Saturday, December 29, 2012
The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”
"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."
Unlike Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, which feels realistic even though the plot centers around killer water horses, The Raven Boys is the stuff of legend and myth. Blue comes from a long line of psychics - the real deal, which is ultimately the catalyst for her interactions with The Raven Boys - a group she normally avoids. However, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah are not the typical prep school type. Each is consumed with his own personal demons, but it's Gansey's quest that binds them all together. For most of his young life, Gansey has been obsessed with finding the sleeping King Glendower. His travels have taken him all over the world tracking intersecting lines of energy called ley lines. His copious research led him to the tiny town of Henrietta, Virginia where his path crosses Blue's, a girl born of a psychic but who is not one herself; however, she has the uncanny ability to amplify psychic energy.
Although I've rapidly lost interest in the sudden surge of paranormal fiction flooding the YA shelves, Stiefvater's novel(s) still appeal to me mostly because despite the odd occurrences or presence of fantastical creatures, the stories cannot be classified as paranormal. Instead, they are the perfect blend of legend, myth, and folklore. It's King Arthur for the modern age. It's hard not to get caught up in the Raven Boys' quest, and at times, the predictions and ghostly apparitions the boys and Blue encounter had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Stiefvater knows how to keep you guessing in this novel - sometimes a little too well. The last few chapters speed by with very few resolutions, evoking more questions than answers for the reader. Since The Raven Boys is the first in a cycle, I understand that Steifvater is setting up the plot and the reader for book two; however, I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I find Steifvater to be at her best in her standalones when she is not concerned with leaving enough loose ends to tie up in another book or two. Although I think Steifvater could have effectively condensed the plot of The Raven Boys to one novel with an open-ended conclusion a la Forever, I am still eagerly awaiting the release of book two.
Most notably I am awaiting resolution of the weird, almost non-existent love triangle between Blue, Gansey, and Adam. It's a stated fact, if you believe a whole hosts of psychics and visions, that Blue is going to kill her first love. Although it's unclear how, it's clear that somehow Gansey is involved. Assumption number 1: Gansey will be her first love. But no, Blue meets Adam and so begins their awkward, innocent, but totally adorable flirtation, and I as a reader was rooting for them. Blue's relationship with both boys remains in it's infancy - she's not used to getting intimate - so it's unclear how things are going to progress. Will they parallel the prophecy that has overshadowed her entire life and the vision that recently turned her life upside down, or will fate intervene leading her and The Raven Boys down a path they never could have imagined in their wildest dreams? And do they have some wild dreams. Stiefvater hints with the last line of the first novel in this cycle that the next book will deal with the power of dreams - dreams that you can manipulate and can become tangible.
As the main characters, Blue, Gansey, and Adam are very well-developed, but the supporting characters are equally intriguing if only for the unanswered questions Stiefvater leaves the reader with. When I first met Noah, I knew something was up. He is a character defined by absence and abstienance. He doesn't eat; he doesn't seem to sleep; he merely exists on the fringes of the boys' foursome. In fact, I wondered why Stiefvater bothered to pen him at all. He seemed a character of little value to the narrative, but when his death is acknowledged, he becomes more present and an integral witness and guide to the quest. He seems to have fulfilled his role though by the end of the first book, so I wonder how and if he will reappear in the second. Ronan Lynch also remains a mystery. In my mind, he is the most intriguing character. All dark and sharp edges, Ronan is caring around some heavy baggage in the form of a secret surrounding his dad's death. Ronan also seems in touch with some primordial magic that even Gansey with all his study and Blue with her connections to the spiritual world do not possess and have yet to imagine. The possibilities for his character seem limitless, and I'm eager to see how Stiefvater will develop him further.
This book is an irresistible, strange journey, highlighting a writer at the pinnacle of her career. I have not read Stiefvater's first faerie novels, but I have read all of her published works in order since Shiver and watched her style evolve into the accomplishment that is The Raven Boys. It is a book I highly recommend for readers on a quest for something magical.