The Raven Boys

I knew I’d definitely be reading more of Maggie Stiefvater’s work after The Scorpio Races, which was simply spectacular. I had read her Shiver trilogy earlier, and while I thought her prose was beautiful, I can’t say I’m a fan of the forsake-all-others teen romance (vampire, er, werewolf or no werewolf), so Maggie Stiefvater’s recent novels have been a welcome change.

From the fantasy of The Scorpio Races, Stiefvater returns to the paranormal realm with The Raven Boys. Nope, there are no werewolves in this one, but it ventures into the occult — my kind of paranormal. I do love a good ghost story!

The Raven Boys is set in small town Henrietta, Virginia, home to fifteen-year-old Blue Sargent and her family of clairvoyants. While not a psychic, she has carried an ominous prophecy all her life: if she kisses her true love, he will die.

Every year, on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue stands next to her mother in the ruins of the old church as the spirits of the soon-to-be-dead walk by. The novel opens on a St. Mark’s Eve, when Blue, a non-seer, sees a boy in the dark. His name is Gansey.

Blue soon encounters Gansey in real life, and finds out he is one of the “raven boys” that she has sworn to avoid. The “raven boys” are students from Aglionby, the elite all-boys boarding school at the edge of town, distinguished by the raven emblem on their uniforms. On top of Blue’s no boys policy, Blue thinks raven boys are snobs.

But when Gansey brings his friends to Blue’s house for a psychic reading, Blue finds herself drawn to Gansey, despite her mother’s repeated warnings to stay away from the boy. So when Blue gets invited to join the raven boys’ quest, she decides to come along.

… Okay, that was the toughest summary I’ve had to write in a while, because this isn’t the sort of novel that can be encapsulated in a few sentences. In fact, being the first book in the series (officially The Raven Cycle), Maggie Stiefvater sets the stage for a good hundred pages before the storylines even converge, and then the plot twists and turns in ways to leave you breathless.

I was definitely a Maggie Stiefvater fan after Scorpio Races, but I think the Raven Cycle seals the deal for me even after just this book — I’m completely sold on the series already.

Maggie Stiefvater’s characters have always been distinct, but then she’s always written in first person before this new series. This time she writes in omniscient (which I actually prefer, because too many teenage thoughts can get neurotic after a while), and it’s amazing how the voice shines through in writing I would best describe as elegant.

Blue is my new favorite character, not because her name is Blue, but because she is weird and awkward and so very memorable. Blue is somewhat isolated from the world around her — a non-psychic in a psychic family, the small town girl mixing with the prep school boys, and yes, there’s that prophecy hanging over her head.

Blue cautions herself not to fall for the Raven boys, but she won’t be able to help it, and neither could I — the raven boys are awesome. All different, but each charming in his own way. There’s Gansey, eccentric rich kid obsessed with his lifelong quest; Adam, the student on scholarship conflicted about the privileged world he moves in; Ronan, troubled and stormy with emotions; and Noah, who sits in the sidelines. It’s all very bromantic — they’re fast friends, fiercely loyal, and they’re off on an epic adventure.

Blue is recruited to help in Gansey’s quest, which the whole gang has undertaken. They are searching for  the tomb of the sleeping Welsh king Owen Glendower, who, according to legend, will grant a favor to the person who wakes him up. To do this, Gansey is tracing the ley line in Henrietta. This is the first I’ve heard of them but the phenomenon is intriguing: a curious alignment of geographic and historical areas around the world, along which supernatural energy travels. This all ties in nicely with the other supernatural elements in the story — clairvoyance, prophecy, St. Mark’s Eve, the border between the living and the dead, ghosts, the raven… I love the richness of the novel, a blend of myth and mysticism that reads somewhat like a cross between Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination!

The novel also shows Maggie Stiefvater’s prowess in subtlety, a quality I find lacking in so many YA novels in the paranormal genre. I love how a potential romance is hinted at in the novel, a prelude to a love triangle involving, Blue, Adam and Gansey, but it is not the main focus of the story. In fact, it’s barely even touched upon in this novel, no doubt saved for the rest of the series. But I really think the author does romance very well, beautifully even, in a way that’s always a pleasure to read.

The Raven Boys is strange and surprising, and I have high hopes for the next books. There’s so much to look forward to: how Blue finds her purpose, how the boys overcome their individual situations, the group’s ongoing quest for Glendower, Gansey’s impending death, Blue’s prophecy and how it affects her relationship with both Gansey and Adam, Ronan’s raven… I really want to know what happens next here!

Maggie Stiefvater has been an amazing discovery of late; I applaud how she’s breaking out of the paranormal YA mold.  It’s been a while since I’ve been passionate about a YA series (since Hunger Games), and it’ll be a long wait for book 2. September, Allons-y!


The Raven Boys, 5/5 stars

The Raven Boys is available at National Book Store

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