Tuesday, September 18, 2012
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Publisher: Scholastic Press
“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”
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. (courtesy of Goodreads)
At the end of every Maggie Stiefvater book, I think “she can’t possibly better than that.” And with each new book, I am proven wrong. The Raven Boys is one of the best written young adult novels I’ve ever read. Although it’s entirely different, it stands on equal literary footing to books like The Fault in Our Stars and Jellicoe Road. The quality of the writing, the complexity of the plot, and the detailed character development set it apart from most novels.
The prose in The Raven Boys is of the high level I’ve come to expect from Maggie, but also very different. I’ve always focused on her descriptions of nature, how each novel has a different visual landscape. The Raven Boys is the first book where I felt that her prose did not set out a definitive color scheme. Nature was not the focus. This is not a criticism. It’s almost as though nature was a crutch Maggie relied upon to make her writing more artful and now her characters and plot are able to stand on their own. That’s not an entirely fair assertion, I realize...and nature continues to be important to The Raven Boys, but not until later on in the novel. When it does play a larger role, the color scheme is one of deep greens, browns, and blacks. An eery awareness that nature is not your friend.
Like The Scorpio Races, The Raven Boys is stand-offish. More in line with Melina Marchetta’s novels than John Green’s, you have to want this book. There are few page turning action scenes and only the hint of romance. Don’t read this book unless you’re in the mood to be patient. The subtle personalities and events of this book develop slowly, but with a steady purpose. The story didn’t click with me until halfway through the novel. It was like a light switch turned on and suddenly the book went from being good to being INCREDIBLE! It was also at this point when the story started becoming very dark and creepy. The kind of psychological terror that keeps me up at night. I spent the rest of the book on pins and needles, unable to focus on anything else until I finished the story.
The tense is another thing that makes the book challenging. It alternates between four points of view. It can be hard to tell who is narrating and whether the tense is third person limited or third person omniscient. This straddles the line between artful and obtuse and occasionally crosses that line. It’s the only concrete criticism I have of the novel and even this one is muddled by admiration.
There are five main characters in The Raven Boys: Blue, the female protagonist and the four Raven boys, Gansey, Adam, Noah, and Ronan. Blue is the daughter and niece of true psychics. She is capable of easily believing in the supernatural while also being sensible and logical. She is quick to make judgments about people but not unwilling to change. Gansey looks like the All American boy. Immensely wealthy, confident, good looking, and charismatic. A natural leader. Peel off his public front and you see a dreamer on an impossible quest. Fiercely determined, but also vulnerable and passionate. I still don’t have him entirely figured out, but he’s my favorite of the four boys. Adam is a contradiction. Highly motivated to improve his life yet defenseless against his abusive father. A follower of Gansey’s innumerable schemes yet resentful of Gansey’s wealth and power over him. Sweet and gentle, but with a disturbing undercurrent of demons. Noah is mysterious, but easy to love. He rarely speaks, but he notices everything and always has the right answer. Ronan is the opposite of Adam. A ticking time bomb on the surface but a soft soul underneath. He is haunted by his father’s death. It has turned him into someone with pension for physical and verbal violence. Yet we see his true nature in the way he tenderly cares for a foundling bird.
It took me awhile to figure out what The Raven Boys was about. It is a fantasy, which also wasn’t apparent at first. Gansey is bound and determined to discover the ley lines, lines of powerful energy that are supposed to be near Henrietta, Virginia. He hopes to discover Glendower buried beneath the lay lines, an ancient Welsh king whose bones were supposedly moved to Henrietta. The one who raises Glendower will be immensely powerful and will have a favor granted to him or her. Gansey doesn’t just want to uncover Glendower - he knows it’s his destiny. It soon becomes clear in the plot that the ley lines aren’t just a myth. They are true supernatural sources of energy that effect time, weather, and nature.
There is hardly any romance in this novel. But there are cute little moments of crushes between Adam and Blue, plus something simmering with Gansey and Blue. I think the triangle between Blue, Gansey, and Adam will shape the series as a whole, but it’s only introduced in this novel.
The Raven Boys is the first of a three or four book series. I didn’t realize this until almost the end of the book and was relieved to know that there was plenty of time to resolve the many unanswered questions. I loved how this book ended. There was a solid conclusion to the main plot arc. It was not a cliffhanger, but there were introductions to themes that will be important for the remaining books.
I can’t recommend The Raven Boys enough. It will take awhile to catch on, but the pay off will be well worth it. Every new book by Maggie is a step above the last. The scary and thrilling thing is that she’s only 30 years old. She’s incredibly accomplished already and I think she’s only begun to hit her stride.