Monday, November 5, 2012

Legends and Myths: A Book Review on The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Sargent leads an interesting life. While Blue has no psychic ability of her own, she lives in a house filled with talented seers, each with their special power. Her life is filled with predictions, cautions and card readings, things that she is always a witness to but can never do. So when it comes time for her to spend the night, as she does every year, waiting at a church to take down the names of the soon-to-be dead as they walk past, Blue finds herself in a different kind of predicament. Because this year she sees a boy and the fact that she sees him can only mean one of two things, either she's his true love or she's the one that killed him.

I have been reading Maggie Stiefvater's books for a while. I don't remember how I found Shiver back in 2010 but I do recall it was a recent release when I bought it. Then I managed to find the releases from her Books of Faerie series and voila!, I've been buying each of her works ever since. And the plus about my own copy of The Raven Boys? It's signed and doodled by the author herself, a lovely perk to pre-ordering the book from Fountain Bookstore. I don't normally pre-order my books since I don't have the patience for it. I'd rather go on the day of the book release and buy it in a store instead of wait for it to arrive in the mail. But this was definitely a good reason for me to try out a pre-order for once. Moving on now, time for the review.

I love Stiefvater's writing. There's a lyrical, magical sense to her works. Her plots are unique, her characters are definitely smart and when you put it all together, of course her books are popular. The writer has talent. With The Raven Boys, however, there is a whole new scope to Stiefvater's work. The expanse of details and the history she's woven into this narrative is impressive, at least to me. I loved the rich history that was placed in and around the life of Blue Sargent. There are so many possibilities available and the writing has sufficiently laid the groundwork down for the future books of this series.

While reading this book, I had to wonder at the amount of research that went into the creation of this world. I love it when such careful, painstaking work by the author pays off with such a rich, detailed world. As the narrative unfolded, I took my time going through this book so I could be sure I didn't miss any of the important details. When an author manages to make me slow down and savor their book, I know it's something to be admired. However, the narrative does move at slow pace and the plot seems to not have much development as a result. Events happen, secrets are revealed, places are explored, but many may feel that the story moves along too slowly for their taste to merit the page count. A fair warning to those looking for a fast-paced book, just in case.

When it comes to the characters, there are many to choose from in this novel. To start with, we have Blue Sargent (and can I just say, how awesome is a name like Blue? I love it.) As stated in the book, and I just have to agree, Blue is extremely sensible. Over the course of the book she learns new things, somewhat crazy facts, and she just takes it in stride. She understands her situation, her lack of certain active powers so to speak, and she accepts what she CAN do and how her abilities aid others. She doesn't resent any aspect of her life but she is looking for answers. As a result, when the Raven Boys of the book's title make an appearance in her life, Blue is ready to go forward with a destiny that she already knows but hopes to change. She's a stable force from which everything in this book revolves around and I find that appealing in a main character.

Other characters of interest in the book are Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah, the Raven Boys who become a crucial part of Blue's life. Why are they called Raven Boys? They attend Aglionby Academy, a private school located near where Blue lives. The raven is the emblem on the school sweater, thus the "Raven Boys",  and Blue avoids these boys at all costs at the start of the book. Then one day Gansey and his friends arrive at Blue's house hoping for a reading from her psychic mother and her mother's friends and everything changes in Blue's world. She finds herself drawn into their world and their quest, becoming so essential to their group its as if it were always meant to be.

The boys each have their own strengths and ambitions. Gansey is the earnest leader, on the search for an unbelievable find. He's made it his mission to accomplish this task and if that isn't enough, he seems to have a tendency to actively look after his friends, covering for them with school work and family life as the troubles come up. He's not very perceptive when it comes to interacting with people but he makes the effort to remedy his shortcomings once he's aware of what he's doing. There's something about a teenager who makes the effort to better himself on a daily basis that just makes them strong as a character lead. He's rich, his family is accomplished, but this isn't enough for Gansey. He wishes for something more, to have the chance to make his life mean something and it is this wish that drives most of the events of the novel.

Adam is the next up in importance for the story. He's the kid attending the private school on a partial scholarship and he works at a factory to help cover the costs of his education. His family life is a wreck and he wears his insecurities about his background like a bad chip on his shoulder. He works to help Gansey with the quest because they're friends but Adam wants more than anything to be able to walk up to their group of Raven Boys and feel that he is their equal above anything else. Ronan and Noah are both interesting in their own right but there isn't as much detail about these boys when their stories are compared to what is given on Gansey and Adam. Ronan is the troubled rebel, struggling with the tragedy of his father's recent death and who is at risk of getting kicked out of Aglionby Academy. Noah is the quietly calm type of student. He's unassuming, a constant presence around his friends, and an admirer of Blue. Together with Ronan, he rooms with Gansey in a refurnished factory apartment. These two boys have additional secrets, some that are revealed in this book and others will hopefully be explored throughout the rest of the series. Anything more said about them will be spoilers so I'll stop here.

The somewhat "villain" of the story is explored but there's not enough detail given about their circumstances for the character to really be considered the antagonist of the book, at least to me. I get that they were essentially the "bad guy" of the plot but compared to the revelations of the rest of the novel, I didn't get as much of an emotional impact concerning their background and present actions in the book. Instead, I was more focused on Blue and the Raven Boys' quest than the possibility that there was an active threat hanging around the edges of their world.

Overall, a very respectable read. It's the first release of a new series so if you find yourself a fan of the book, know that there will be an additional 3 novels in the future to finish out the series, which is currently known as The Raven Cycle.

Rating: 8 Stars

As I stated at the start of the review, I've read ALL of Maggie Stiefvater's books. Each one has been a favorite of mine but if I had to be completely honest, I'd say this book is one of her best. When I finished reading this book I immediately went to Stiefvater's website and blog to find news about the sequel to this book. Here's to waiting with bated breath over the next year until the sequel to the very respectable The Raven Boys is finally released.

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