There’s something stuck between your ribs—a sticky thump of adrenaline each time you miss a step. You’re running through a field of wheat stalks past an abandoned junker car, shoes unlaced, dusk settling around your shoulders like a shroud. The breath that mists in front of your lips burns like the incense in your mother’s palms. Your eyes are wide, full of fear and full of wonder. To your left resides a dead king. To your right lies a path of speaking trees. This isn’t the beginning or end of your story—this is the moment before the climax. And it feels that way throughout the entire ride.
Because this is The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater—a lesson in nostalgia and wanderlust.
And this scenario is exactly how I felt while reading her series.
“Aglionby Academy was the number one reason Blue had developed her two rules: One, stay away from boys because they were trouble. And two, stay away from Aglionby boys, because they were bastards.”
I read this series a while ago; in particular I read the first book a year ago. But I realized after recommending this book for the billionth time that my old, half-assed review couldn’t justify how I feel about this series. I’m sure this “new” review won’t either, but hey it was worth a shot.
Originally, this series caught my attention because of the affinity towards pagan lore and necromancy. It’s hard to come across a good ‘witchy’ book that doesn’t trail along the path of clichéd paranormal romance. The flirtation was so carefully constructed that I found myself whiplashing between friendships and intrigue. Maggie Stiefvater made her characters strikingly potent and dynamic. I could sympathize with them all and understand their individual quests in the grand scheme of the plot.They weren’t bland, they were vibrant. And no matter how many main protagonists there were, each one was unique and maintained that vibrancy.
Blue Sargent isn’t the typical carbon-copy of a YA heroine. She butchered the hell out of her hair, dresses like she sieged a thrift shop with a pair of knives, and speaks her mind freely with little remorse or patience for ignorance. She’s quirky, and has moments where she appears vulnerable, but if you get on her bad side she’s quite a force to deal with. Her sass is astounding, as is her huge role as a feminist (and she doesn’t let the other four MALE protagonists forget that). Blue comes from an incredibly dynamic home of psychics, all of whom have told her that if she were to kiss her true love…he would die. Blue doesn’t let this bother her as much as the fact that she cannot see the future as the rest of her family can. She has incredible potential but is lost as to where she should/can begin. In this, I think we can all relate to Blue to some degree. I thought she was strong in a way that I’d never read about before.
Although the characters are built in their own autonomous ways, that was largely due to Stiefvater’s writing. On the contrary, they all need one another in some peculiar way or another. I can’t say much on this because then I’d be giving away huge spoilers, but there does come a play on energy vs. necromancy in which two characters desperately need one another (not in a romantic way, mind you). Although seemingly about a group of high school friends attending the prestigious Aglionby Academy in Henrietta, VA and the non-psychic girl they befriend after she nearly cut off the balls of one of their friends for insinuating that she was a prostitute…this book also has:
1. Dead Welsh Kings
4. Speaking Trees
5. A Moving Forest
6. Ley Lines
7. Magical Black Market
8. Star/Tree People
9. A Boy Who Can Pull Things Out of His Dreams
10. A Raven Named Chainsaw
11. Hipster Loft Apartment
12. Plant Aesthetic
And so, so much more.
I’ll admit that the writing is a little strange. It’s probably one of the biggest reasons some people say that they couldn’t get into the first book—because Stiefvater’s writing style, although following all the guidelines and being grammatically correct, is a bit peculiar. Personally, I thought it went nicely with the flow of the story. Once you get half way through the first book, you’ll be so accustomed to her style that you’ll expect that Fanfiction to be written in Stiefvater-eqsuq diction. It’s fast-paced, but has a choppy flow that will eventually fade into the back of your mind because the plot of this book will overshadow everything else.
Speaking of plot—The Raven Boys took a few chapters to really turn the cogs in the grand scheme of the story. The phrase “and so the plot thickens” doesn’t exactly come into context until…well, until the last quarter of the novel. For some this may be a problem, but for me I honestly didn’t mind much because I was too focused on the character development of these amazing teens. Much of the first book is spent introducing us to their ways of life, their struggles, and the relationships they have with the other four members of this mini cult. Bear in mind that there are four books in this series. I promise you, the plot quickens/thickens in the sequel. Especially after the cliffhanger ending in the first book! (Don’t skip to the last page. You’ll want to experience every last drop of it chronologically.)
There’s something about this particular book series that takes me back to a time I’d thought I’d forgotten about. No, I wasn’t off chasing dead kings with a group of tightly-knit school boys or drag racing with a ghost ridding shotgun. But the ambiance of this series can be summed in with one word: nostalgia. These books will definitely make you feel bitter-sweet, and adventurous.
Fans of mystery, folklore, and fantasy will love this one. And now that the whole series is published, you can read the first novel without fearing a year-long wait for the other books! Now if only they would turn this into a TV show.