19th April 2021
Book Review: The Raven Boys
In this week’s blog post we explore The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – the first book in her Raven Cycle series. There will be no spoilers, only immense amounts of fan-girling. So continue scrolling to find out why you should consider investing time to begin this glorious series!
I know what you might be thinking – *yawn* it’s yet another one of those supernatural YA books. Well… you would be wrong . This is a book that transcends genre, and has become fully cemented on my list of forever favourite reads. But I digress, we should probably start with the plot first.
The story follows Blue Sargent, a girl who comes from a family of psychics and yet somehow failed to inherit those otherworldly abilities. Then we have Gansey, a rich kid who wears boat shoes and also happens to be on an adventure in search of a dead Welsh King. Gansey is joined by his three closest friends; Ronan, Adam, and Noah. As fate may have it, despite Blue’s disdain for boys (and particularly these boys), the lives of the group become intertwined as they try to unravel a mystery centuries old. Oh, and did I mention – we know right from page one that Gansey is set to die within the year; except no one but Blue and her family know. What could possibly go wrong?! To quote the wonderful blurb, it’s “a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before”.
Right… now that we’ve got that covered, you’re probably wondering exactly what drew me to review this particular book. I mean the cover is phenomenal, but it was published waaaay back in 2012. Well, it’s all due to Call Down the Hawk, a recently released book which follows on from the original series. Except I didn’t realise that when I first picked it up and suffice to say, I was confused… Turns out one of my friends was reading the book at the same time and couldn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t enjoying it. I was promptly informed I was late to the party and had four books to catch up on! I really wanted to enjoy Call Down the Hawk because the blurb was just so intriguing, and so I set off to begin my Raven Cycle adventure. You, dear reader, are lucky enough to share in the spoils of my great tale…
“Today, Blue thought, is the day I stop listening to the future and start living it instead.”
We could start this review anywhere, but (particularly in this book) characters have always been the most important to me – and this is the area where Stiefvater excels. Initially it was difficult to distinguish exactly who the main protagonist was, given the third person narration – it could have very easily been any of them, which just goes to show that Stiefvater doesn’t neglect any of her characters, even the side ones. At no point are you left wondering why you haven’t seen that one character for the past 8 chapters, only for them to conveniently turn up when needed.
Perhaps the best part about the characters is that each of them has a clearly distinct personality, and not just simply based on stereotypical features. There are subtle nuances in terms of the desires and values of each character, with all of them being well fleshed out and realistic. One aspect I particularly enjoyed was observing how the manner in which each character conducts themself changes depending on who they are engaging with. Often writers keep characters’ interactions identical for the sake of consistency, but this felt more true to reality and kept me invested in each of the individual stories.
I’m sure there are plenty of important literary themes I missed when I read the book, but the only one I truly cared for was the idea of “found family”. The term refers to the phenomenon where sometimes people who aren’t blood relationships turn out to be closer to you than those who are. Reader beware, this novel will very likely make you shed a tear or two!
“Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn't all-encompassing, that wasn't blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she'd had this kind, she didn't want another.”
Stiefvater manages to encapsulate exactly what I wished friendship looked like; the characters just fit together so well. And did I forget to mention the best part – there is absolutely no sappy romance! This is usually one of the major reasons why I would put down a YA… there comes a time when I simply cannot deal with angsty teenage love. The Raven Boys never goes there. Sure, there is a little bit of love, but for the most part the platonic kind of love is far more important.
The way that Stiefvater executes her ideas is too perfect for words. Unless you are reading an ancient literary classic, I often find the word choices of many books to be lacklustre (plot and characters tend to be in the driver’s seat these days). But that is certainly not the case here. Exhibit A:
“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.”
Each moment is drawn out perfectly to create an atmosphere which is simultaneously a dreamy sort of magical, and yet also macabre. To say the writing itself is a flawless match for the story would be an understatement. You’ll find yourself reading short excerpts repeatedly, in awe of the description and how it connects you to the characters.
FINISHING THE SERIES (because that’s the only logical progression from here)
The Raven Boys is a fantastic novel and truly kicks the series off with a bang! I can honestly say that after finishing it, I went straight ahead and reserved every other book in the series – basically didn’t sleep once they arrived. The continuation of the series is just as phenomenal as the first. In fact, as the story progresses you will find yourself appreciating Stiefvater’s immaculate planning; seemingly small moments from this first book, becoming hugely important in the last.
So if you’re looking to join a new fandom, it’s well worth giving The Raven Boys a try!