The Raven Boys (Book 1 of The Raven Cycle)–Maggie Stiefvater (2012)

470_2512676Despite coming from a family of clairvoyants, Blue Sargent believes she herself has no psychic abilities; that is, until she sees the ghost of a teenage boy while aiding her mother in the annual St. Mark’s Eve “march of the soon to be dead” (for lack of a better term on my part…).  The boy appears to be from the local private school, Aglionby, and all he tells Blue before he disappears is his name–Gansey.  As a rule, Blue stays away from the “Raven Boys” of Aglionby,  but once she meets Gansey (alive this time), she is inexplicably drawn to him and his circle of mysterious friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah.  This attraction poses a bit of a problem for Blue as she has been told her entire life that she will kill her true love with a kiss, and now that she’s entangled in the mysteries of the Raven Boys, the reality of this predicament slowly becomes clearer and clearer.

Thoughts—  I adored this book, particularly the characterization, sentence-level writing, attention to detail, and the slow unwinding of the plot.  And damn, does it have a hell of a cliffhanger at the end!  Stiefvater’s greatest strength, in my opinion, lies in the depth of her characterization.  All of the characters seemed so fleshed out, so complex, so real, and I think that’s sometimes difficult to pull off in a book that deals with the paranormal.  Often the characters’ magical abilities or otherworldly characteristics are the only distinguishing features, but that is certainly not the case here.  I particularly loved her depiction of the Raven Boys (Ronan is my favorite and I know he’s a big part of Book 2–YAY!) and their complex relationship with each other.  They’re so fallible and their friendship is so decidedly imperfect, but they genuinely care for each other, and I think this depth of relationship is rarely seen in regards to boys in YA lit.

Also, Stiefvater is just a hell of a writer.  The sentence-level writing is so good, I almost broke out my English major pencil and started underlining.  I did tweet Maggie Stiefvater with some quotes about the descriptions she puts together because I could not contain my enthusiasm.  (Luckily she sent back an equally enthusiastic response!)  Here’s just a few examples:  “And everywhere, everywhere, there were books.  Not the tidy stacks of an intellectual attempting to impress, but the slumping piles of a scholar obsessed.”  “April-bright trees” “Below them, the surface of the world was deeply green, and cutting through the green was a narrow, shining river, a mirror to the sky.”  SERIOUSLY?  All I did was flip to random pages–there’s badass descriptions on almost every single one.  And the attention to detail is incredible.  Some might think it weighs the prose down unnecessarily, but for me, it really added a lot to the world-building and characterization, both things I think are incredibly important in the first book of a series.

My last little bit of adulation has to do with the plotting of The Raven Boys.  Generally speaking, I am not hugely concerned with plot; I frequently like books and movies that meander around and don’t really go anywhere (Dazed and Confused, for instance), and the unusual pacing of this novel didn’t really bother me.  I have talked with some friends that felt like it was a slow read and that there was too much set-up for the rest of the series, but I didn’t find it to be that way at all.  I liked how the plot slowly unwound and how Stiefvater kept dropping more and more background clues and hints at further mysteries for her readers to find.  Plus, the big reveal about one of the Raven Boys and the cliffhanger at the end were spectacular and worth the wait, in my opinion.  I can see where others might find some of the writing a little dense or hard to follow, but I never really felt that way.  I pretty much loved it all…especially Ronan.

Read-alikes: Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia, Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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