The Raven Boys
by Maggie Stiefvater
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.