The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Last week I saw on Twitter that The Raven Boys was temporarily on sale for $2.99. I swooped in and purchased it since it was a book I had heard people raving about.

“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.

And on a whim I decided to start reading it right away. I was immediately caught up and finished it a couple of days later.  It has a great pace and a nice mix of humor with more serious issues plus a magical/paranormal side that is blended into the story in interesting ways. Stiefvater develops these wonderful characters and slowly builds the tension until you are racing to find out what is ging to happen.  The joy of reading, however, was soon replaced with the plaintive lament: “I have to wait until when for the next book?”

When we think of imaginative fantasy you often think of world building-authors who create alternate worlds that are so detailed and functional that they seem real.  Stiefvater instead creates these wonderful characters and uses them to illustrate how magic infuses our world.  The result is a captivating mix of the weird, quirky, wonderful and dangerous.  It seems all to possible that there is this world out there that we could see if we had “the sight.”

Publishers Weekly really captures this:

Haunting, distinctly individual characters are at the forefront: Blue, an outsider in her own home because she isn’t clairvoyant; Gansey and his posse of misfits, who lack any sense of home and seek meaning elsewhere; and Barrington Whelk, a Latin teacher with a secret. Gansey and his fellow “raven boys” attend exclusive Aglionby Academy—itself out of place in working-class Henrietta, Va.—and Blue’s goal is to avoid them at any cost. She can’t, of course, but Stiefvater doesn’t rush this inevitability. Hopes, fears, quirks, and forebodings gather gradually, coalescing as living portraits. It’s a tour de force of characterization, and while there is no lack of event or mystery, it is the way Stiefvater’s people live in the reader’s imagination that makes this such a memorable read.

I agree wholeheartedly. This was so different than so many fantasy stories.  The characters are so unique and so well developed that reading it is one of those rare pleasures where you just want to emerse yourself in the story and get lost.  But while you are enjoying the characters and their relationships the story shifts into another gear and the tension and suspense is cranked up and soon you are on the edge of your seat.

And this is the only complaint I had: the ending left me somewhat disappointed.  I was enjoying the story and the characters so much and the tension had grown and then suddenly the book is over.  It felt harsh to suddenly be left with nothing more to read of this world.

Kirkus pointed this out in their review:

Simultaneously complex and simple, compulsively readable, marvelously wrought. The only flaw is that this is Book 1; it may be months yet before Book 2 comes out. The magic is entirely pragmatic; the impossible, extraordinarily true.

Somehow because of the first and last sentence the middle sentence feels all that much more a betrayal.  But soon you put that empty feeling aside and recognize the joy of the preceding pages. And you begin to work on your patience …

This is another example of why I read YA fiction.  Just wonderful storytelling. Highly recommended for all ages.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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