Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven BoysThe Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #1)

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic Press on September 18, 2012

Source: Purchased

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Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past.

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I have come to expect the unexpected with Maggie Stiefvater’s books. She’s got a style that’s very much her own, combining lyrical writing, bizarre plots, and compelling characters to create wholly original works of fiction. THE RAVEN BOYS is no exception.

Blue Sargent is the daughter of a clairvoyant and related to every other practicing psychic in the small town of Henrietta. Built on top of a powerful ley line, Henrietta has drawn many a “believer,” from those looking for work to those looking for answers. Unlike her relatives, Blue doesn’t have any psychic abilities. Oh no, she’s just saddled with an unfortunately grim prophecy about her love life and a strange ability to boost other people’s gifts.

Blue has a bit of that manic pixie dream girl thing going on, but we’ll forgive her since she can’t really help it. I mean, her name is Blue and she does live in a house with like five other women. You’re bound to have some MPD syndrome in an environment like that. Blue and her family are from the wrong side of the tracks, solidly working class in a town sharply divided between the dirt-poor townies and the wealthy out-of-towners.

On the right side of the tracks we have the students at Aglionby, an all-boys private high school dominated by said out-of-towners. The school’s mascot is a raven, but the crest of the black bird carries greater meaning than educational affiliation. In backwater town Henrietta, the raven is a sign of wealth, privilege, and arrogance. When Blue encounters a tightly knit group of friends from Aglionby one night at work, she beings referring to them as the “raven boys.”

The four boys make unlikely friends, but somehow they fit together. There’s Ronan, the acerbic and volatile boy with a tragic past bent on self-destruction; there’s Adam, the brilliant and proud local boy with an awful home life; there’s Noah, the one considered a reclusive and strange loner in a group of already strange people; and then there’s Gansey, the whimsical, mythology-obsessed glue that holds them all together. These four boys, and their relationship with Blue, are the foundation of the series. It is their dreams, fears, hurts, and desires that made this book such an enjoyable reading experience for me. Readers who aren’t as fond of character driven novels might want to steer clear.

Since Aglionby is a private school, most of the raven boys come from very wealthy families…except for Adam. Adam is the ubiquitous “scholarship kid” that every private school drama needs, introducing elements of class conflict that I found very intriguing. I’ve often found that YA novels about the rich and privileged shy away from the class structures that disempower the impoverished, but Maggie Stiefvater does a commendable job of subtly weaving it into her story. The relationship between the ringleader Gansey and Adam is particularly compelling: the eccentric son of multi-millionaires, Gansey tries to help his friend by offering to loan him money, but the last thing Adam wants is charity. There’s a stubborn pride in Adam that frustrated me while also making me respect him; I think that’s a sign of a well-crafted character. Ronan was similarly well-crafted, and equally as frustrating. I didn’t like him but I found him fascinating, if you know what I mean.

Despite her narrative presence, I felt very disconnected from Blue. Much of her narration is spent introducing us to the raven boys from the perspective of an outsider, which is very effective for developing their personalities but not so much for hers. Compared to their dynamic and larger-than-life presence, Blue comes across as very two dimensional and flat. We know that she’s got the special snowflake thing going on – but then so do several of the raven boys. I’m hoping that her narration in the sequel will flesh out Blue’s backstory and give us some insight on the eerie prophecy that governs her romantic life.

While THE RAVEN BOYS may be light on plot (and I saw a few plot-twists coming), there’s still a lot to love about it. Small town atmosphere, quippy teen dialogue, existentialism, and intense romantic tension between characters. Lord, the tension!

Recommended for fans of beautiful writing and character driven novels.

For those of you who’ve read it, who was your favourite raven boy? How did THE RAVEN BOYS compare to Maggie Stiefvater’s other books? If you haven’t read it, what character driven novels would you recommend?

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  • This is another one for my backlist burndown, been meaning to start this series since…forever. Three books down and it’s still going on isn’t it? I’m falling more and more behind!

    ~Mogsy

    • Yep, that’s how I went about it too. It’s been on my shelf pretty much since it was published! Three books published so far, the fourth will be the final book.

  • Poor Blue the manic pixie. Did you see that article by the guy who
    originally coined the phrase? He says he hates it now, but I just went
    back & reread the article, and can’t say I really agree with any of
    his points… (Oh well. Here it is, if you were curious:
    http://www.salon.com/2014/07/15/im_sorry_for_coining_the_phrase_manic_pixie_dream_girl/)

    Back to your review… the book looks interesting, not my kind of thing really but fun nonetheless. Glad you liked it!!

    • You always have the most interesting information on hand, Miriam! I agree with you – his reasons are kind of bogus. He’s mad that people having been calling the term misogynistic when – according to him – the whole point was to call attention to misogynistic behaviour? Doesn’t make a lot of sense. Besides, the term is useful and catchy so I’m going to continue using it!

      Yes, I enjoyed this one a lot but I definitely wouldn’t slate it as Miriam-bait, haha! 🙂