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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

September 21, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle #1)
by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle #1)

By: Maggie Stiefvater

Release Date: September 18, 2012

Rating: 4 Stars

Summary:“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.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

Review:

Up until the very end, I was so sure The Raven Boys would be making an appearance on my top favorites list. Maggie Stiefvater’s latest book has everything I want from a great reading experience, a complex narrative, an intriguing and highly developed cast of characters, an utterly haunting style of writing that just blew me away from the first sentence recounting a dire prophecy. Sadly, my enthusiasm dampened somewhat once I sensed Stiefvater was trying a bit too hard to set up a new series, leading to pacing problems and a disappointing ending that, for me, drops this book just a notch below absolutely amazing.

But it’s not often that I read a book where the words themselves feel magical, Stiefvater deserves mad props just for that. From the very first line of the prologue, hers are deliberately chosen to give off an unsettling, peculiar vibe that not only goes incredibly well with the supernatural tone and dark mood of the book, but really forced me to slow down, I really had to appreciate some passages word for word just to get a full sense of what’s going on. Not that I minded, because I was fully attuned with the story and despite, or maybe because of, the offbeat writing, the chapters drew me in as they easily varied between a variety of emotions, solemnity, anger, incredulity, weariness, each just when the plot calls for it, only serving to enhance the narrative. But best of all, every so often there are these lines, simultaneously seeming strangely out of place and perfectly positioned, that highlight Stiefvater’s dry sense of humor which never once failed to put a stupid grin on my face. I have to admit, this kind of heavy duty writing probably isn’t for everyone, I’d describe the book overall as muted yet dramatic rather than intense and bursting off the page, but for me, this is the exactly kind of writing that could make descriptions of watching mold grow not that bad of a read.

Of course, this is not a book about watching mold grow. From the curious legend of Saint Mark’s Day, the one day gifted psychics are able to see the soon to die as they file past on the corpse road, sort of a highway for spirits, Stiefvater has created an enormously complex tale centered around fate and expectations. Our heroine Blue Sargent, of course, grows up in a family of psychics, and is warned by her mother and her mother’s friends, for as long as she can remember, that her true love’s kiss is fatal. She’s the sort of eccentric character who seems resigned and maybe a bit standoffish and too proud of her independence at first, and maybe Raven Boys takes a little too long bringing her and the Boys together and then putting them on their shared quest, opting for a couple of fake outs first, but once they all fall into that easy friendship I could not stop trying to figure out just what fate had in store for her. And it really is an expectations game, there’s no quick and offputtingly shallow romance at work, rather Blue’s character develops based on her early jaded expectations about true love thanks to that prophecy, and it’s really a fascinating change for her as her future is slowly revealed.

What really impressed me, though, was how Stiefvater manages to develop each one of the supporting characters in such memorable ways. Either through ridiculous names like Barrington Whelk’s, or through hidden motives like Neeve’s, or through strange behavior like Calla’s and Persephone’s, or through atypical parenting like Blue’s mother Maura’s, I never once thought, who is this character again, because I feel like I know them all. Each of the Raven Boys too, none of them fits into the rich snob stereotype I’d have tagged them as, like Blue did initially, because the story sets aside time for each of them, Adam and his problems with his family and being the scholarship kid – though he did kind of annoy me by playing to the poor kid scraping by on his scholarship to the elite school stereotype, and Ronan and his problems with his brother and dead father. Even Noah, who stands out at first because I quickly noticed how not much is said about him, that’s a huge clue towards his real identity. Really, how Stiefvater handles Noah’s story is just brilliant.

Though for me at least, the star of the show isn’t Blue, it’s Gansey. He has all these expectations piled on his as a result of his rich kid status, and his quest, the quest that becomes the Boys’ quest, Blue’s quest, finding the corpse road, the ley line, the path to a sleeping Welsh king, whatever you want to call it, that’s sort of his way of putting himself on the map and doing something nobody expects from him. But his character, like Noah’s, also ends up being indicative of how well Stiefvater has woven this incredibly complex story, there’s clues and easily missed breadcrumbs along the way, like his allergy to bees, which just add layers and layers to his character as the story unfolds and new details emerge. I have to praise the writing again, it’s really that great because Raven Boys is the kind of book that deserves a slow, careful read to really connect the dots. Not just for character development but for the plot as a whole, every time there’s a new twist I can always think back to something I read previously and say to myself, oh yeah, I see what Stiefvater did there.

For such a brilliant book, the only thing that bothers me is how much Raven Boys ends up feeling more like it’s setting up sequels than being amazing in its own right. I’m not talking about Ronan’s final line really, or the many loose plot threads such as the significance of Blue’s father that I’m sure will be tackled by the books to come, those I can live with. Rather, it’s a small part the pacing, intentionally holding back a few obvious revelations for maybe a few chapters more than necessary, and a big part the anticlimatical climax, certain things happening too conveniently and others being brushed aside before, yeah, it’s all over for now. Sure, I get it’s only starting, there’ll be more conflict in the sequel, but after watching such a complex yet masterfully crafted plot unfold, I’m kind of let down by the resolution. I wanted to say wow, I don’t believe what I read and can’t wait for the next book, but I didn’t get that reaction. What I got in response to the events of the last chapter was a disappointing what the hell just happened.

But don’t let my one small complaint fool you, The Raven Boys is absolutely on my list of must read books. The writing is an experience unto itself, which is surprising, since I’ve never been a fan of Maggie Stiefvater’s books – until now.
Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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  1. September 21, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    great review!
    got 50pgs left to read. but so far absolutely agree with you
    you did get me worried bout the end a bit…

    • September 22, 2012 at 6:37 am

      It’s not so bad, I just felt it was a little too rushed after all the buildup. Hope you enjoy the last 50.

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