The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. ★★★★★
Confession – this is the third time I’ve read The Raven Boys in less than two years. Obviously, I really love this book.
Going in, I was dubious, mainly due to the misleading cover blurb which contains several phrases that tend to make me steer away from books:
“Either you’re his true love… or you killed him.”
“But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain.”
The words “true love” and “inexplicably drawn to” tend to make me drop books and run the opposite direction in fear of Twilight clones or insta love. Basically, it looked like all the other “star crossed true love” paranormal YA stories out there, which I generally detest. However, I’d previously enjoyed The Scorpio Races by Stiefvater, so was willing to give The Raven Boys a try.
I am so glad I did.
I often see The Raven Boys classified as paranormal romance, and I’d have to disagree with that. The plot actually focuses on ley lines and trees that speak in Latin and the hunt for an ancient Welsh king. While there is a romantic plot thread, it’s a minor one compared to all the other events and relationships in the book. Really, I think The Raven Boys is centered around the friendships of all these different, complex characters. Blue and the Raven Boys (Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah) are obviously the crux of the book, but I found Blue’s family, the psychic ladies of 300 Fox Way, to be very entertaining as well.
Gansey’s filled with a desperate desire to make his life worth something, which in turn fuels his desire to find the sleeping Welsh king, Glendower. He has the tendency to come across as callus or entitled (much to his distress), but he’s also deeply devoted to his friends and is constantly worrying about them. Possibly for this reason, the TV trope “Team Mom” fits him pretty well. Unfortunately, there’s not always much he can do to help his friends.
“They were always walking away from him. But he never seemed able to walk away from them.”
Ronan’s bitter and troubled, the student who’s always cutting class and on the verge of expulsion.
“Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn’t know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves.”
I was worried that Ronan would fall into the stereotypical YA “bad boy” trap, but Maggie Stiefvater’s much too good of an author for that. The sequel, The Dream Thieves, put those fears to rest for good and made Ronan my favorite character.
Adam’s a scholarship student from a poor and abusive background who has to work hard to have even a fraction of what the others take for granted. He’s determined to succeed on his own merits without being beholden to anyone, which can lead to conflict when Gansey tries to help him out.
Noah, the last of the boys, is quiet and tends not to have much of an impression. But if you’re wondering why he’s included, just hang on for the first half and you’ll soon find out.
What’s unusual about my complete love for the series is that female characters are not a big factor. Don’t get me wrong – Blue isn’t badly written or aggravating. She’s probably better than most other YA heroines, and I might like her a lot better in another book. It’s just that she’s outshone by Raven Boys. Analyzing it, I think it’s because, well, Blue has the best life and least conflicts and worries out of all of them. She also doesn’t seem to have any of the hidden depth that makes the others so appealing.
Lastly in regards to characters, I love that Blue’s family plays a significant and sympathetic role in the book. It’s so different than how the typical YA story goes, and her mother and the other psychics have some truly hilarious moments.
Before I wrap up this review, I have two farther points to make. Firstly, the writing is excellent, never clunky and sometimes beautiful. The scenes in Cabeswater are particularly enchanting. Secondly, the plotting is very twisty. By the end of the series, I’m betting that the plot line’s going to end up looking more like a Celtic knot. I love this, but other people may find it confusing or annoying.
I have trouble thinking of a specific sort of person to recommend The Raven Boys to, mainly because of my desire to hand it enthusiastically to everyone I meet. But if you like YA fantasy set in the current day, you should really try this one. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of the genre, you might want to give it a go anyway.