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Book Review: Call Down the Hawk

Call Down the Hawk, by Maggie Stiefvater, was published in 2019, and is the first book of the Dreamers Trilogy.

The blurb reads: The dreamers walk among us . . . and so do the dreamed. Those who dream cannot stop dreaming – they can only try to control it. Those who are dreamed cannot have their own lives – they will sleep forever if their dreamers die. And then there are those who are drawn to the dreamers. To use them. To trap them. To kill them before their dreams destroy us all. Ronan Lynch is a dreamer. He can pull both curiosities and catastrophes out of his dreams and into his compromised reality. Jordan Hennessy is a thief. The closer she comes to the dream object she is after, the more inextricably she becomes tied to it. Carmen Farooq-Lane is a hunter. Her brother was a dreamer . . . and a killer. She has seen what dreaming can do to a person. And she has seen the damage that dreamers can do. But that is nothing compared to the destruction that is about to be unleashed. . . .

Call Down the Hawk is a multi-POV story of people fighting to fit, to be known, to be safe, and the struggle when those goals are in direct opposition to one another. It is melancholy and internal like a fairy tale and is paced and textured like an urban fantasy.

From the beginning, we know that this ride will be hard and gritty – it begins with murder, and complexities of relationship, and a character who is intriguing even though we don’t know if she’s on ‘our’ side. It gets harder and more complicated from there.

There is a weight and an ache to Maggie Stiefvater’s writing that is hard for me to put into words. I felt it in the Raven Cycle, but I didn’t take the time to pin it down. Now that I’m trying to, I’m still not sure I’m capable. There is something so difficult and personal about the journeys that she writes, something about the flaws that are inherent to the characters, such that they have to fight themselves to move forward. Their issues are so wound up in who they are, they cannot escape them without fundamentally changing. I don’t see this kind of tragic flaw often in the (admittedly light) stories I read. It really adds a depth that I find incredibly satisfying.

As a writer, I resonate so deeply with the dreamers. Dreaming, in the dark and unpredictable way it’s described in the book, is the perfect metaphor for writing. As a writer I create things, and I put them in the world, and sometimes they aren’t what I meant them to be. I try to bring something or someone to life, I breathe into their lungs for the first time. It takes something out of me.

I’ve bled onto the page and watched the people I created diverge completely from what I’d imagined for them. I’ve ached with letting them down. In this novel, the dreamers are isolated and alone, and that also feels viscerally true. A writer can talk about writing and character and fitting things together, but no one can understand it except, maybe, another writer (the right writer – we all work differently). As an act of creation, it’s incredibly necessary and personal and isolating – dreaming and writing, both.

An excerpt from the prologue, a description of Ronan Lynch: He wore an acidic expression and said little. What words he did unsheathe turned out to be knives, glinting and edged and unpleasant to have stuck into you. He had blue eyes. People generally think blue eyes are pretty, but his were not. They were not cornflower, sky, baby, indigo, azure. His were iceberg, squall, hypothermia, eventual death.

Ronan is terrifying, and you will root for him. I promise you will, if you aren’t already, coming from The Raven Cycle. Ronan, like everyone in this book, is flawed and challenging and challenged and incredibly, messily human.

There are several themes that run through this book. The complexities of family, of characters striving to be part of a group and to differentiate themselves. The complexities of conflict, of characters being hated and loved for what they are, rather than who, and how that pushes them into alliances they might otherwise avoid. While this book was written in 2019, reading it in 2023 is a very poignant experience. It humanizes the realities of having to align with one extremist to keep from being exterminated by another. In so many ways, with so many facets, this is a book about having deep relationships and connections – the pain and damage of not having them, and the effort and risk that goes into creating them.

It’s also a book about what it means to be human. In a time when AI ‘creation’ is surging, this book hits so hard in a prophetic way. The age-old questions of what is real and what is unique and what makes something/someone unique are asked and answered in this book, both of art and of people. There could not be a better time for me, personally, to be reading this book. The question of a soul – not in the religious sense, but in a depth of meaning sense – is a very timely one, and this book answers in a very honest and nuanced way.

Lest you think this is a slow-paced examination of the many huge questions and themes noted above – the plot barely takes a breath between one world-shattering event and the next. The story moves quickly through the large cast of characters (five, if I remember correctly), allowing the reader to become well acquainted with each as they ricochet off one another.

If you haven’t read Maggie Stiefvater’s other books, it’s important to know that this is the first of a trilogy, and it does not answer many questions by the end – that will only happen at the end of the last book (I feel fairly safe in assuming). But the end of this book is satisfying and leaves me able to take a breath and pick my life back up, which is really the best I could have hoped for.

I think this book will appeal to a huge number of people: if you like art museums, fairy-tale retellings, urban fantasy, stories that span several volumes with character relationships growing slowly and organically throughout, fast-paced and complex stories with characters who are not cleanly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but are always very human (even when they aren’t, strictly speaking), this book is probably for you.

Warnings: semi-graphic violence; bodies; body horror; death of innocent characters; abuse (flashback); gun violence; suicidal ideation; suicide (flashback)

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