Monday, 15 August 2016

Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys
Series: Raven Boys #1
Pages: 454
Publisher: Scholastic (UK)
Release date: 19th September 2012
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK

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Goodreads synopsis:
Even if Blue hadn't been told her true love would die if she kissed him, she would stay away from boys. Especially the ones from the local private school. Known as Raven Boys, they only mean trouble.

But this is the year that everything will change for Blue.

This is the year that she will be drawn into the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys. And the year Blue will discover that magic does exist.

This is the year she will fall in love.

The Raven Boys is one that I've been wanting to pick up for several years now, but for some reason it never made it to the top of the list. I started reading it at long last because I would be meeting Maggie at YALC and I wanted to have read some of her stuff before meeting her (she's lovely, by the way. If you have the chance to meet her, go do it!). That and I've had friends constantly telling me how much I would love her writing.
I was only a couple of chapters in when I could see just how right my friends were – I could tell early on that I was going to adore the Raven Boys!

The first thing I want to mention is not a criticism of the book (quite the opposite), but rather a criticism of its marketing. That tag line on the front cover there – "If you kiss your true love, he will die" – is a bit misleading. There isn't really a romance taking place in this first instalment of the series. It's more of an unlikely, but growing friendship between Blue, a psychic's daughter, and the Raven Boys (students at an elite private school in the same town). There is a suggestion of romance to come, but in this book at least, the sense of friendship is much stronger, and I really love that.

The relationships between the characters are written really well, and I think this is actually one of the strongest things about this book. At the beginning, the relationship between Blue and the Raven Boys is tenuous, but it grows stronger over time. I really enjoyed watching them get to know and trust and (platonically ... at the moment) love each other. And the relationship between each of the Raven Boys themselves are distinct and strong (and really made me want to hang out with them!). It was because of this that they felt real and genuine, which was fantastic and really made the story for me.

Another thing I really loved about this book is that it defied my expectations. For example, the Raven Boys, who are not described in the best light at the beginning of the book, turn out to be not at all like they are outwardly perceived. They are not all rich and privileged, as you might expect; different classes are represented; Gansey and Ronan being upper class and rich, and Blue and Adam being working class, with a healthier respect for the value of money. I liked the way class differences were discussed – not in a segregating manner where the rich look down on the poor, but rather contrasting friends from different backgrounds in a way that didn't totally separate them. It was Gansey who is unperturbed by the class difference and Adam who is bothered by his friend's flippancy when it comes to money.

Another defiance of expectation came in the form of the plot twists. On the whole, I didn't see the twists coming. But it wasn't just the last of predictability I liked, it was also the subtlety with which they are revealed (well it felt subtle to me, anyway). This book gives its secrets away reluctantly, so I feel like there is still plenty more to discover in the following books, but there was enough revealed in this first book to keep me glued to the page.

Blue's character was another thing I absolutely adored about this book. The first time she meets Gansey, there's no suggestion of any romance – or even any friendship – between them. Gansey is arrogant and presumptuous and Blue hands his ass to him. I love that she doesn't take any nonsense, especially from the boys, and I especially love that there is zero chemistry between them at the beginning.
Another thing I love about Blue is that although she is the main character, she is not the chosen one. She still plays a major role in the story (obviously, being the main character), but she is able to be special without being the one with the powers (she leaves that to her family of psychics). I'm also enjoying the mystery surrounding who her father is – I'm looking forward to seeing where that takes the story in later books.

Gansey's character, too, is complex and wonderful. He's a rich boy who doesn't understand the value of money and comes across as condescending and arrogant, but through the chapters from his point of view, we see that he doesn't mean to come across that way – he just sometimes doesn't consider how his words might sound, and that often gets him into all kinds of trouble (with friends, enemies and especially with Blue). I actually feel like I got to know Gansey a lot quicker than I got to know Blue, despite seeing things from her perspective more frequently at the beginning.

The final thing I wanted to mention is the magic system. The old-world feeling of the magic (with old Welsh kings, ley lines and psychics) gave the book a beautiful kind of folktale atmosphere in places. Old ruined churches, forests on a mountain and mysterious trees and clearings really add to the magic. It's a magic system that is recognisable (psychics are not a new idea, after all), but Maggie has given it a really unique twist, and I feel like there is much more to learn in the coming books.

I wasn't totally obsessed with The Raven Boys (not yet, anyway), but I was completely gripped. I feel like I will probably enjoy the books more and more as the series continues and the plot deepens further. I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle complexity of this story, the secrets it hordes, the distinct cast of characters (a quick mention to the psychic family and their eccentricities) and the deep sense of mystery flowing through its heart. I really can't wait to continue on with this series!


Kessie said...

I loved the first two books of this series. I somehow neglected to pick up book 3, and then book 4 seems to have fizzled. A lot of discontented reviews. I was expecting a certain twist, and what happened ... just didn't live up to the promises made in book 1 and 2. I don't know, I just feel like this series started strong and couldn't go the distance.

Dani C said...

Oh dear! That's not good news. I think I'm still going to give the series a read and see how I feel. I really hope that's not the case though!

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