03 October 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

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 Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. 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 warned that she will cause her true love to die. 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.

It's almost unbelievable to try and think about all the awesomeness that Maggie Stiefvater possesses in a singular person.  She has established herself so thoroughly and built up such a reputation that, for a moment, I was worried that The Raven Boys might be just a little bit of a letdown.  It was not.  Maggie Stiefvater delivers, once again, 100%.  The crowning factor for me was her stunning writing ability but also how that ability amplifies the motivations and desires of her characters.  The Raven Boys was not so much an entertaining paranormal read, but a psychological display of greed, revenge, shame, and a lust for power and importance.  Which makes it sound so hardcore and depressing, when really the ugly human stuff allows for the beautiful human stuff to shine brighter.  It's Maggie Stiefvater's understanding of what drives human behavior that really made this book so enjoyable for me.

In retrospect, and after much forced consideration, I realized how ironic The Raven Boys turned out to be.  In the book, there's a constant reminder from Blue of how impressive they are, but what's truly impressive is how much they actually dominated my view of the book.  Looking back on it, I almost completely forgot about Blue.  Only when I searched for quotes to use for this review did I realize that I had never -- even once -- mentioned Blue's name.  Blue was a major character (and an awesome one), and yet the boys' personalities had totally clouded her out in my mind.  I think this happened partially because several parts of the story are told in the boys' point of view.  The narration style for The Raven Boys was more omniscient, and though it didn't just go around dropping into people's heads randomly, characters who I would deem "secondary" (like, funnily enough, the antagonist) were given their own voice in the story.

This style gave the story a more rounded feel, like it had matter-of-factly encompassed an entire world in three hundred pages.  Right off, I could get a sense of what the rules of the Raven universe were.  I didn't have to trawl through the prose to try and figure out if any of the preconceived notions I had were going to hold up.  Throughout the entire novel, I was amazed by the details and amount of possibility in the world.  And with Maggie Stiefvater's succinct writing style, information was given neatly without having to resort to word vomit.

Maggie Stiefvater's writing skills are wonderful.  Ever read a how-to book on fiction writing?  Every bit of writing advice boils down to show, don't tell.  Don't bother with the how-to section anymore.  Just read Maggie Stiefvater.  I recall one of the occasions where I was floored by the writing: when, in the space of a few sentences, I had, in my mind, a complete sense of a character.  And another time when the atmosphere of a place was brought completely to life in a single paragraph:
Mornings at 300 Fox Way were fearful, jumbled things.  Elbows in sides and lines for the bathroom and people snapping over tea bags placed into cups that already had tea bags in them.  There was school for Blue and work for some of the more productive (or less intuitive) aunts.  Toast got burned, cereal went soggy, the refrigerator door hung open and expectant for minutes at a time.  Keys jingled as car pools were hastily decided. (p. 29)
At times, the writing was almost too good.  Time and time again I was pulled out of the story to marvel over how well something had been said, which admittedly is most likely a byproduct of a writer's insecurity in the face of a superior being, and also, how can writing be too good?

As a psychology fan, I was extremely impressed by the motivations clearly built into the characters -- motivations more in line with the uglier side of human nature, like greed and shame, and the battles that occur on the outside with friends and family as well as on the inside with morality and choices.  Which sounds very grandiose, but it makes me thrilled to see this kind of depth in a young adult novel.  Finally, something with actual substance and not mere fluff that smudges the shelves at the bookstore.  Here is something worth reading.

A long time fan of Maggie Stiefvater's work, I was happy to know for myself that The Raven Boys did not disappoint.

As always, there was an all-American war hero look to him, coded in his tousled brown hair, his summer-narrowed hazel eyes, the straight nose that ancient Anglo-Saxons had graciously passed on to him.  Everything about him suggested valor and power and a firm handshake. (p. 43)
Book Info

  • pages - hardcover, 408
  • published - September 2012
  • publisher - Scholastic
  • genre - paranormal romance
  • received via - Fountain Bookstore
  • rating - 5/5
  • series - Raven Cycle
    • The Raven Boys