October is a perfect time of year for the supernatural, which means books like Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, the first volume in a magical YA quartet.
About the Book: Blue is a teenager with a whole family of psychics, but her only power seems to be in amplifying energy for others’ use. Except on one notable St. Mark’s Eve, she sees a spirit while she is helping her aunt catalogue the names of the soon-to-be dead. No spirit has ever appeared to her before, and she’s told that the only reason for a non-seer to see a spirit is that he’s either a true love or has died by her hand. And this spirit is not just anyone, but a Raven Boy, a member of the town’s private school for rich kids. Blue has a self-imposed rule to avoid them, but she worries that he deserves at least a warning. That is, until she meets Gansey and his three best friends. They’re on a quest to find Glendower, the long-lost Welsh king, along a ley line in Blue’s Virginia hometown, a king rumored to have the power to grant a favor to the person who wakes him. Blue is intrigued by the odd group of friends and their unusual, supernatural hunt for Glendower.
“The boys seemed to act as a unit, a single, multiheaded entity. To see any of them without the presence of the others felt a little… dangerous.”
Together, the five of them might have just the right resources to succeed–but they may not be the only ones close on the path to Glendower, and their opponents may be dangerously unstable and perhaps even downright evil. There’s also a ghost who may have something to say about that.
“Gansey was the boy she either killed or fell in love with. Or both. There was no being ready. There just was this: Maura opening the door.”
Sometimes I read a book based largely on its popularity. This was one of those. I did know there would be a hunt for a Welsh king, which was enough to reassure me that I would enjoy its subject matter, but mostly I picked up this book because it’s widely referred to as “good.” So imagine my surprise when I began turning pages and realized I loved everything about this book–“good” is an inadequate description. It doesn’t sufficiently cover:
a) the characters. Every single character in this book is so vastly different and unique, and there are a decent range of them. The narrator shows a little of every main character’s perspective, so the reader sees not only who’s who, but what makes each of them tick. The four Raven Boy friends Blue encounters are all on opposite ends of the (apparently four-sided) personality spectrum. It’s incredible to see what brings each of them together, and how all of their differing motives set them up to search for Glendower. Stiefvater creates such rich characters that feel like they might just walk off the page, which seems essential for
b) the supernatural element. When the book opened with talk of psychics, I was skeptical. But Blue knows skepticism is common and addresses that issue early on, allowing readers to suspend their disbelief and follow her into uncharted territory. Having believable, realistic characters is what makes the supernatural bits feel plausible. I’m not sure I’m a big believer of the supernatural in the real world around me, but Stiefvater makes it possible to read about unusual tricks of energy and otherworldly encounters without thinking constantly, “This could never happen.” And
c) the writing style. The details of this story are colorful and immersive, transporting the reader right into the setting and the characters’ lives. There are enough hints of romance to keep the reader watching, but there isn’t one of those obvious YA loves that starts at hate and ends at dying for each other in two seconds flat. It’s a slow build, as a novel should be. Also, I love that this series seems to be one of those sets where the books tell one story divided into parts, rather than a bunch of smaller self-contained stories lined up. This is one you have to commit to entirely–the first book raised so many questions that I suspect won’t be answered in their entirety until the end of the fourth book, and I certainly will be reading on to discover those answers. And if the witty characters and plot intrigue aren’t enough for you, there’s also some humor mixed in, just to keep things real.
” ‘I’m feeling better,’ he said, as if he’d been ill instead of dead.”
My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I was expecting to be entertained by this “good” book. I wasn’t expecting a new favorite YA series, but The Raven Cycle certainly seems to hold that potential. It’s rare for me to find a book in which I am fascinated both by the story and how it’s told, but The Raven Boys is one of those. I will certainly be picking up the second book in this series the next time I’m at the library. Books like this are the reason I believe the YA genre has something to offer readers of all ages.
- If you like YA fantasy with a hint of the supernatural, try Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. This one features magic-wielding casters who partake in a major battle of good vs. evil, rooted in southern USA. I didn’t actually like the whole series, but I did enjoy this first book. (I need to read more YA fantasy/supernatural books. And recommendations for me?)
What’s next: I’m currently reading Marissa Meyer’s second book in the Lunar Chronicles series, Scarlet. After that I’m going to need a break from YA, but for now I’m enjoying this quick science fiction fairy tale retelling. Stay tuned to find out how this sequel compares to the first book!
The Literary Elephant
Update: you can now find my complete review of the next book in this series, The Dream Thieves, here!