Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

“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.”

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. (Summary from Goodreads)

Words cannot express how much I love this series of books. I have read it three times now, and every time I read it, I learn a little something more, catching subtle hints that the brilliant Maggie Stiefvater slipped in.

The story is so unique that I have trouble coming up with readalikes. There's just nothing like it out there. It borders on magical realism, though magic plays a prominent role. Some of the characters have magic. Some don't. Some are privy to the supernatural. Some long for it. Some despise it. The characters are on a treasure hunt, almost an Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail, yet it's more the quest itself that drives them on.

And it's really the characters that make the story.

Stiefvater's characters develop slowly. I've heard a few people say that they had trouble getting through the beginning of the story because they weren't connecting with it, or it was just too slow. But honestly that's part of its genius because little by little, step by carefully written step, you learn about each character - their hopes, their fears, their faults, and their passions. They may develop slowly, but they develop fully.

The characters' interactions are truly realistic. They don't really like each other at first. They say the wrong things. They get angry. They get annoyed. They don't always understand each other. They're sarcastic. They're honest, and they all love each other. They're all so vastly different, but really they're looking for the same thing - a place to belong, and they find that they belong to each other. This story might be about a quest to find a sleeping 15th century Welsh king (which in itself is fascinating), but it's more about friendship. And once they're in it. They are in it. As they get more fully immersed in their crusade and with each other, so will you. Once the story speeds up, there's no stopping it.

And the atmosphere! Small town Virginia, a private high school, an old manufacturing building-turned-apartment, the home of the psychics - full of women, tea leaves, yogurt, and tarot cards - fast (but not necessarily reliable) cars, churchyards, enchanted (or maybe haunted) forests with Latin speaking trees and fish that change color. It's spooky, yet whimsical. Funny, but heartbreaking. Melodic, but jarring. Simple, yet so very complex.

I've read a lot of books, and to be honest I never thought anything would come close to beating out Harry Potter as a favorite, but Blue, Ronan, Adam, and Gansey give Harry, Ron, and Hermione some competition. And coming from me, that's really saying something. Maggie's writing is smart, original, and intuitive.

My favorite quote from the first three books in the cycle: "In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness. Her raven boys." I'm in love with them too, and I know you will be if you read their stories. I can't wait to see what fate has for them in the final book The Raven King, which I will be reading as soon as it comes out on April 16th. And I'll definitely tell you more about it then!

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