Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

raven-boys

4 out of 5 Corvid Stars

I have finally done it. Mine eyes have finally perused the first book in the Raven Cycle. Even the name sounds mystic… it’s not a trilogy or a quadrilogy (I mean, it is a quadrilogy but we’re not calling it that. That’s the word, isn’t it?) But it’s a cycle.

raven-cycle

And how do you explain this book? How do you sum it up? Well, it’s a damn hard thing now that I’ve read it. I loved it. I read it in 2 days, and I was loath to put it down at any time (but sadly, I am not a Richard Campbell Gansey III and must work for a living). I had a few moments of huh? I mean there were a lot of moments of huh? Most of them were very good and kept me going. Stiefvater is wonderful at dropping a bomb and ending a chapter. Then there was a big “huh?” at the end that was out of pure frustration, but now that I’ve gone on to the 2nd book I understand the ending more. There were a few transitions at the beginning from scene to scene that didn’t make a lot of sense. A group of people would be together, the scene would end without resolution and then the next chapter was somewhere else and I’m like wait, who is in this scene and why isn’t so-n-so here? Wait, they aren’t together? We’ve gone on to something else? So that was irritating, but by a quarter of the way through the book, I no longer felt that way. Those are really my only complaints.

There is a plot here, but to be honest, the plot doesn’t feel like a super driving force. Our main character, Blue Sargeant is the only normie in a house full of psychics, all women. She’s known since she was a child that if she kisses her true love, he will die. If you think about it, it’s an awful thing to tell a child. She grows up knowing that she will never kiss anyone. But… in the wiggly way of prophesy, if you look at if from a different angle, doesn’t everyone’s true love die, eventually? I mean at some point? I guess the suggestion is that if she doesn’t kiss him, he won’t die in an untimely fashion. But I literally just thought of that as I was writing this. I didn’t have that idea as I was reading, so I wasn’t looking for clues she was being misled. But that’s beside the point…. I called her a normie, but she really isn’t. She might not be psychic, but she has the ability to boost psychic abilities, and she helps the women in the house during readings. Then, on St. Mark’s day, she sees her first spirit and speaks to him. He says his name is Gansey. She’s told that there are only two reasons someone who isn’t psychic could see someone’s spirit on this day: because she is his true love, or she is going to kill him. For Blue, this is dangerously close to the kiss prophesy. Shortly after this, she runs into a crowd of boys (known for the crest of their school as Raven Boys) from Aglionby, (the Ivy League prep school in this little Virginia town). I don’t think it’s a spoiler to learn that unbeknownst to her, Gansey was among them.  From the book: “Blue has two rules: stay away from boys, because they’re trouble, and stay away from raven boys because they were bastards.” However, if she kept to her rules, this wouldn’t even be a duology, let alone a quadrilogy.

I feel like going into detail of each character, unlike in other books, gives away too much of the plot because each character’s development is like a spoiler. So I’ll try to keep this all non-spoilery. The sun around which the Raven boys fly is Richard Gansey III. Gansey to his friends, Dick to his enemies. Like most Aglionby boys, he is rich, but even amongst the cream of the crop, he is old Virginia rich, his accent thick and syrupy with the ages of America. He doesn’t wear t-shirts and jeans, but boat shoes and collared shirts, his soldier gear is khaki. I actually have trouble seeing Gansey, because he’s not like your usual modern-setting hero. What he is, is charming. He draws bees like pollen. He brightens every room he enters. He doesn’t go around a room, he circulates it. Polite, almost to a fault, hopeless when it comes to how most people see and need money, he can patronize and condescend in the same breath he charms you with. And he’s obsessed with finding a Welsh King, exiled by his English enemies to foreign soil, said to be sleeping somewhere, just waiting to be reawakened. And whoever wakes him will be granted a boon. However, Gansey isn’t the only person on the hunt for Owen Glendower.

My new book boyfriend (at least it appeared for a while) is Adam Parrish. Unlike the other boys at Aglionby, he was born in a trailer, not a mansion. He’s a homegrown Henrietta boy. Where Gansey’s accent is maple syrup at brunch, Adam’s is pure barbecue on a Sunday afternoon, and he knows it. Only on a partial scholarship to the school, he works three jobs to make up the difference and refuses to let Gansey help. He’s too aware that his needs, hell, a hundred of his needs wouldn’t even put a dent in Gansey’s pocket. He could easily move into Monmouth (a factory Gansey bought and made into an apartment), under Gansey’s wing, relax and live his life, and it would be no inconvenience. But he won’t do it, he doesn’t want to be seen as Gansey’s dog. You gotta give him props for it. There are circumstances that make you want to choke him – that make you want him to violate his principles and just accept the damn help. But then he wouldn’t be Adam.

Ronan Lynch is someone I normally wouldn’t like. And I don’t. Few would. He’s got a terrible temper, drinks too much, is reckless, self-destructive and kind of an asshole. But Gansey remembers a different Ronan, who used to laugh easier and was a danger to others, not himself. A family tragedy completely undid the Ronan Gansey befriended, the one we never knew. Where Adam pulls against being branded a belonging of Gansey’s, Ronan is strong enough to heel when Gansey barks, and it doesn’t demean him in any way. There’s a weird codicil in his father’s will that won’t allow Ronan or his brothers to go back to their family home or contact their mother. It’s really weird and felt like a loose end, but it comes into play in the next book.

Noah is briefly described as “the smudgy one.” He’s almost a shadow of a person – not always all there, even when he is present. He has the feeling of being everyones younger brother. I can’t really tell you much about him – as I read this I had already been spoiled about his background (thanks a whole fucking lot Tumblr). Let’s just say, he’s wonderful.

Last but not least, I want to touch on the families in this one. YA often tries to get rid of them as soon as possible, but we have a nice mix of involvement here. The boys are away at school, so in some ways, the where are the parents is taken care of. Gansey is a man unto himself – he has a family and they are very nice, very rich, very independent. But he is like a young Indiana Jones, already having jetted around the world in search of Glendower. Ronan has heavy family darkness, with a father who was often absent, is now dead, and a mother he isn’t allowed to contact. We don’t know about Noah’s. Adam’s family is trailer trash  – I know because I recognize it, with its abuse and neglect. Blue’s extended family, made up of her mother, Maura, the aunts and cousins that live with them as well as best friends and fellow psychics, Calla and Persephone, play the biggest part. Maura, Persephone, and Calla are the perfect mother, maiden, crone tripling. I loved all the women in this story – it’s a great balance against so many boys.

Some interesting things about this series: Stiefvater breaks the rules. You’re supposed to show, not tell, but most of the characterization is done through telling. However, it’s incredibly good telling and she does back it up with the characters behavior. She also uses an omniscient narrator, not the familiar deep 3rd person POV or the 1st person crutch of most YA. I say crutch because it’s what agents and editors want, it’s an easier sell for the market. It gives readers, especially young readers, an instant connection to the character because of the repeated “I”. I think that most really good fantasy, like this one, always has multiple POV’s to fully tell a story. The omniscient narrator feels dreamy and vaguely threatening… because what knowledge is it going to drop on you next? Yes, she does drift from character to character, but it’s not head hopping in a bad way – it’s fluid, and when she changes the focus of the story it’s necessary and seamlessly done. I did not have one minute of reading this book when I didn’t know whose head I was in or why. What Stiefvater does is almost old fashioned – she gives us amazing characters in a fabulously crafted setting and lets them loose. Every place in the story, from the magical forest, to the Monmouth Manufactory that now houses the boy’s apartment, Blue’s house at 300 Fox Way, even Gansey’s Camaro, Pig, is richly detailed. They feel like familiar old slippers that have been sitting there, waiting for your feet to return and slip into them.

I really loved this… I do have one thing to point out, having gone on to the next book. The question of diversity comes up more and more, and I feel I should point out this is basically a bunch of white people. I don’t feel sexuality should EVER be a spoiler, and it is more clearly stated in the next book that Ronan is gay, or at least not straight. There is only one reference to his sexuality in this, and you don’t know if it’s just “witty bants” as the English say, or really meant to indicate his sexuality. Ronan says “I’m always straight.” and Adam says “Oh man, that’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told.” I only noticed it because I’d seen it on Tumblr, and didn’t know if it was taken out of context, or what. What I’m saying is, if you have a gay or LGBTQ character, it should be clearly stated, not a guessing game for the reader. In the olden days, writers used to worry about “playing it safe” so as not to make the republicans or school librarians angry, but there’s no reason to play that game any more. I just want to try to stay true to the things I learned/discovered/realized during the #diverseathon and how I want things on my blog.

I am going on to the next one. I am so excited to be reading this series.

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