The internet has been buzzing about Maggie Stiefvater ever since her Shiver Trilogy. As far as I know, it is settled somewhere in the vicinity of werewolf romance novels, which is why I haven’t felt the need to pick them up. Then came the universally praised Scorpio Races and I gave myself a nudge and bought it. However, when both Renay and Justin Landon raved about The Raven Boys, I knew there must be more to this book than just a squeeworthy teen romance. And there must be far more to Maggie Stiefvater as a writer. Spoiler: they were right.
Published by: Scholastic, 2012
Ebook: 468 pages
Series: The Raven Cycle #1
My rating: 8/10
First sentence: Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.
It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.
His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
This book presents real difficulties when it comes to reviewing, mainly because of its meandering plot lines. How can one sum up such a novel? Short answer: you can’t. So let me preface this rambling review-ish thing by telling you that I loved it. It was such a pleasure to find a gem like this in between the copies of whatever is currently successful (looking at you, Hunger Games and Twilight knock-offs).
The Raven Boys is about a group of eponymous boys and a girl named Blue Sargent who has grown up in a family of psychics without having the ability to see the future herself. Blue’s talent is making the occult forces “louder” or more clear for her gifted family. Except for that one St. Mark’s Eve when she doesn’t just help her aunt see the future dead but instead sees one herself. Gansey is clearly a Raven Boy – the school crest on his expensive sweater is a dead givaway. And Blue can see him because she will be the instrument of his death, one way or another.
The story is heavily loaded with magical portents and prophecy but other than so many fantasy prophecies – one unlikely hero to save the world from evil forces and all that – Blue doesn’t react all too strongly to what has been foretold. One day, she will kill her true love. And, so it seems, she will kill Gansey. The first part she has known all her life, the second comes as a bit of a shock but, hey, what’s she going to do? Try and prevent his death, of course. But knowing how prophecies work, she’s more interested in solving the mystery and less sure that she’ll be able to change the future.
What drew me in at first was this prohpecy, because I just like that kind of thing. I have a very soft spot for them, especially self-fulfilling prophecies (Macbeth *sigh*). But what made me stay (and immediately buy the second book) were the Raven Boys themselves. Their relationships are complex and intricate and not easily summed up in a sentence or two. What Maggie Stiefvater does in this book is draw vivid paintings of a group of young men who care deeply for each other but are, to some degree, equally codependent. You’d think the rich kids who go to a preppy private school like Aglionby wouldn’t have many problems of their own and if they did they would be petty problems. Not so the Raven Boys. Sure, they may be rich and lead an easier life than someone who has to struggle for every penny, but they are each looking for something more from life, first and foremost true bonds with other people.
Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn’t know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves.
This is not at all, as some reviewers have said, a romance novel. Blue and Adam do develop a certain magnetism but this is not what the book is all about. Navigating first love is part of it, certainly, but at the heart of the novel is friendship. I was most intrigued by the question who these people really are. It’s hard to pinpoint, which is what makes each and every one of them so interesting. As a female reader, I somehow cast myself into Blue’s role and debated how I would react in certain situations. Would I run away from anyone I could fall in love with? And so deny myself the joy of true friendship? Would I help the Raven Boys on their quest for finding a mythical king, shrouded in paranormal mystery? I don’t know. What I do know is that I can’t get nearly enough of the Raven Boys and their interactions.
In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them.
Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness.
Her Raven Boys.
Another reason this book stands out from that kind of YA – you know, the kind that makes me angry at having spent money on it – is that it’s also not about the plot. What happens is interesting and helps to keep you reading but despite the mystery, and the small part of it that’s resolved in this first instalment of the Raven Cycle, personally I wouldn’t have cared if this had just been 400 pages of Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah spending time together. Whether they’re hunting for ley lines or having pizza and watching a movie really didn’t make much difference to me. Their personalities are what shines, their relationships are the real mystery. I can’t put my finger on anything with this book and that’s a huge part of its appeal. Ronan’s inexplicable anger at the entire world, Adam’s pride and desperate attempt to hide it, Gansey’s quest for keeping the group together, and Noah’s quiet observations were far more intriguing than finding a Welsh king’s grave could ever be.
The novel’s closing lines open up entire new worlds to be discovered in the sequels, making this a clear prelude to something bigger. But what is normally annoying, especially in longer fantasy series, doesn’t feel like a cop-out at all. This book needs to exist for whatever happens next to have any impact. If the story had started where The Raven Boys ends, I wouldn’t care nearly as much about the characters as I do now. It is an astounding feat by an author I unjustly dismissed so far. Here’s another lesson to all the YA-avoiders (as I still am, in part): The only reason this can be classified as YA in the first place, is that it’s protagonists are teenagers. The writing isn’t more basic than in adult novels, the relationships are just as complicated, the exploration of human emotions just as real.
I’m off to read The Dream Thieves next and whatever new mysteries await me there, I’m all in, as long as the Raven Boys are there with me.
RATING: 8/10 – Excellent
- The Raven Boys
- The Dream Thieves
- Blue Lily, Lily Blue