Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle is a little like wizard chess. The Raven Boys is the initial set-up, The Dream Thieves the careful maneuvering of pieces on the board, and now, with everything in its place, with secrets having emerged inside-out and back again; now, the real battle can begin. Stiefvater's latest is a mind meld; surprisingly lucid, utterly unbelievable, and wholly pleasing. If you aren't dreaming about this book afterwards, then you haven't read it right.What makes The Dream Thieves stand out from its predecessor is its pacing. Where The Raven Boys was languid, an unusually casual pace with an aura of mystery that culminated - unfortunately - in an ending that left readers (i.e. me) wanting, The Dream Thieves is a hot Virginia summer; lazy, slow, creeping, and steadily building up to a stunning conclusion that makes the entire journey worth the wait. Moreover, it introduces a handful of new characters who not only enrich the novel, but who enhance the characters we've already come to know and love. It takes talent to create three-dimensional characters, but it takes genius to forever peel back layer after layer, making the reader feel simultaneously as if they know everything about the characters and nothing at all.The Dream Thieves has been hailed as Ronan's story - and Ronan's story it is. That's not to say that there aren't glimpses into Adam, Gansey, Blue, and - a new "villain" I love - The Gray Man's perspectives, but it certainly does place most of the focus on Ronan. In The Raven Boys, Ronan is largely a mystery, which makes the scrutiny into his life that this novel provides necessary. I was one of the few readers who dismissed Ronan's "charm" in the previous novel, but his pain and insanity won me over in this installment. Moreover, Stiefvater meticulously answers all unanswered questions regarding Ronan's mysterious abilities, leaving practically no stone unturned. While there are still mysteries remaining - Where has Neeve disappeared off to? What is the extent of Adam's newfound powers? How will Blue's curse manifest? Where is Glendower? - Stiefvater bestows us with many unbidden answers nevertheless. In my opinion, this decision only makes the novel stronger, giving us more than enough information to keep our curiosities sated, all while fanning the flames.One of my favorite aspects of The Dream Thieves, though, is the fact that Stiefvater enables us to view our favorite characters from the perspectives of others. Even though The Dream Thieves is Ronan's novel, the story never ceases to revolve around Gansey. It's as if his name is whispered across the pages for, despite the focus on Ronan's dreaming abilities, the plot continues to spin around Richard Gansey III. Every plot device, from the large to the minuscule, are all pieces in Gansey's quest for Glendower; every character is present only because of their connection to Gansey; every unrelated action, no matter how strange, somehow comes back to Gansey. Even better, though, is the fact that Gansey continues to morph and change, depending on the eyes who view them. The Gansey that Ronan witnesses is different from the Gansey that Blue sees under that exterior, and I love that despite the continued ordinariness of Gansey among his Raven Boys, he never ceases to change. It is Adam, however, who takes the cake when it comes to morphing. Out of all these characters, my heart breaks the most for Adam, whose darkness bleeds through these pages. The Dream Thieves stretches the boundaries between good and evil, especially so with The Gray Man who is both hero and villain, but a constant remains that these characters are ones we cannot fall out of love with. I love Adam, I love Ronan, I love Gansey, I love Noah, I love Blue...I love them all and no matter what nightmares emerge from the recesses of their mind, I will always continue to feel for them.The Dream Thieves is brilliant precisely because it is a blend of perfect qualities. It contains Stiefvater's signature writing style; beautiful, gorgeous prose that sticks in your mind and refuses to fade away. It has a breath-taking cast, full of characters who make you question your own reality for, surely, they cannot be fictional. Its plot, though slow, is beautifully so, introducing new beings seamlessly into the tale. And yet, best of all, it clinches these characters ever closer to your heart. No matter how magnificently a novel is written and plotted, it is nothing without those raw, brutal emotions that rip through your body as your eyes frantically cross the page; and on that count, Stiefvater more than delivers, going above and beyond all hyped-up expectations. I am left wondering only one more thing: can Stiefvater possibly get any better than this?