The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater: Book Review

raven boys maggie stiefvater book reviewScholastic Press / Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Boys Book Cover The Raven Boys
The Raven Cycle
Maggie Stiefvater
Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
September 18, 2012

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.

I have been introduced to so many wonderful books this year. The Raven Boys, the first book in The Raven Cycle series, was no exception. Maggie Stiefvater is an incredibly talented writer – from her character building prowess to her detailed world-building, and impeccable use of grammar, Stiefvater is one of my new favorite authors.

Told from four different perspectives, Stiefvater takes a different approach to character building. Although using multiple perspectives to tell a story is not, in itself, unique, Stiefvater does not focus on a single character. Instead, she builds her characters up slowly – using the perspectives of other characters to create depth. In the beginning, Stiefvater utilizes the slow pacing to really create a connection between the reader and the characters; as the novel comes to a close, each character is distinguishable and you are acquainted with all of their strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.

Above everything else, The Raven Boys is a character driven story. Despite being led to believe that the story revolves around, and is told by, Blue Sargent, a girl who is surrounded by psychics, but has no magical ability of her own other than the fact that she inadvertently enhances the abilities of others, the raven boys are equally as important. Furthermore, although Stiefvater leads you to believe that The Raven Boys is just another teen love story with a fantasy twist, it is anything but. Yes, Blue is constantly warned that her true love will die if she kisses him. However, that is not the foundation for the story. Despite small hints of attraction and the occasional cute or awkward moment, no romance exists in this story (at least, not yet).

Instead, Stiefvater unveils the true driving force of the plot much later on, by introducing incredibly unique paranormal urban fantasy elements. From tarot card readings, absurd rituals, monitoring energy levels, and actively searching for secrets, the overall feel of the novel is mysterious and foreboding. As the raven boys search for a long lost king, they come into contact with Blue’s clairvoyant family on a search for powerful ley lines. Hoping to unlock the clues to finding Owen Glendower, the boys (and Blue) begin searching for hidden secrets, sending them on an unforgettable quest that reveals just how strange the small town of Henrietta, Virginia is.

From Blue’s incredibly unique wardrobe and quirky attitude, to each of the raven boys — Gansey, the leader and most caring of the group; Noah, the mysterious and quiet; Adam, shy yet incredibly driven; and Ronan, who is “more raven than boy”, Stiefvater pulls you into an unforgettable, yet incredibly unexpected story. While you may not always understand a character’s actions, everything is unveiled if you give the novel a chance. While Gansey appears to be condescending, he is actually incredibly caring and passionate about many things. And while Noah seems distant, even his darkest secrets and motivations are revealed. Interestingly enough, I loved each of the boys but had trouble connecting with Blue on an emotional level, which can be attributed to her incredibly calculated and sensible personality.

Last but not least, Stiefvater’s abilities as an author are spot on. Instead of shying away from complex sentences and concepts, she embraces them! And, she uses commas and semicolons properly! As sad as it is, I spent entirely too long gushing over her use of proper punctuation. You won’t find any half-hearted, simple sentences that feel like they are too “YA”-like in this series. This young adult novel feels like a work of adult fiction, and I couldn’t applaud Stiefvater more for her abilities as a writer.

From a detailed journal, a manufacturing plant turned apartment, an enchanted forest, and even talking trees, the first novel in the Raven Cycle series is a must read work of young adult fantasy. Full of dark and difficult secrets, The Raven Boys is an incredibly complex young adult novel that is unlike anything else out there. From the care given to explain each character, to the ease with which Stiefvater describes locations throughout the novel, everything is incredibly visual. As you read through The Raven Boys, you are sucked into the world – from the ruine church, to the enchanted forest, and even the inside of Gansey’s car, the environment is so clear that it’s hard not to picture yourself living in their world.

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Melissa Ratcliff
the authorMelissa Ratcliff
Senior Staff Writer
Reader, Writer & Translator. Cats, books and video games are my life.