I know I’m a little late on the bandwagon for this one. However, I couldn’t resist starting the series after seeing all the Instagram hype over the last book coming out a few months ago, so here we are! I was very reticent about starting this series. I absolutely loved the idea of it – set in Virginia, Arthurian legend mixed with modern-day paganism, characters with…issues. However, the YA trappings worried me, as I couldn’t help but think that the idea could very well be ruined by trying to force it into a YA style writing and or setting.
The opening of The Raven Boys (2012, Maggie Stiefvater) drops you right into a world that, at first, I wasn’t entirely sure I was familiar with. 16-year-old Blue Sargent has grown up in a household where clairvoyance is taken for granted and psychic abilities accepted as normal. The rest of the world though, isn’t so sure – the modern day Virginia depicted is quite typical of the current America, complete with attitudes toward spirituality outside the realm of mainstream Christianity. Blue is the only one of the family to not be gifted some type of clairvoyance herself, but she is still incredibly perceptive and intelligent as a person. She definitely marches to the tune of her own drum, regardless.
She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.
Unlike most high school girls of my acquaintance, she is proud of being different and seems to rather enjoy reminding people of the fact – not so much of her family member’s odd occupations, but of her own sense of style and her unusual interests. Then of course, there is that unusual little prophecy that her mother and aunts and cousins three times removed keep making about her, that if she kisses her true love, he will die. Thankfully, Blue is enough of a forward thinker to not entirely believe this…but, then, it definitely worries her because…well, bit of a damper on typical teenage activities.
Then there is Gansey, the other, male, MC of the story. He is for all intents and purposes little more than a spoiled rich kid, saved only by his genial good nature and constant but unintentional offending of the less fortunate. Gansey has an undeniably good heart combined with a rat terrier’s stubbornness once an idea has entered his head, and somehow it’s very endearing. At a young age Gansey had a life altering experience that brought an ancient Arthurian legend to his attention, and ever since he has been chasing the idea of it, digging further and further into history and the depths of a spirituality almost forgotten by the modern world.
Gansey attends a high class, expensive prep school with the other “raven boys,” as the local citizens (of which Blue is one) call them. His little posse of friends all have their own intriguing quirks and foibles, which combined are both irritating and curious. In the beginning, a lot is left unexplained. The narrative switches between Blue and Gansey in 3rd person. I was very happy to see this, as it seems like almost every YA book I’ve picked up lately has been from 1st person and honestly I get tired of it! So that was immediately a point in favor.
Now, stick with me – first, the problems I had with the story.
Through about the first 100 pages or so, I was still not convinced that my fears weren’t going to come true. Really, what 17 year old has the money, time, and interest to go traipsing about to multiple different countries looking for a legend, own his own “dorm” because he finds the ones on school grounds too full of annoying other students, and whose biggest problem is that his classic Camaro occasionally breaks down? Seriously? And what about Blue? How many teenage girls are completely ok with being the only odd one out – because even at the end of the book, Blue seems to have no other friends than the ones she has made in the unlikely “raven boys,” despite having lived in their little Virginia town her entire life. Her mother has a fairly hands off parenting approach – typical YA story, in my experience, because too much parental meddling or supervision would interfere with a decent storyline. In fact, at one point of the book, Blue’s mother forbids her to do something, and it appears to be the first time she has ever issued such a command (Blue must have been an exceptionally compliant child, or perhaps her mother was just over-tolerant)! Also, Blue in general seems much older than 16. Her attitudes, even her mannerisms, spoke to me of a woman in her early 20s – as did Gansey and some of the other high school age characters. Their true age is only really revealed in their naivety about some things and their willingness to believe in the good of people. Apparently early jading isn’t actually that common? Oh, and one of the less-mature raven boys in Gansey’s little squad is constantly drinking. WHERE does this underage alcohol come from? How is it he never gets in trouble? Maybe I was just a good kid and didn’t break rules, but without an older sibling/cousin/reprobate parent in the picture, alcohol wasn’t that easy to come by when I was in high school. 😛
So those were my issues with the book. At this point, you’re probably wondering how I still gave it 4 stars! So let’s get into the good stuff.
As already stated, I was quite taken with the Arthurian legend bit. Add in that it’s set in my claimed home state of Virginia, and the way Stiefvater manages to invoke the true feel of the mountains, the mist and fog and how they can exude both security and foreboding. Her writing throughout the entire book is by turns intriguing, amusing, and lyrical, and it kept me turning pages even when the initial introductions made me do the internal eyeroll. In fact, halfway through I looked her up to see if she had ever written adult fiction. Her talents seem limited by the YA field. But I digress.
Even now, it seemed to Gansey that he could feel the aching presence of the nearby mountains, like the space between him and the peaks was a tangible thing.
Yes. Yes, it does feel that way. And I can truly identify with Gansey’s desire for the old legends to be true, to find something, somewhere, that will prove to the world that the things he feels are not just a child’s make-believe.
Then, the little rag-tag (rich) group of misfits stumbles upon a wood that, well. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I was curled up on the couch in my very well-lit living room as I read it, and I got actual goosebumps. I can even tell you what page it was on, because I was that impressed (it takes quite a lot to give me goosebumps). Page 244 of the hardcover edition, if anyone is wondering. The story just gets better from this point. The atmosphere invoked is just spot on. The characters are revealed more and more as the story moves along. Little immaturities come to light that make their age more believable. I didn’t feel that the romance angle was particularly angsty – Blue’s little prophecy deal makes her gunshy of boys in general, even when her heart and hormones scream at her – her head has, so far, managed to overrule the more impulsive parts of her but there are lots of avenues left open.
There is, of course, a cliff-hanger of sorts – not terribly dramatic but enough to make me wish I had the sequel immediately on hand! I’m anticipating maybe a switch in narrators in the next one, and hope that the slow reveal is continued. Overall, I gave it 4/5 stars. I really did think for awhile that it was going to be 3…but I became so invested about halfway through that despite its issues, I felt it deserved the higher rating. I’m really hoping the ensuing books don’t disappoint!