In an exclusive
excerpt, Maggie Stiefvater introduces us to a brand new character and
offers a glimpse of what's to come in the second book of the Raven Cycle, The Dream Thieves.
When I was a young and tender writer, I heard two pieces of advice: "Write the book you wish you could find on the shelf, but can’t" and "Write what you love to read." Really, they are the same piece of advice, just flipped up in the air and slapped onto your palm to study more closely. Unfortunately, I found it impossible to use this wisdom, because the things I loved to read were wildly different. On the one hand, I devoured my father’s hand-me-downs: Jack Higgins’s blistering spy novels and Michael Crichton’s complex thrillers. And on the other, I devoured fantasy books for children: wry and sly fantasies by Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper’s mythology-drenched Dark is Rising series.
Combine them? Ha! That was an impossible alchemy. Let us not be fools, my friend!
And yet — I think I have finally managed to pull it off.
The Dream Thieves, the second book in the Raven Cycle, continues to follow a collection of private school boys as they search the Virginia mountains for a legendary, sleeping Welsh king.
Yes, I said Welsh king, and yes, I said Virginia. If I tell you that I explain it in the first book, will you believe me?
In this sequel, one of them—Ronan Lynch—reveals a secret: He can pull things from his dreams. It’s a dangerous and powerful secret from a guy who is already fairly dangerous and powerful himself. What ensues is a book full of nightmares, street-racing, almost-kisses, actual kisses, mythology, and Congress. It is the impossible child of those books I loved to read as a teen.
I’ve chosen an excerpt about a brand new
character in the Raven Cycle: the Gray Man. This affable hit man has come to
sleepy Henrietta, Virginia in search of something called the Greywaren—an
artifact that supposedly allows the owner to take objects out of their dreams.
Sound familiar? Oh, let the games
The Gray Man had not always intended to be a heavy.
Point of fact, the Gray Man had a graduate degree in something completely unrelated to roughing people up. At one point, he had even written a not-unsuccessful book called Fraternity in Anglo-Saxon Verse, and it had been required reading in at least seventeen college courses across the country. The Gray Man had carefully collected as many of these course reading lists as he could find and placed them in a folder along with cover flats, first-pass pages, and two appreciative letters addressed to his pen name. Whenever he required a small burst of fireworks to his heart, he would remove the folder from the bedside drawer and look at the contents while enjoying a beer or seven. He had made a mark.
However, as delightful as Anglo-Saxon poetry was to the Gray Man, it served him better as a hobby than as a career. He preferred a job he could approach with pragmatism, one that gave him the freedom to read and study at his convenience. So here he was in Henrietta.
It was, the Gray Man thought, quite an agreeable life after all.
After chatting with Declan Lynch, he checked into the Pleasant Valley Bed and Breakfast just outside of town. It was quite late, but Shorty and Patty Wetzel didn’t seem to mind.
“How long will you be with us?” Patty asked, handing the Gray Man a mug with an anatomically incorrect rooster on it. She eyed his luggage on the portico: a gray duffel bag and a gray hard-sided suitcase.
“Probably two weeks to start,” the Gray Man replied. “A fortnight in your company.” The coffee was astonishingly terrible. He shouldered off his light gray jacket to reveal a dark gray V-neck. Both of the Wetzels gazed at his suddenly revealed shoulders and chest. He asked, “Do you have anything with a hair more spine to it?”
With a giggle, Patty obligingly produced three Coronas from the fridge. “We don’t like to appear like lushes, but . . . lime?”
“Lime,” agreed the Gray Man. For a moment, there was no sound but that of three consenting adults mutually enjoying an alcoholic beverage after a long day. The three emerged from the other side of the silence firm friends.
“Two weeks?” Shorty asked. The Gray Man was endlessly fascinated by the way Shorty formed words. The most basic premise of the Henrietta accent seemed to involve combining the five vowels basic to the English language into four.
“Give or take. I’m not sure how long this contract will last.”
Shorty scratched his belly. “What do you do?”
“I’m a hit man.”
“Hard to find work these days, is it?”
The Gray Man replied, “I would’ve had an easier time in accounting.”
The Wetzels enjoyed this hugely. After a few minutes of home-baked laughter, Patty ventured, “You have such intense eyes!”
“I got them from my mother,” he lied. The only thing he’d ever gotten from his mother was an inability to tan.
“Lucky woman!” Patty said.
The Wetzels hadn’t had a boarder in several weeks, and the Gray Man allowed himself to be the focus of their intense welcome for about an hour before excusing himself with another Corona. By the time the door shut behind him, the Wetzels were decided supporters of the Gray Man.
So many of the world’s problems, he mused, were solved by sheer human decency.
The Gray Man’s new home was the entire basement of the mansion. He stalked beneath the exposed beams, peering through each open door. It was all quilts and antique cradles and dim portraits of now-dead Victorian children. It smelled like two hundred years of salt ham. The Gray Man liked the sense of past. There were a lot of roosters, however.
Returning to the first bedroom, he unzipped the duffel he’d left there. He sorted through slacks and cosmetics and stolen artifacts wrapped in boxer briefs until he got to the smaller devices he’d been using to detect the Greywaren. On the small, high window beside the bed, he set an EMF detector, an old radio, and a geophone, and then he unpacked a seismograph, a measuring receiver, and a laptop from the suitcase. All of it was provided by the professor. Left to his own devices, the Gray Man used more primitive location tools.
At the moment, the dials and read-outs twitched crazily. He’d been told the Greywaren caused energy abnormalities, but this was just . . . noise. He reset the instruments that had reset buttons and shook the ones without. The readings remained nonsensical. Perhaps it was the town itself — the entire place seemed charged. It was possible, he thought without much dismay, that the instruments would be useless.
I have time, though. The first time the professor had put him onto this job, it had sounded impossible: a relic that allowed the owner to take objects out of dreams? Of course, he’d wanted to believe in it. Magic and intrigue — the stuff of sagas. And in the time since that first meeting, the professor had acquired countless other artifacts that shouldn’t have existed.
The Gray Man tugged a folder out of his duffel and opened it on the bedspread. A course syllabus lay on top: Medieval History, Part I. Required reading: Fraternity in Anglo-Saxon Verse. Sliding on a set of headphones, he queued up a playlist of The Flaming Lips. He felt essentially happy.
Beside him, the phone rang. The Gray Man’s burst of joy fizzled. The number on the screen was not a Boston number and therefore not his older brother. So he picked it up.
“Good evening,” he said.
“Is it? I suppose.” It was Dr. Colin Greenmantle, the professor who paid his rent. The only man with eyes more intense than the Gray Man’s. “Do you know what would make calling you easier? If I knew your name, so I could say it.”
The Gray Man didn’t reply. Greenmantle had lasted five years without his name; he could last another five without it. Eventually, the Gray Man thought, if he resisted using it for long enough, he himself might forget his own name, and become someone else entirely.
“Did you find it?” Greenmantle asked.
“I’ve just arrived,” the Gray Man reminded him.
“You could have just answered the question. You could have just said no.”
“No isn’t the same as not yet.”
Now Greenmantle was silent. A cricket chirruped on the ground just outside the tiny window. Finally, he said, “I want you to move fast on this one.”
For quite a long time now, the Gray Man had been hunting for things that couldn’t be found, couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be acquired, and his instincts were telling him that the Greywaren was not a piece that was going to come quickly. He reminded Greenmantle that it had already been five years since they’d first begun looking for it.
“Why the sudden hurry?”
“There are other people looking for it.”
The Gray Man cast his eyes to the instruments. He was not eager to allow Greenmantle to ruin his leisurely exploration of Henrietta.
He said what Declan Lynch had already known. “There have always been other people looking for it.”