Review: The Raven Boys

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The Raven Boys
by Maggie Stiefvater

★★★½☆

2012 • 409 pages • Scholastic Press

I’m actually very punctual in real life, so it never ceases to amaze me how late I turn up to bandwagons. The book blogging community has been raving about The Raven Boys since 2012, and the final book in the quartet, The Raven King, was released this year. It was only seeing the (I’m assuming positive?) weeping and gnashing of teeth on Twitter that I thought, well, I really loved The Scorpio Races… and made an effort to collect it from the public library. I was briefly thwarted by others doing much the same thing—or fans trying to reread the whole cycle in one go, which I heartily salute—but finally was able to get my hands on it and read it.

So, if you, like me, are a little unfamiliar with The Raven Boys, let me catch you up. Blue Sargent and her psychic mother live in Henrietta, Virginia. Blue is the only non-psychic in the family, but she does possess an unusual ability to amplify the supernatural around her. So, every year, Blue accompanies her mother to a local church to let her watch the St. Mark’s Eve procession of the dead, which tells her mother who will die in the coming year. Blue never sees anyone, but this year, she does—a teenage boy named Gansey. The only reason a non-psychic would ever see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve is, as her mother tells her, if they’re your true love or if you’re going to be the one to kill them. But for Blue, it’s one and the same: she’s always been told by psychics that her kiss will kill her true love. When she seeks out Gansey, she discovers a quartet of boys from the nearby and very tony Aglionby Academy, all on a search for a mysterious dead king named Glendower—rich Gansey, violent (and rich) Ronan, thoughtful Adam, and eerie Noah.

I adored Stiefvater’s only standalone novel The Scorpio Races. As I mention in that review, I gave Stiefvater’s work a miss for far too long, but ended up being drawn in by Ana’s review and the sheer amount of Irish literature I consumed in 2011 and 2012. I was pleased to find that my misconceptions were totally unfounded. Maggie Stiefvater is an amazing stylist who also has a great grasp on character, sketching out characters and their complex interactions with each other with graceful ease. Her plots often slide towards high concept—that long summary doesn’t even cover everything!—which I am totally fine with. She is, on paper, someone whose work I should love all the time.

I did not love The Raven Boys.

Let me be very clear: I enjoyed The Raven Boys. I enjoyed it very much! I almost missed my train stop twice because I wanted to press on further into the plot. It reminded me of all the reasons that I love Stiefvater as a writer.

But… I couldn’t hook into it, which makes me feel really weird and kind of deficient as a book blogger. I realize that’s an incredibly stupid thing to feel; after all, I’m a reader response theorist! I know my reading is as valid as anyone else’s. But I was so interested by Blue and her overstuffed house full of lady psychics, Blue and her tentative relationship with Adam, Blue and her struggles with class now that she’s interacting with some rich kids. I was interested by Blue, and towards the end of the novel, I started to feel like these boys—who are all nonetheless each well-characterized and well-written—were getting in my way. Stiefvater is an amazing enough writer to keep their sections of the text engaging and interesting while moving the plot along, but I was itching to get back to Blue or get deeper into the search for Glendower. I think I had been assuming that it was all from Blue’s perspective, instead of an ensemble that occasionally sidelines her.

I do feel like this would have been my jam when I was a teenager—urban fantasy, cute boys with real problems, a scruffy, relatable heroine—but, as an adult, I can’t get over the hump of having these four boys take up more real estate than Blue.

Well. Que sera, sera, right?

I rented this book from the public library.

8 thoughts on “Review: The Raven Boys

  1. I’ve also only read The Raven Boys last month and like you I enjoyed but didn’t love it. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Partly it’s because, I agree, the boys aren’t nearly as interesting as Blue – the clash of classes in particular fascinated me. I also felt a bit overwhelmed with ALL THE FEELINGS in the first few chapters. I like to ease into the drama so that have time to care about characters. I’ll pick up the next one this month – looking forward to reading your thoughts on that.

    • I don’t mind all the feelings, especially in a book about teenage characters, but I think I didn’t respond well here because those feelings belong to characters who don’t interest me in the first place?

      I hope you enjoy it! I will not be picking up the next book in the series, sadly.

  2. Are you planning to read the next one? Because that’s the one that really got me hooked, although it doesn’t focus on Blue any more than this one does. (She’s maybe in it a little less, now that I think about it.) The whole series is more about the group than any individual, and I came to really love the whole group.

  3. Oh dear oh dear, that thing happened where I was too excited about a thing and I screamed about it too much and it messed up other people’s reading experience. I do hope you’ll try the second one though? It’s mostly about Ronan, so it won’t solve your problem, but I agree with Teresa that the series as a whole is about this group of friends more than it’s about any individual one of them. Which I loved.

  4. I only read these books in May. I just kind of read all four of them in a row and it really worked for me. If I stopped to think… I may not have loved them the way the others seemed to, but I had fun reading them and am glad I did! If I had paused I probably never would have read the rest of the series. lol

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