Joint Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Joint Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Note: This is a joint review by Sarah, Laura & Rebeca aka Renegade.

Blue had two rules: Stay away from boys, because they’re trouble, and stay away from raven boys, because they were bastards.

Without a doubt, the first book in Maggie Stiefvater’s new series, The Raven Boys, was one of our most anticipated novels of the year. All of us adored her 2011 standalone novel, The Scorpio Races, and couldn’t wait to see what sort of world Maggie created next. 

Blue Sargent has been warned her entire life that if she kisses her true love, he will die. When she and her clairvoyant mother hang out in the local graveyard on St. Mark’s Eve—as they due each year, for the first time, Blue sees a soon-to-be-dead person. This boy speaks to Blue and he’s a Raven Boy—one of the students at the exclusive Aglionby Academy in her Virginia town. 

Soon, Blue finds herself entangled in the Raven Boys’ world, a world filled with magic and mystery. 

The World/Setting

Laura: I love the setting of a boarding school in a small town, with the push and pull that comes from those who live there year-round and the revolving door of students. It reminded me quite a bit of the dynamics of Ithaca, New York where I attended college. In both cases, so much of the town’s economy and cultural vitality is dependent on the student population, yet there is still a tension between those who consider it home and those who come off as entitled, sweep in and out at will and live separately when they are there.  

Sarah: I am a sucker for boarding school in a small town books (there were a lot when I was a kid, okay?), so that alone makes me happy. The tension between townies versus the Raven Boys is really interesting and felt very vibrant. The magical world that’s alive beneath the surface of their town is really brilliant. I love how Maggie always takes a tiny bit of folklore (in this case, the Welsh sleeping kings) and makes it into something I completely believe in. The magical elements are thoroughly developed in this first book, but I also feel like there’s a roadmap for even more in this world’s mythology in the future books. As I was reading, I could feel the layers unpeeling. The way she melds the contemporary world and the paranormal is really distinctive in The Raven Boys, even more so than in the Mercy Falls series

The Characters

Sarah: Usually, in a book like this, with a strong female character like Blue, I focus on that aspect of the character development. But what’s funny to me about The Raven Boys, I keep thinking of the characters as a collection, as a unit as they relate to each other. With that said, Blue captivated me. Her family is freaking bizarre and she takes it all in a funny sort of stride. 

Laura: I definitely feel like the characters as a unit and their interactions drove a lot of the individual character development throughout the book. Blue’s character in particular is such a gem, with her humor, self-awareness and struggle to find her place amongst her eccentric, gifted family and as a townie amongst the clique of (mostly) privileged Raven Boys.

Sarah: Also: is it weird that I kind of love Ronan? He’s so cranky and damaged and surly. But there’s something else there too. 

“I have to feed Chainsaw,” Ronan said, a sentence that made absolutely no sense to Blue. He disappeared into the tiny office and shut the door behind himself. An inhuman squawking noise emitted from within, which Adam didn’t comment on.

The Relationships

The raven tipped her huge head back and goggled at Blue and then Adam, beak cracked. “What’s her name?” Blue asked. Holding her was frightening and lovely; she was such a small, tenuous little life, her pulse tapping rapidly against Blue’s skin.

Adam answered, witheringly, “Chainsaw.” The raven opened her beak wide, goggling even more than before.

“She wants you again,” Blue said, because it was clear that she did. Ronan accepted the bird and stroked the feathers on the back of her head.

“You look like a super villain with your familiar,” Adam said. Ronan’s smile cut his face, but he looked kinder than Blue had ever seen him, like the raven in his hand was his heart, finally laid bare.

Sarah: One of the things that struck me in The Raven Boys is that while there’s an important premise regarding the danger of Blue kissing her true love, there’s not a big romance or (despite the blurb in the movie rights announcement) a “love triangle.” Maggie called it a “crush triangle” on Twitter recently and I think that’s an apt description. The characters are feeling each other out, they’re crushing on each other, and there’s a lot of intriguing chemistry. But, they’re also involved in an epic magical adventure-slash-quest. I like this quite a bit, especially for the first book in a series.

Rebeca: I appreciated that the characters evolve throughout the book and that their personal evolution effects how they interact with each other. They really read as young adults, still figuring themselves out and learning how they fit into the world. Love triangles can come come across as static, pretty unrealistic for teenagers who are constantly changing. Instead, The Raven Boys gives us real people exploring new dynamics. Like Sarah said, feeling it out.

Rebeca: Also, there seems to be a lot of “fated” love in books recently. While this is nice to read about every once in a while I’d much prefer to see a natural growth of intimacy over time. When characters find an instant rapport and fall into love so easily I miss all that getting-to-know-you tension. Real life, in my experience, is much less cut and dried. 

Sarah: My favorite relationship in the book is that between the boys. There are so many layers to their intertwined stories, that I really can’t guess where these friends are going to wind up. For example, the tension between Adam and Gansey, because of their dramatically different socio-economic statuses, is often difficult to read, because Gansey means well, but he simply doesn’t get it. At the same time, while I empathize with Adam’s frustration over being “the poor kid,” at times I just wanted to shake him, because of his resistance to accepting help from the other Raven Boys. And Ronan and his mercurialness (is that a word?) is my favorite. He’s just so well-developed, despite not having a ton of page-time. Despite that the world of the Raven Boys is fantastical and filled with magic, their challenges are also grounded in something recognizable and relatable, and it really shows in the dynamic between the boys.

Rebeca: The boys are the best. They have the type of complicated, push-and-pull relationships that come with real history.

Laura: I loved the palpable sense of camaraderie between the Raven Boys. Though I’m not a boy, I could recognize a lot of elements in my own past and present friendships in their interactions with one another. I also loved, as Sarah mentioned, a sense of realism in the positives and negatives of their friendships despite the paranormal goings-on. The dynamics between Adam and Gansey reminded me quite a bit of those between Phineas and Gene in A Separate Peace, which is one of my favorite explorations of friendship amongst teenage boys.

Sarah: Whoa, good call with the Phineas-Gene comparison, Laura. This is very true. 

The Writing

Sarah: People toss around the word “lyrical” a lot, oftentimes when they really mean, wordy and verbose. Me, I tend to prefer sparse prose a la Courtney Summers. However, Maggie’s writing is truly lyrical, and it has been very much so in both The Raven Boys and The Scorpio Races. There’s a rhythm to the writing that feels like an extension of the magic of the world she’s built—and I love it. 

When she looked at the stars, something tugged at her, something that urged her to see more than stars, to make sense of the chaotic firmament, to pull an image from it. But it never made sense. She only ever saw Leo and Cepheus, Scorpio and Draco.

Sarah: Also, this lyrical writing is infused with a lot of humor, which is a big win for me. 

And everywhere, everywhere, there were books. Not the tidy stacks of an intellectual attempting to impress, but the slumping piles of a scholar obsessed. Some of the books weren’t in English. Some of the books were dictionaries for the languages that some of the other books were in. Some of the books were actually Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions.

Laura: Maggie has a powerful way of putting complicated emotions into beautiful phrases. For me, she captures feelings in words in such a way that I almost feel like I am the character going through that emotion. I’m also a sucker for poignancy (what some might automatically label as angst when it occurs in a YA book), and there is no other author who is able to consistently stab me in the heart with it the way Maggie does.

She recognized the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, that strange happiness that was sometimes so big that it felt like sadness. 

Any grievances that need airing?

Sarah: Honestly, this was a top-notch read for me, and it’s been hard to think of a criticism. My biggest trouble was that there’s so much complexity to the world (the backstory is drawn from Welsh folklore), that I couldn’t just tear through The Raven Boys like I wanted. If you’re looking for a quick, easy read, look elsewhere—this is a novel that needs commitment. Oh, and the big thing that’s revealed about two-thirds of the way in? I totally didn’t see that coming! Hello! I pride myself on anticipating these things! Arg!

Laura: Right?!?!?! My biggest issue with mysteries tends to be that I am usually able to ID the culprit upon the character’s first appearance in the book. For some reason, they tend to be obvious to me. I had an inkling about what part of the Big Thing was, but I’ll admit it. I was FLOORED by the full revelation. Judging from the inadvertant readalong I had with Noelle, I’m clearly not the only one.

Sarah: Also, why hasn’t the title and publication date for the next book in this series been announced?! *hyperventilates*

Laura: *gnashes teeth* Give us something! Anything!

Sarah: Whenever you say that (*gnashes teeth*), Laura, I picture Zombie Laura attacking a bookstore in an attempt to read all the books in some sort of deranged book zombie fever.

Maggie Stiefvater is an evil genius for turning this into a four-book series. Discuss.

Sarah: I’m not going to talk about how old I’ll be before this series finish, but let’s just say I’m most likely going to pass a Significant Birthday Milestone by the time it’s done. And I’m preordering each one. This is also what Maggie did to me (yes, I’m taking this personally at this point) during the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, and it’s absolutely diabolical. 

Laura: I am the most punctual person I know. I hate being late to the point where I feel guilty when I’m barely on time because I’m so neurotic about it. But I’ve read 4 of Maggie’s books now, and ended up being late for work finishing each one because there was NO WAY I was going to work without knowing the ending of those books! So, she is indeed an evil genius for continuously authoring books that make me say “Screw punctuality!” I expect no less from the rest of the Raven Boys cycle.

Sarah: It’s true—Laura is extremely punctual. She puts me to shame, and I am the most punctual person from Oregon in the state’s history. An author making Laura late for anything is huge. 

What is it about Maggie’s books that work for you?

Sarah: You know, I am not much of a paranormal YA fan, and I’m not much of a fantasy fan, but Maggie’s books draw heavily on both and yet, her books are auto-buys for me (yep, I preordered a copy of this when I was halfway through reading my ARC—I had to have my own finished copy). I think why they defy genre for me because, 1) the backstories in her worlds are very well-developed, but they’re never info-dumpy. While I’m reading a book by Maggie Stiefvater, I believe in the magical elements because she does such an outstanding 

Laura: For me, Maggie’s books fall into a category that I’ve coined as “Relatable Paranormal.” She manages to make paranormal scenarios plausible by grounding the story in relationships and emotions in a recognizable, relatable manner. Though I’ve never lived in a house full of seers, I remember feeling not special amongst my own family, and the loneliness that could sprout up because of that, similar to how Blue’s character sometimes felt not having clairvoyant abilities of her own.

Final Thoughts 

Sarah: This is one of my favorite books of the year—and that doesn’t surprise me in the least. Maggie’s previous two books (Forever, the last in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, and The Scorpio Races) really demonstrated a maturity in her writing, and The Raven Boys is up there with The Scorpio Races in terms of sophistication, but with the luxury-slash-torture of a four-book series. I feel like she’s trend-setting instead of trend-chasing and develops complex, compelling relationships (particularly those between the boys) in this novel that left me tapping my fingers impatiently in anticipation for the next installment. This is definitely a young adult novel I would have no problem whatsoever recommending to adult readers and folks who normally shy away from books with paranormal elements. 

Laura: This book captivated me in every way. I can’t think of another author who could possibly pull off the mash-up of YA contemporary but folklore-rooted paranormal mystery full of delicious character and relationship development the way Maggie has done with the Raven Boys. Her writing reminds me of a new, well-made shoe — original and exquisitely crafted, but somehow familiar because the foot just slides in so comfortably right from the get-go. I cannot wait to slide into the next book.

FNL Character Rating: The entire first two seasons’ intense, history-filled group dynamic.

{Buy The Raven Boys at Amazon | BN | Book Depository}

{Add it on Goodreads}

Disclosure: Sarah received a review copy received from the publisher via NetGalley. Renegade and Laura read finished copies.

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