The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

coverPublisher Copy (from scholastic.com)

“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.

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Things I Loved

Worldbuilding!

The magic is a great blend of incredibly vague and super precise that mirrors and extends the real world. Tarot card readings are simultaneously general and nonspecific, and dowsing for ley lines is equally ambiguous. But then one of the psychics gives an extremely accurate prediction or Blue and the Raven Boys wander into a clearing in which time and space are fluid. The balance between the two types of magic makes the truly fantastical seem organic.

Good Guy Friendships!

Instead of being total dudebros, the Raven Boys are real people with real feelings! They are very much ordinary teenage boys who drive fast cars and try to help their friends pick up girls, but they also take care of each other (Adam risking a beating to help Gansey look for a potentially suicidal Ronan, Ronan risking expulsion to protect Adam). There are tensions between them, of course, but they are loyal to each other even when they’re pissing each other off.

Relatedly, Adam & Gansey!

Adam attends Aglionby on a partial scholarship and works three jobs to pay the other half of his tuition. He lives with his abusive father and abused mother in a trailer park. He’s top of his class, pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, and fiercely independent. He wants to earn the wealth, status, and power into which his friends were born. But it will never come as easily to him as it has to them, and he resents them for it.

Gansey is lucky–born into an incredibly wealthy family, given a second chance at life when he found himself in the right place at the right time–and he knows it. His quest for Glendower is fueled by his desire to prove to himself that he is worthy of all the good things bestowed upon him. He’s oblivious to the full scope of his social power, though. He doesn’t even realize that he’s showing off or alienating people when he’s doing it, but he tries so darn hard to understand and do better.

I loved Adam first (he sends Blue the world’s tiniest corsage of carnations, which is the sweetest thing ever in context), but as it became clear that his primary motivations involve jealousy and resentment, I started to like him a bit less. Gansey starts out as a jerk, but his dogged determination to take care of everyone and be a good person is endearing. You can’t not like Gansey.

Qualms

Love Triangle

This is Gansey’s story. He and his search for Glendower bring the other characters together. That’s not a bad thing, but since Blue and Adam are the other narrators (not counting Whelk), it sets up a classic homosocial love triangle in which Adam is positioned as Gansey’s foil and Blue facilitates that relationship. (It’s pretty obvious from the foreshadowing that a) Blue is going to realize that she’s in love with Gansey and only likes Adam as a friend and b) once Adam realizes that Gansey has Blue’s love in addition to wealth and status and power, Adam is going to lose his shit and kill Gansey in a jealous rage.)

I’m hopeful that, in later books, this is going to be an interesting response to the Twilight-style love triangle of a Mary Sue-esque female character forced to choose between two hot supernatural dudes (or, alternately, a hot supernatural dude and a hot normal dude). Right now, Blue reads a little flat to me. I don’t really feel like I understand who she is and what motivates her. It may be that she’s figuring these things out for herself and that she’ll blossom as the series continues. But in this first book, she doesn’t feel as real or relatable as Adam and Gansey do.

Seriously. I’ve written, like, 500 words about this book and almost none of them involve Blue. And I can’t tell if that’s my problem or the book’s.

Reads Like

Charles de Lint meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It has that gloriously de Lint-y tension between the familiar and the fey, drawing in lots of (Welsh) mythology to supplement the contemporary setting. Instead of the urban Newford, however, we have a small town in rural Virgina. And, while there is only a little bit of ass-kicking and no vampires, the attention to friendships and relationships against a supernatural backdrop is very similar to Whedon’s emphasis on interpersonal relationships in the Buffyverse.

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