The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Published: September 18th, 2012 by Scholastic Press
Genres: Young adult, paranormal, fantasy, mystery
Trigger Warnings: death, slight gore, gun violence
Pages: 416 pgs.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
“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.
There’s something electrifying hiding in the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley — and it definitely isn’t the riveting parties thrown by JMU and VT students. For a handful of teenagers in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, what they’ve come to explore is a lot more magical — literally — than graduating onto bigger and better things. However, despite the book having more twists and turns than the stretch of I-64 by Charlottesville, some things like an extremely sluggish start and an overabundance of plot lines prevent this book from sparking a flame.
Blue Sargent is an average girl lost in a sea of above-average psychic women; her mom and aunts run a fortune telling business out of their home in sleepy Henrietta, Virginia. However, despite not sharing the gift of sight, Blue ends up seeing the spirit of someone soon to pass while conducting a spirit watch with a member of her family. According to lore, if a non-seer sees someone’s spirit on this night, they’re either going to fall in love with that person or play a role in their death. Soon, Blue becomes trapped in a whirlwind of exploring the true psychic energy that permeates her town — having been brought along for the ride by Gansey, the young man whose spirit she saw. Along with Gansey’s three other friends, it’s up to the rag tag group of teens to discover the source of the magic in Henrietta — or die trying.
Since I’ve so voraciously read Stiefvater’s works in the past, I was exceedingly excited to get my hands on this particular work. In Shiver, I quickly became acquainted with the way in which she paints her scenes with words; thankfully, Stiefvater’s prose is no different here in The Raven Boys. Beautiful scenes including forested areas that transition from season to season and helicopter views of the Shenandoah Valley are crafted with as much care as a master painter. It’s so incredibly easy to get lost in the world she’s created due to her excruciating attention to detail.
Additionally, I am fascinated by the uniqueness of the story that unfolds. While a lot of paranormal stories — including Stiefvater’s past subjects — focus a lot on traditional lore such as werewolves, vampires, witches, and so on, it’s refreshing to see her take something familiar like psychics, and create a tale so starkly different from other selections in the genre. I loved the choice to see what a bunch of “normal” kids would do when facing this kind of ancient energy, instead of it boiling down to warring clans of psychics. It put a lot of power into the hands of readers who don’t necessarily feel that extraordinary and showed them that even “average” people can achieve great things.
However, there were some major problems within The Raven Boys that pulled me back from rating this book higher. While once I got into the book, I really found myself enjoying watching everything unfold, it took me what felt like an eternity to get into the groove of what was trying to be established. Everything felt like it was moving so slowly; the main characters didn’t get introduced until well into the book, the conflict was set up far later than I felt like it should have been, and there were so many different characters introduced all at once. For example, the readers are introduced to Blue, her mother, and all (four? five?) of her aunts, all with differing personalities and powers, in just the span of a few pages. It just felt like information overload. The same sort of thing happened when the titular Raven Boys were introduced: four schoolboys, all with extremely different personalities and backgrounds. I wish Stiefvater had the same attention to detail with these info dumps as she does with setting the scene.
Additionally, stemming off of the exposition overload, I felt like there were way too many plots going on to keep up with. Gansey wants to find the ley line to awaken Glendower, Blue wants to keep the boys alive and figure out who she’s in love with (and, of course, the main female character is the one focused on romance — ugh), Adam wants to become his own man and escape his abusive father, Whelk also wants to find the ley line to awaken Glendower, who knows what Neeve is doing — and I’m over here contemplating making notes so I’m fully following all of the different plot lines! I really hope that in the coming books, things start to streamline a little bit, because there is a lot going on here. I’m not saying that this series needs to be dumbed down at all, but maybe parse the plot down some so it doesn’t come off like a literary version of The Young and the Restless.
With that being said, The Raven Boys is definitely a pretty good start to a series by an author near and dear to my heart. (I’m always going to have a soft spot for a fellow Virginia girl!) While the beginning was shaky, at best, once the story really started get into its own pace, it really became a nice ride through some familiar territory. I have hope yet for the rest of the series.
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