Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Release date: September 18th, 2023
Series: #1 in the Raven Cycle
Narrator of audiobook: Will Patton
Rating: Beautifully written, full of mystery, and absolutely wonderful.
“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.
The cover: I'm not usually a huge fan of bird covers, because birds are EVERYWHERE, nowadays (birds--they're so passe), but this one is perfect. I love the style of the art, and I'm glad the cover included that triangular thing, because it's integral to the plot, and I wouldn't have been able to picture it otherwise.
The story: This is both the first audiobook and the first Maggie Steifvater book I've ever read, and I can guarantee you it won't be the last of either. Though I only listened to the first 40% on audiobook (I was short on time, and those things are loooooong, and I am a very fast reader when I use my eyeballs), I think I maybe slowly be becoming a person who listens to audiobooks. Maybe. The jury's still out, though I was definitely sold on this one. The narrator's smoky, Southern drawl perfectly captures the mystical properties of the setting and the story.
The mythology in The Raven Boys has a wonderful and unique mix of magical South, Welsh fables, and elemental magic. Maggie Stiefvater's command of language is simply stunning, and best of all, her characters are wholly real. I LOVED the fortune-telling, the premise, the doom and fates and mystery that soaks into every page of this novel, but mostly I loved the characters.
Sometimes books that focus on so many main characters can feel a little stretched, but The Raven Boys never does. This could be due to it's excessive length (I think a good fifty pages could have been pruned out by snipping here and there). Mostly, though, I think it's because every main character is compelling and fully-rounded. We first meet Blue, the prickly teenage daughter of a small-town psychic. She's the only person in her family without any clairvoyant capabilities, she has the ability to enhance the psychic powers of those around her. Short, spark-plug Blue has spiky hair and an even spikier demeanor and I loved her to pieces.
Then we meet Gansey. Gansey. Oh, Gansey, boy after my own heart. He should be everything I (and Blue) hate--entitled, rich, overly charming, presidential, and condescending. But Gansey is the heart of the story and the linchpin on his group of friends. He has brains and an imagination as wide as the skies. He's a mad scientist and a crazed explorer. He's a boy on a quest. He is, as Shelver pointed out in her absolutely brilliant review, King Arthur in search of the Holy Grail, and the other Raven Boys, all other students at the very snotty Aglionby Academy, are his knights.
We have Adam, scholarship kid and thoughtful, quiet listener. He and Blue have a very sweet, very hesitance romance blooming (though I must admit, I'm a Gansey-Blue shipper. They're just so hilarious together, and I'm a big fan of opposites attracting). Then there's Ronan, furious at the world, blasting his way through life. RONAN, my baaaaaabyyyyy. And lastly, there's Noah, always in the background. *cuddles Noah*
There are many reasons why Blue should stay away from boys, and these boys in particular. There's the fact that it's always been prophesied that she'll kill her true love if she kisses him. Then there's the fact that she saw Gansey's spirit on St. Mark's Even, which means a) he'll be dead within the year and b) either he's Blue's true love, or she's his killer. Not good, not good. But despite herself, Blue gets tangled up in Gansey's quest to find the resting place of an old Welsh king. She and the Raven Boys discover the magic in the world, and in each other.
My nitpicks are few, but, as ever, still present. This book is too long, and a big spoilerrific thing at the end is left pretty unclear, but I guess it's meant to? I don't know. I got totally confused about things. Lots of unresolved plotlines and characters. And also THAT LAST SENTENCE, MAGGIE! You can't just DO that to a person. MAN. Also, this book is long AND SLOW. So very, very slow. If you want a book where you become steeped in the mood, where the small-town stage is fully set, where you get long backstories and anecdotes, then you're in luck. But if you're not, just keep in mind that this book takes it's time to get places, much like my friend's North Carolinian grandma, who walked slow and talked even slower. But I promise you, the goods are worth waiting for.
This book seems to exist out of time, with it's Welsh lore and Virginia country cadences and old-time mystery. But the plot is full of sharp surprises that never let you relax. And, I must say it again, CHARACTERS. Characters is how Stiefvater won me over, and characters is how she earned my heart, and