Backlist Burndown: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
As book bloggers, sometimes we get so caught up reading review titles and new releases that we end up missing out on a lot previously published books. As a result, one of my goals this year is to take more time to catch up with my backlist, especially in my personal reading pile. And it seems I’m not the only one. Backlist Burndown is a new meme started by Lisa of Tenacious Reader. Every last Friday of the month, she’ll be posting a review of a backlist book and is inviting anyone interested to do the same. Of course, you can also review backlist books any day you want, as often you want, but be sure to watch for her post at the end of the month to link up!
This month, I’m reviewing a book that according to Goodreads has been on my to-read list since September 2013. It’s…
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of The Raven Cycle
Publisher: Scholastic (9/18/12)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to get to Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series considering how I’ve read practically every other novel she’s written. Possibly I burned out on her Wolves of Mercy Falls books and then The Scorpio Races didn’t end up meeting my expectations, so I figured I just wasn’t a big fan of the way she wrote her characters and decided not to follow any more of her future series.
Of course, then I started hearing a lot of great things about The Raven Cycle once the second book and then the third came out, which made me think maybe I should give The Raven Boys a try after all, though clearly I didn’t jump on it right away. Anyway, my mistake. I finally read this book and discovered that it was actually pretty damn awesome.
The novel follows the lives of several teenagers who cannot be any more different. Blue Sargent is the daughter of a clairvoyant, though she isn’t a seer herself. But what she does have is the power to amplifying psychic effects with her presence, which is how she ends up in a churchyard on a freezing St. Mark’s Eve, helping out her mother doing her clairvoyance-y things. This is the night where the soon-to-be dead walk the Corpse Road, and this year, Blue sees her first spirit – a boy who calls himself Gansey. There’s only one reason why she could have seen him, though: either he’s her true love, or she will be the one to kill him.
Thing is, for as long as Blue can remember, she’s also been warned by her mother and all her seer friends that her kiss will cause her true love to die. Soooo…you do the math.
Meanwhile, the very much alive and corporeal version of Richard Gansey III is spending his days pursuing an eccentric hobby in between going to class at the prestigious Aglionby private school for boys. The students there – known as Raven Boys because of their school crest – are mostly the sons of rich and powerful people, their children also destined for great things. Gansey fits the mold, being a scion to a wealthy family. He’s never lacked for anything, but it doesn’t matter because what he wants is so much more than just the material. Together he’s on a mystical quest with three fellow classmates Adam (the smart but poor one), Ronan (the bad boy), and Noah (the quiet and taciturn wallflower) to seek the rumored burial site of a legendary king.
The four boys, despite falling into seemingly conventional stereotypes, are in truth so much more beneath the surface. Against all odds, such disparate personalities manage to work very well together, their friendship held fast by the glue that is Gansey. That camaraderie between the Raven Boys (along with their eventual relationship with Blue) make up the meat of this novel, and it was the element I enjoyed the most. Shocker! Still, that doesn’t mean the characters never got my nerves, because they did; Gansey and his condescension, Adam with his insufferable pride, Ronan and his belligerence (and really? Naming your baby raven Chainsaw? You hokey idiot), and Blue and her bullheadedness all rankled me at one point or another, but none of it was to the extent at which Steifvater has frustrated me in the past. The dynamics here work, plain and simple.
The plot surprised me too, delivering something very different from than I expected, though maybe I should have given the author more credit. After all, the issues I’ve had with Stiefvater’s characters in her other novels notwithstanding, her knack for storytelling is unequaled in the Young Adult genre. The premises behind her books have never been anything less than beautiful, unconventional, and simply marvelous. From the beginning, I was held completely rapt by the story of The Raven Boys, drawn in by the intricate details of each characters’ situation. There was an introductory period where I wasn’t sure what everything had to do with each other, but eventually all the pieces fell into place and the resulting picture was one that knocked me off my feet. The sheer imagination on display here is impressive as hell; I was really charmed by all the little things like the mythological aspect, historical and geographical connections, magical rituals, Tarot readings and the personalities of the other seers that Blue and her mother live with. There’s also a thread of mystery weaving itself in and out of the narrative, and some of the revelations which came to the surface at the end were eye-opening to say the least. I can hardly wait to find out what happens next.
So maybe Maggie Stiefvater’s books and I still have a future together after all. Now off I go to procure the next book to add to my library. Consider me a new fan of The Raven Cycle, I’ve very glad I finally got a chance to read this first book.