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Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

 A couple of years ago, I went on a young adult reading kick.  For about two years, I consumed an incredible amount of contemporary young adult literature, despite the fact that, growing up, I had stopped reading young adult books when I was about 12.  What I discovered is that, unlike the anemic offerings on the shelves when I was a pre-teen (Lurlene McDaniel, anyone?), the young adult genre, in the wake of Harry Potter and Twilight, had blossomed into a thriving genre totally apart from the adult book world.

One of my favorite discoveries was Maggie Stiefvater.

I rated Stiefvater’s Shiver as my favorite book of 2009.  Three years later, as I look at the list again, I stand by that.  The teenage girl-meets-werewolf story may not be an entirely original one, but Stiefvater’s rendering of neglected teenager Grace and reluctant werewolf Sam is beautiful and touching.  I also loved Stiefvater’s use of language, which seemed to be infused with music and poetry.

After my two-year young adult glut, I cut back on the amount of young adult reading I do—to the point where, now, I rarely read young adult novels at all.  Had it not been for seeing Stiefvater six weeks ago at the National Book Festival, I probably would have never heard of her latest YA novel, The Raven Boys.  But hearing Stiefvater describe it so enthusiastically made me curious.  Ley lines?  Ancient Welsh kings?  Rich boys with helicopters?  I was definitely intrigued.  Then when I saw the book available for review on NetGalley, I had to make a request to review it.

To make a long story…well, not quite as long as it could have been: I’m very, very glad I did.

The book description, courtesy of Maggie Stiefvater’s website:

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 Gansey is different. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more. 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 told by her psychic family that she will kill her true love. 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.

Readers should know up front that this reads much more as a mystery than a romance—although mystery doesn’t really describe it either.  The beginning of the book switches back and forth between the perspectives of Blue and the Raven Boys.  It’s got a great hook, one that drew me in right away: Blue and her psychic mother and aunts go to a cemetery on the night of St. Mark’s Day, when the spirits of the soon-to-be-deceased walk the Corpse Road.  Blue, who has never been able to see spirits before, sees Gansey’s spirit.  We find out that a) this means he’s going to die within a year, and b) Blue is either his true love, or the one who kills him.  Since Blue has been told her whole life that her true love would die if she kissed him, it may be both.

The only issue I had with the book is that, after an intriguing hook, the first quarter of the book didn’t work as well for me as it could have.  Stiefvater introduces a lot of characters and world-building pieces in a very short amount of time, and things quickly become confusing.  I got the Raven Boys mixed up with one another when they first appeared, and I never could keep Blue’s psychic mother and aunts straight.  (The fact that she calls her mother by her first name doesn’t help.)  Gansey’s quest for the ley lines and the ancient Welsh king, Glendower, seems inexplicably quixotic, and it’s only about 2/3rds of the way through the book that we find out why Gansey is really on this quest.

But after Blue and the Raven Boys team up to search for the ley lines and Glendower, the story picks up.  Through Blue’s eyes, we see the boys’ distinct personalities much more clearly, and the suspense increases as they delve deeper and deeper into the supernatural world.  There’s also a potential love triangle here, with Blue, leader-of-the-pack Gansey, and scholarship student Adam; the fact that two of the three participants have no reason to suspect it even exist only increases the tension level.

There are also point-of-view shifts to Mr. Whelk, a disgruntled Aglionby Latin teacher, that seem out of place at first—until, about halfway through the book, the connections between the Raven Boys, Whelk, and Glendower start to become clearer.  It all leads to a finale that had me on the edge of my seat.

Although The Raven Boys doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, it leaves enough unresolved that, after finishing the book, I immediately went to Stiefvater’s website to see if I could find any information about the sequel.  (I couldn’t, except to see that she is writing one.)

Despite my praise of the book, my issues with the first several chapters were significant.  Honestly, if I hadn’t been reviewing the book, I may not have stuck with it.  The story and premise hooked me, but, with the information overload of the first few chapters, I had trouble staying with it.  I’m glad I stuck with it, though, and I hope readers will, too.