial snowball-in-hell’s chance at the Printz, and then she went off and had a baby instead of writing blog posts, and that’s why we haven’t covered it. But damn if that review doesn’t make me think that I should try the whole series again come February!

    • Elizabeth Burns says

      Karyn, you can get the Edwards more than once. “If an author continues to write books of interest and appeal to young adults, then he or she may receive the award more than once as warranted, as long as it is not more frequently than every six years”. Note that one of my pet peeves about the YALSA website is its hard to track changes to award policies, so I don’t know if this is new or a change.

  9. Listening to this one right now and having the same problem I did with the first – it’s so slow! Once I finished the first one I was happy with the story and where it went, so I trust I’ll get there with this one too. I highly suspect the pace problem is partly due to the listening instead of reading for me which shouldn’t matter in the evaluation anyway. And while I do think Stiefvater’s use of language is generally excellent once again, at times here is seems a little……show-offy? Sort of, look what I’m doing here with this….isn’t that cool and amazing? I’m not sure how to explain and it might not matter to other people or strike them the same way. I’m definitely having issues with not remembering details from the first book real well, although not to the point where it’s problematic, just that I notice I don’t remember something. Right now I wouldn’t put this in my top 5, but I still have a ways to go.

  10. Barbara Moon says

    I read print editions of both The Raven Boys & Dream Thieves but had difficulty with the audio editions. Maybe reading the print first, I had a clear idea of the voices in my head and the narration didn’t match what I was expecting. For whatever reason, I gave up on the audio & reread the print edition instead. Devoured The Dream Thieves. Devoured it. Each time reading – marveled at the way Stiefvater seamless dropped readers into the 2nd book of a series. The themes, characters, action were stellar IMHO.
    Interestingly, I listened to The Scorpio Races and was totally engaged in the audio, after having read the print edition. Go figure!

  11. Barbara Moon says

    The policy is not new this year! I am fairly certain that in has been in place for some time.

  12. Perhaps, what we need here is an award for series when they are finished. Each year there seems to be some new award, so why not? Then Stiefvater could win for The Raven Cycle or Marchetta for Lumitere Chronicles. Good idea, huh? What bugs me more than anything is when a book is selected as a winner/honor book and it is the 2nd or third book in a series and I’m not told. For example, did you know The White Bicycle, Printz Honor 2013, is the third in a series? Me neither. Not until I was half finished with it did I figured that out. Gr.r.r.

    Concerning the speed of the audiobooks. It just takes longer to listen than it does to read. But I loved the audiobooks of both Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves.

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