Book Review: ‘The Raven Boys’ by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys is a book I approached with some hesitation. Despite great word-of-mouth, I couldn’t really figure out what it was truly about based on how it was described, and that made me nervous. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why the descriptions were so vague, but I’m going to try to fill in the gaps with my own review for others who may have hesitations similar to my own.

Blue lives with a family of psychics. Her mother is psychic, her aunts are psychic, but Blue is just normal. Well, not totally normal. While Blue herself isn’t psychic, she seems to be a conductor of energy – in simple terms, when Blue is around she makes it easier for her psychic family members to see things more clearly. Since she was a little girl, Blue’s psychic family members have agreed on one particularly depressing prediction for Blue: if she kisses her true love, he will die. No details, just that simple fact.

The Raven Boys from the book’s title are Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah. Their nickname comes from the fact that they attend a posh boarding school in Blue’s town called Aglionby, and the school uniform features a raven crest on the sweater. Gansey is rich, smart, well-spoken and polished – but he’s on a mission. He has spent years of his life looking for mysterious lines of energy in hopes of finding a sleeping Scottish king – all of this based mostly on legend. His primary sidekick for this little adventure is Adam, the poor local boy attending Aglionby on scholarship. Rounding out the gang are the volatile Ronan and reserved Noah. They’re all willing allies on Gansey’s quest, but are not nearly as invested.

Blue crosses paths with the Raven Boys one evening at work and ends up finding Gansey’s journal, filled with information about his search for the Scottish king. Blue realizes something very important: Gansey is a boy her aunt predicted would die that year. In fact, part of the reason she knows this is related to another significant realization – Blue has information that can help Gansey find his king.  And so, despite warnings from her mother and concerns that one or more of the Raven Boys could be susceptible to Blue’s first kiss curse, Blue joins the boys to help them try to solve the mystery of King Glendower.

It may be partially my own fault for starting this book during a busy couple of weeks. I only had short bits of time to read, and while I was immediately interested in the story with the first chapter, it took me quite a few sittings before I got to the point where I was really into it. Things started a little slow, but seeing as this is the first book in a series, that’s pretty forgivable. Part of my struggle with the beginning was feeling bombarded with Raven Boys to keep track of. Not only was I trying to sort out the four main boys, Ronan’s older brother and an Aglionby teacher were also part of the equation, and it took me a while to be able to keep everyone straight. Once I did, and once Blue joined up with the boys, the pace picked up considerably and things got much more interesting.

This book was narrated in third person, with emphasis on Blue, Gansey, and Adam’s points of view. As I’ve said before, I sometimes struggle with third person, but that wasn’t the case here. Even though I wasn’t technically in anyone’s head, the focus on the three main characters was so specific that I felt like I might as well have been. Still, I felt like I only truly connected with Blue. I got her, and none of her actions in chapters where she was not the main focus seemed out of character. With Adam and Gansey, I had a harder time nailing them down. They were still interesting, layered characters with a unique perspective, but I couldn’t quite figure them out entirely. And maybe that’s intentional – mysteries are everywhere in this book, so it makes sense that some of the characters remain a bit of a mystery as well.

Because I do love a good mystery, I really enjoyed the portion of the book where Blue and the Raven Boys were looking for their energy lines and making new discoveries in their search for King Glendower. There were layers to the mystery, enough to keep you guessing but not so much that I felt overwhelmed with confusion. The author does a great job of revealing just the right amount of information at just the right time, and there are some big surprises as the book progresses.

What really appealed to me most about this book was its ambiance. The story takes place in Virginia, and the setting really becomes a character in its own right. Additionally, each character has a distinct personality that’s just a little bit fantastic. They’re realistic characters, but slightly exaggerated. The story is contemporary and told without a lot of supernatural hoopla – certainly there are a lot of supernatural elements, but they’re presented within the realm of reality. It ends up coming together to create a specific kind of realistic-fantasy world; for me it was a perfect balance.

There’s a sense of timelessness about this book. Sometimes you read a book and you forget about it a couple of days later. If you read it a few years down the road, it already seems outdated or irrelevant. It happens a lot in YA fiction, but The Raven Boys easily avoids falling into that category. I was also really pleased with how this book ended, providing adequate resolution for one part of the story while still keeping the core mystery alive and kicking. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a well-crafted mystery, and I will absolutely look forward to reading the next book in the series.

 

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