The Raven Boys
Spoiler Rating: Low
When we were little things, I read Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series and nothing was ever the same. I can’t remember if I found it in Bowie’s library or if we read one of the books in class; all I know is I went around wide-eyed, waiting for magic and adventure and new worlds to open up and name me one of the Old Ones. (I was so ready for it.) Will’s moment of flinging his hand out and freezing time is still one of the most vivid and powerful scenes I’ve ever read.
But, uh, that’s not what I’m writing to you about now. I’m writing to you about The Raven Boys, which is essentially a more grown-up version of Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series.
Honestly, Maggie Stiefvater is such a talented writer that just seeing her name makes my heart flutter. I’m fairly certain I emailed you an incoherent mess of praise and excitement about The Scorpio Races quite a while back, because it’s definitely a Lizzy book and I knew you’d enjoy my incoherence. (Have you read the book yet? Goodreads seems to think you haven’t.) Same author, same fantastic writing–but hopefully a more intelligible review on my end this time around.
“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.
Oh, you don’t think the synopsis suggests much complexity?
Well, you’re right. The synopsis is kind of bland, with an emphasis on Blue’s possible (and potentially lethal) love life, and only a shrugging acknowledgment of a quest and strangeness and whatever.
But–brace yourself–the synopsis is misleading. This isn’t some poorly-written love pentagon/reverse harem starring Blue as the object of four boys’ attentions while some supernatural stuff happens in the background. Hurrah!
Because (a) I’ve read it before, and (b) I don’t want to spoil your reading experience, what follows shall be vague praise that hopefully will persuade you to read it yourself.
1. Blue (and Blue’s Family)
- She’s funny, confident, unconventional, and perturbed by her own sensibleness.
- She lives in a house full of psychically-gifted women, but has no gift herself.
- She’s mostly okay with this, but is desperate to get a glimpse of magic in the world.
2. The Writing Style
- It’s so crisp and vivid that I have to remind myself what I’m reading is fiction.
- Stiefvater covers in a few lines what other writers struggle to portray in pages.
- She dips into the poetic, but only slightly and in just the right places.
3. The Characters
- Each character has a distinct personality, voice, and point of view.
- They interact like real people. (Yes, italics-worthy levels of awesome.)
- They’re all equally fascinating and full of surprises and promise and change.
4. The Plot
- Sure, there’s some excellently-written, slow-building attraction going on.
- But it’s really a quest story set in small-town Virginia and its surrounding forests.
- And it is wonderful.
One of the raven boys, Adam, doesn’t fit well in his Aglionby uniform; he’s from a poor family, is embarrassed by his low-class Virginian accent, and works too hard to pay what his scholarship won’t cover. He’s also being raised by an abusive father.
The abuse is occasionally hinted at and discussed, and a few times vividly portrayed, but it isn’t sensationalized. He’s not being abused because the book needed more angst. Instead, it’s an intrinsic aspect of his character development and motivation–and the plot. Going back to the whole honest-portrayal-of-characters thing, this is one of the most moving and honest portrayals of an abuse survivor I’ve ever read.
I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s say that Adam is awesome and full of surprises. (Well, in that regard he’s quite like the rest of the raven boys.)
This book was fantastic the first time I read it, and I loved it just as much the second time around.
The character arcs and plot development and climax were all just as powerful as I remembered them, and oh my goodness. I wish I could swaddle myself in Stiefvater’s writing and stay there forever. I want to pet the pages as I read them. I want to shake Steifvater’s hand. (Except I’d probably go all wide-eyed and manic and humiliate myself by forgetting to let go.)
This is one of those books that spent quite some time wavering between four and a half stars and five stars. Five stars are reserved for books that have changed my life (like The Dark is Rising), and from just about the first page I knew it would have life-changing potential. And it has changed my life: this is now kind of my gold standard for writing style. I silently compare (whether I should or not) every other author’s writing style to The Raven Boys, and would die happy if my own style could come close to it.
Maybe I need to go lie down or something.
I can’t wait for your next email! With pictures, I hope!