Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Add Mrs. Stiefvater to the list of authors that need to be known by more people. I guess with 44k followers on Twitter (@mstiefvater) , she IS a household name. But when my librarian asked who she was, I lamented the unfairness that not everyone’s heard of this wonderful author.Artwork by: Cassandra Jean

The Raven Boys falls into a category that I would label as “convergence”. We have a paranormal thriller that features college aged students seeking enigmatic treasures. I say convergence, because the story reminded me a little of Steven Erikson’s epic fantasies. though the scale is not as large, fate and magic and circumstance seem to slowly gather all the characters to a time and a place, creating a convergence.

I don’t want to dive too deeply into the plot. Boiled down to its essence, the book centers on the converging worlds of a psychic family and four boys that attend Aglionby, a school for the rich and famous in Henrietta, Virginia. The boys? They’re on a quest to locate a mystical figure that promises a different reward for each. The women? They’re mostly trying to keep Blue from a first kiss that will doom the recipient.

What I want to talk about is not the plot, but the style and wonder that Stiefvater creates through her prose. I’ve broken down a few things I noticed and loved:

1. Recreating Gatsby- It might just be that the name “Gansey” sounds like it, but Stiefvater manages to recreate a passionate, respected, tortured soul reminiscent of the great Gatsby. In Gansey, we have a focal point, a person for the other characters to orbit. He is alluring at times, proud at others, but always he draws the plot forward and the other characters into more interesting circumstances. The quest for the mystical treasure, at its heart, is his. The way that another character, Adam, reveres and despises this character had me comparing him to Nick Carraway. Although, I find Adam far more likeable than Nick.

2. Internal Dialogue at it’s finest- Stiefvater’s greatest accomplishment, in my eyes, were the authentic character observations. The characters have an understanding of one another. They make remarks, and observations, that are accurate and telling. Between the four boys (Adam, Ronan, Gansey, and Noah) there is a unique friendship that takes on all the many facets of a beautiful diamond. I was really quite astonished by her ability to make these seem so genuine. Here are two observations that Blue makes about Gansey in the book:

 “When Gansey was polite, it made him powerful. When Adam was polite, he was giving power away.”
“He strode over to the ruined church. This, Blue had discovered, was how Gansey got places – striding. Walking was for ordinary people.”
Those seem like simple observations to me. Yet, internal monologue can be so hard to get down. I chalk it up to Stiefvater’s excellent understanding of voice.
3. Covering Her Bases- The wider you cast the net, the more people you seem to catch. Every character in this book has peculiar and unique strengths. If you’re a hothead, you’re going to love Ronan. If you are someone who can sweep a room off of it’s feet, you’ll love Gansey. If you like characters that think carefully and react calmly, Adam’s your meal ticket. If you like someone that questions, challenges, and stands strong, Blue will be irresistible! Good characters can be mirrors for us. We will hold them up and see certain things we like, or don’t like, about ourselves. We can read their stories and learn, read their stories and change.
4. Shades of Magic- I say shades because the characters and the interactions seemed central. Paranormal activities were a fine addition that touched every character in some form or fashion. This, to me, is one of the most proper ways to do it. If the magical system or idea is the main thing, don’t we get bored? She had some wonderful bits of magic, and I thought they stayed consistent throughout.
So what did I NOT like:
1. Promise of Premise: I could end up wrong on this one. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say I’m wrong. But promise of premise is important. Here’s what I mean: when your book sets up something to happen, we want to see it happen. Promise of the premise can be seen easily in The Truman Show. At the start of the movie, we’re told that Truman is inside of a world that is run by actors and is completely fake and he doesn’t know it! The premise we’re promised is that this unaware man will have to somehow come into contact with the lie he is living and begin to understand it, challenge it, or hate it. If the movie doesn’t explore this premise that it’s promised at the beginning? We’ll hate it!
So… The Raven Boys features a delayed promise of premise. We are given information at the beginning that will come to fruition, but not until book 2 or 3 or whenever. That ISN’T always a bad thing, but I think in this case it made the climax of the story a little less of a payoff for me. I was given powerful questions to chew on at the start of the story, and they’re sitting on my lap into book 2. Which seems like a necessary thing for ANY series. But it’s also the slightest of frustrations with an otherwise flawless book.
My advice? Go. To your library or local bookstore or amazon…. Go and buy this book. It delivers in so many ways. I think it may be one of the better studies of character building that I’ve read in a long, long time. Really powerful stuff and I’m already moving on to her second book in the series, The Dream Thieves.
Happy reading!


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