“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.”
It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.
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.
Sometimes books keep us company and teach us how to be alone. Sometimes they take us elsewhere, and tell us stories as they do. At times they annihilate long stretches of time, compress boredom into nothingness and convey the lessons we never thought to seek.
And every once in awhile, we come across those books that do more than alleviate boredom and keep us company. We come across the books that evoke the memories we thought we lost and the feelings we never knew we had. So they go deeper than skin-deep, with words that leave an imprint in our souls and with scenes that stay with us even when those books aren't immediately before us. I don't mean to be poetic, really, there's just no other way to put it. This was one of those books for me.
No spoilers ahead.
"The Raven Boys" is being marketed predominantly as a paranormal romance. From the vaguely sinister line on the front cover which warns about true love and deadly kisses, to the "this is the year Blue will fall in love" romance-novel-reminiscent synopsis on the back, the book seems to promise a plot not unlike those often seen in the YA genre as of late. A quietly special girl who falls in love with an obviously special boy. And in many ways, this marketing strategy is indicative of what's to come: a complete and utter demolition of all expectations.
Also, little to no romance.
There is, however, something to ship. From the very first page, I have begun to ship Maggie Stiefvater and writing. I ship it. I ship it so hard.
The essence of my love for this story is merely this: intricate, deep and detailed characters, an elaborate plot, unique storylines, beautifully crafted sentences, humor in all the right parts, a mystical atmosphere and a stunning attention to detail throughout. (And ravens. I happen to really like ravens. Blame Poe.)
Told from a third person point of view, the story follows a group of close friends from an elite private school, dubbed the raven boys after the emblem on their school crest. Simultaneously, the story follows Blue, the only non-seer in a long line of women with psychic abilities. Blue has made peace with the fact that she does not possess the gift of sight... until the night when one of the raven boys' spirits approaches her in the churchyard and speaks directly to her. From here, the story unfolds and follows - much as the title suggests - the four raven boys, in their quest for a meaning of life, a long-lost king, a way out of a bad situation, a dormant energy source, and pretty much everything in-between. (
and some raven kibbles.)
What insistently and repeatedly floored me all throughout this novel, and its very crowning glory, is the characterization. The way these characters are built is unlike almost anything I have ever read before in YA literature. The depth, the complexity and the subtle nuances to each and every single relevant character were honed to perfection. This is not a story about one raven boy, where his other three friends serve as secondary, supporting characters to his storyline, with their main purpose being to cheer him on. No, this is the story of four raven boys and a psychic's daughter, and each of the five has their own part to play. They not only come with individual pasts, they come with wishes, desires, dreams and fears stemming from those pasts, and interlacing with one another to form a skeleton on which the characters are later built. And the way that all this is presented is no less impressive. Maggie Stefvater has a way with words. She has a superb way of introducing these characters' many dimensions through subtle insights and small, passing remarks. The information dumping is absent where characters are concerned. They are unveiled at the same pace in which the plot is, until we feel about them as if they were our own towards the end. A loss of any one of them would be tragic. They are deep, complex characters which are easy to love, despite their shortcomings. In fact, they are the sort of characters which inspire affection because of their flaws and insecurities. They feel so real. They are almost tangible.
They make you flash back to the 90s when you were watching "Friends"
and agonizing over your inability to pick a favorite.
The atmosphere is no less amazing. From trailer parks to private schools, from tales of Wales and Peru to the small town in Virginia where the story takes place, the setting exudes a mystical, magical element so vital to paranormal stories. Even if the worldbuilding does take awhile to make complete sense, even if at first the reader is forced to connect the dots (and pencil in some missing ones), by page 100 the story has taken off, the world has been established and the magical atmosphere has sucked us in. And whether it's Blue unraveling the plot in a hectic, crowded house full of psychics, or whether it's the raven boys doing their part in warehouses, churchyards and/or helicopter rides, the magic never, ever ceases and the essence of paranormalcy is everpresent.
And this is not where the uniqueness of this novel ends. "The Raven Boys" presents a paranormal plot where the supreme villain is ignorance - not ignorance personified, just ignorance as-is. The supernatural quest which all five protagonists embark on is not a secret, nor is there a proverbial other side, seeking to prevent them. But perhaps I should insert an asterisk here for those who don't mind indiscriminate, vaguely foreboding spoilers.*
All around, this is a supremely told story, and a spectacular introduction to a four-book series. Not only does the ending bleed into the second book in a way so utterly seamless that you itch to own the second one this very second, it also makes the characters stay with the reader long after the final page. There's so much more to know. There's so much more to discover. The quest has just begun. And I can't wait to join the tandem in their second attempt at it.
* Not at first. (This is where you play the X Files music for dramatic effect. To many 90s TV references? I'm 22. Bear with me.)
GOODREADS: THE RAVEN BOYS (THE RAVEN CYCLE #1)
BOOK REVIEW: THE RAVEN BOYS BY MAGGIE STIEFVATER
4/ 5Oleh The Honest Bookclub