I am a huge fan of Maggie Stiefvater's writing. I first read and reviewed her novels Ballad and Lament, and then became utterly obsessed with her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy (Shiver, Linger, and Forever). I had a bit of trouble getting into last year's The Scorpio Races, for some reason (though my husband enjoyed it). But when The Raven Boys, the first book in Stiefvater's new Raven Cycle, landed on my doorstep, I started reading it immediately. And I was not disappointed.
The Raven Boys is set in the small town of Henrietta, Virginia. Blue Sargent lives with her psychic mother and aunts. Blue has no clairvoyant abilities herself, but she does seem to have some quality that makes other people's abilities stronger whenever she is near.
Blue has always stayed away from the arrogant boys from the local prep school, Aglionby (the students are known as the Raven Boys). However, when Blue sees her first ghost, a sort of premonition regarding a living Raven Boy named Gansey, she finds herself drawn into Gansey's world. Gansey is determined to uncover a powerful magical secret that he believes lies in Henrietta, with the help of his three best friends. And,eventually, Blue.
I read The Raven Boys relatively slowly, because I kept having to stop and flag insightful and/or beautiful passages. Stiefvater is just such a fabulous writer. Her characters in The Raven Boys (especially Blue and Gansey) are unconventional yet fully three-dimensional. Her plotting is complex, with viewpoints shifting between several characters, and secrets parcelled out gradually over the course of the book. Her settings are vividly depicted, and (sometimes) delightfully strange. But still, Maggie Stiefvater is an author that I read because she just wows me over and over again with her prose. Like this:
"Maura had decided sometime before Blue's birth that it was barbaric to order children about, and so Blue had grown up surrounded by imperative question marks." (Page 6)
"Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn't know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves." (Page 38)
"Sleep deprivation made his life an imaginary thing, his days a ribbon floating aimlessly in water." (Page 97)
"... something about the scene made Gansey feel strange, like he'd heard an unpleasant statement and later forgotten everything about the words but the way they had made him feel." (Page 201)
One thing that I enjoyed in particular about The Raven Boys was that it's not as much of a romance as Stiefvater's other books. Oh, there's a hint of a triangle going on between Blue and two of the Raven Boys. But Blue actively dislikes Gansey to start with. And because of a sort of a curse that her psychic mother believes she is under, she's afraid to kiss any boy (a prophecy that if she kisses her true love, she'll kill him). This keeps any romantic interactions quite PG, for the duration of this first book, anyway. There is some degree of longing (which Stiefvater is very good at), but things are handled with a soft touch.
I personally found this refreshing, in comparison to many YA paranormals out there today. Which is not to say that this is a tame book - there are multiple fights, multiple deaths, and incidents of domestic violence. I suspect, too, that Stiefvater will ratchet up the intensity in future books. But still, it's nice to see a book carried along by plot, theme, and character, rather than by the romance.
I recommend The Raven Boys for anyone (12 and up) who appreciates top-quality writing, male or female. Stiefvater fans will certainly not want to miss it. And readers who haven't encountered her work yet are in for a treat. New Line has already acquired the movie rights to The Raven Boys, so this is a book that we'll be hearing about for quite a while. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: September 18, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).