The Raven Boys: Dreamy prose, simmering plot

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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater fantasy book reviewsThe Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue is the only non-psychic in a large extended family of psychics in Henrietta, Virginia. Her only unusual ability is that her presence amplifies the psychic powers of others around her, but she herself cannot use these abilities. So it’s a shock when, while sitting vigil in a graveyard with her aunt Neeve, Blue sees the spirit of a boy about her age who is destined to die in the next year. She learns that there are only two possible reasons she was able to see him: either he’s her true love, or she’s going to kill him.

The Raven Boys follows two groups of characters whose stories weave together: Blue and her eccentric family, and a clique of four boys from the posh Aglionby Academy, whose students are nicknamed “raven boys” for the emblem on their uniforms. The leader of this clique is Gansey, the boy whose fetch Blue saw in the cemetery; he is searching for the resting place of Owain Glendower, whom he thinks was brought to the New World and buried on a ley line near Henrietta. His friends are Ronan, who is angry and bitter and blowing off school; Adam, who is poor and industrious and desperate not to accept any pity from Gansey; and Noah, who is… mysterious. One thing they have in common is father issues: each boy in his own way is trying not to inherit his father’s flaws. (Come to think of it, Blue has father issues too, never having known her father.)

This is my fifth Maggie Stiefvater book so, in many ways, I knew what to expect. I knew to expect beautiful, dreamy prose — it’s here in spades, and I loved it. I also had an inkling that the plot would simmer slowly for most of the book, developing character and teasing with hints of mystery while moving at a leisurely pace. This happens here too, and it’s effective, with the characters slowly revealed layer by layer until you feel like you know them intimately.

What surprised me was the extent to which The Raven Boys does not stand alone. I knew THE RAVEN CYCLE was planned as a series, but my experience with Lament and Shiver, both of which were also first books in a larger story, led me to hope for more resolution than we get here. So much is left unresolved at the end, and it’s a little disappointing. We do, however, get a few spine-tingling twists along the way, and we are left wanting to explore the Glendower mystery further.

I’ll leave you with my favorite passage of the book, one that had me grinning from ear to ear, and wanting simultaneously to read Gansey’s journal and to find some topic to become obsessed with and keep my own awesome journal about:

…she flipped the journal back open. Now she had time to marvel at the sheer density of it. Even if the content hadn’t immediately caught her, the feel of the thing would have. There were so many of the clippings she’d noticed before that the journal wouldn’t stay book-shaped unless tied shut with leather wrappings. Pages and pages were devoted to these ripped and scissored excerpts, and there was an undeniable tactile pleasure to browsing. Blue ran her fingers over the varied surfaces. Creamy, thick artist paper with a slender, elegant font. Thin, browning paper with spidery serif. Slick, utilitarian white stock with an artless modern type. Ragged-edged newspaper in a brittle shade of yellow…. More than anything, the journal wanted. It wanted more than it could hold, more than words could describe, more than diagrams could illustrate. Longing burst from the pages, in every frantic line and every hectic sketch and every dark-printed definition. There was something pained and melancholy about it.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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  1. That quote alone hooked me. I am going to have to go back and look up the earlier books. Great review, Kelly!

    • The Raven Boys is the start of its series (hope that wasn’t confusing) but it’s definitely worth reading Lament and its sequel Ballad, and Shiver is also good and can stand alone. I drifted off from the wolf series some, and didn’t read the last book. But I just love her prose.


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