Posted on September 18, 2015 | Back to Literature
REVIEWED: The Raven Boys (Book 1 in the Raven Cycle) by Maggie Stiefvater
Here be spoilers.
Within the first paragraph of Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys, I was worried I had made a mistake. After all, the first things Maggie tells us about her female protagonist, Blue Sargent, is that she comes from a long line of psychics and that it's been foretold by said psychics that she'll eventually kill her true love with a kiss. Poor Blue has grown up with this grim specter and it's become even more frightful now that she's 18 and seriously interested in boys. At this point, I admit that my cynicism for young adult fiction took over.
Ah shit, I thought, I just spent money for another tedious YA paranormal romance. There will be nothing for me in this novel but a rising sense of irritation.
Fortunately, I was dead wrong.
The Raven Boys turned out to be a highly engaging novel which both surprised and pleased me by not indulging in the usual YA paranormal tropes about a demure girl with special powers who's loved by a contingent of dangerous, damaged bastards but is afraid to love them back. In fact, props to Stiefvater for not only providing authentic male characters, but also presenting young male culture as being both supportive and welcoming (because it can be, you know).
The meat of the novel revolves around Blue's family gift and its connection to a mysterious energy corridor called a ley line which runs near her hometown of Henrietta, Virginia. Blue's not overtly clairvoyant but when she visits the ley line on with her aunt on St. Mark's Eve — a night when the spirits of those who will die in the next year march by — she has a ghostly vision of a young man who identifies himself as "Gansey." As it turns out, "Gansey" is Richard "Dick" Campbell Gansey, III, a wealthy student at the prestigious Aglionby Academy. The students at the all-male prep school are cumulatively known as "raven boys" by the Henrietta natives who view them with a mixture of intolerance and envy. Blue would normally eschew "raven boys," partly because of their reputation, partly because of that whole I-will-kill-you-with-a-kiss thing. Instead, she's drawn into Gansey's circle and his obsessive quest for a legendary Welsh king called Gwendower he swears is buried someone along the ley line. According to myth, anyone who awakens the sleeping king will be granted a supernatural favor. Gansey's Gwendower fixation and Blue's ominous vision of the boy eventually culminate in an uneasy partnership shared by three other Aglionby students and — unbeknownst to all of them — their unscrupulous Latin professor.
Stiefvater's prose is rich and highly atmospheric, sometimes straying close to poetry in a way reminiscent of Neil Gaiman. Her vision of the fictional Henrietta, a southern town curiously populated by powerful psychics and affluent schoolboys, becomes a fascinating backdrop for a variety of subplots. Stiefvater should also be complemented for tying up enough loose threads to make The Raven Boys a satisfying novel on its own while simultaneously leaving enough unresolved so the reader is craving the next book in the cycle.
Check this one out!