Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I often feel left out of the readerly loop. Yes, I read a lot, but I seem to read differently from everyone else. For example, I often hear others say they’ll refuse--absolutely refuse--to continue a book that doesn’t entrance them from the very beginning. "It had damned well better hook me from the first line," a friend once told me. "Otherwise, I'm out."

If I read this way, I’d never finish anything. In my entire life, I’ve found exactly eight books that hooked me from the first word and managed to keep me hooked straight through to the end1. The rest of them took anywhere from twenty to two hundred and fifty pages to really pull me in2.

I’m a suspicious reader, to put it mildly. I don’t give my love lightly. Hell, I don’t even fully commit to sequels right off the bat, just in case the quality’s slid downhill between volumes.

The good news, though, is that my wee First Word Love list contained only seven books before I read (or, rather, listened to) THE RAVEN BOYS. Hurray for new additions!

I’ve been hearing about Maggie Stiefvater’s work for years and years, but it wasn’t until Lu of Regular Rumination told me about her fabulous experience with THE RAVEN BOYS on audio that I decided I had to give the lady a try. When the publisher offered the audiobook for free through SYNC last summer, I snatched it right up.

Then I sat on it while I finished my Ellen Kushner relisten and blasted through STARDUST before my library copy expired. I can be quick to acquire things that interest me, but I’m not always quick to read (or listen) to them.

Once I made time for it, though, I fell hard for THE RAVEN BOYS. The moment narrator Will Patton intoned the first line, I was sunk.

Blue Sargent is the only non-psychic in her clairvoyant family, and for as long as she can remember, she’s been told she’s destined to kill her true love with a kiss. Eep. Understandably, heterosexual Blue shies away from getting close to boys--until she meets the spirit of Gansey, a boy who attends her town’s elite boarding school. The kicker is, Gansey’s not dead yet--and the only way Blue could have seen such a premonition is if she’s the one who kills him.

Present-day, very-much-alive Gansey is on a quest to find the tomb of an ancient, immortal Welsh king who grants his favour to whoever wakes him. When he and his friends consult Blue’s mother for information that might help them achieve their goal, Blue is drawn into their group, armed with the knowledge that the boy she quickly comes to like and respect has less than a year to live.

Friends, I loved it so damned much. Stiefvater’s writing is glorious--we’re talking mind-scorching levels of beauty here--and Will Patton’s narration is spot on. He initially threw me for a loop because he sounds a good deal older than I expected him to, but he does such a fabulous job of gifting each character with their own unique voice that I soon forgot I’d ever had reservations. I could’ve listened to his performance all day.

Hell, I did listen to his performance all of a couple of days.

Stiefvater limns her characters with great skill, imbuing each with a distinct personality and a fully realized story that informs everything they do. What we see on the page is clearly just the entry to a vast cavern filled with joys, sorrows, and secrets. Everyone's motivations are solid, and the ways their perspectives stand at odds to those of every other character add a fascinating leve of tension to the proceedings. THE RAVEN BOYS never feels anything less than entirely real, entirely earned, and entirely organic.

It’s an understatement to say I became deeply involved with each of the POV characters, or that I longed to know more about the secondary characters who inhabit the edges of their lives.

I love, too, how Stiefvater never falls back on the expected route. She initially appears to embrace certain archetypes, but she soon tears them down as she presents her characters as people, first and foremost. Gansey’s affluent upbringing has influenced his worldview, yes, but he’s more than just the Golden Boy. The same is true of Adam, his local friend, who isn't simply the Poor One who’s fought his way up. Blue herself defies every attempt to turn her into The Girl, or some sort of manic pixie creature--she’s had an unconventional life which she's attempted to render even quirkier, but this isn't her defining characteristic.

While the story seems tailor-made to drive Blue and Gansey together quick and fast, Stiefvater defies expectations there, too. Blue connects not with Gansey but with Adam. I liked this very much, particularly because it sets everyone up to change a great deal as they continue their quest. They’ve wandered into a psychic landscape where time isn’t quite so linear as it might be, and their glimpses of the future are tantalizing in the extreme.

As much as I loved the audiobook, I sometimes wished I’d read THE RAVEN BOYS in print just so I could more easily binge on it. As it stood, I had to invent a pressing need to bake all the things so I’d have more listening time. It was worth it; I ended up with a freezer full of baked goods for the holidays3, and I spent most of my baking time vibrating with excitement because I was so durned happy about what I was listening to.

Damn, y’all. I feel like I haven’t said nearly enough, but what it all boils down to is that I loved this. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. It entranced me, delighted me, surprised me, and occasionally moved me to tears. I resisted the urge to dive straight into THE DREAM THIEVES only through a supreme exertion of will2.

I strongly urge you to seek it out as soon as you possibly can. This sort of fiction deserves an enormous readership.


While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read THE RAVEN BOYS, you can try:

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the book through Kobo, The Book Depository, Amazon, or Audible. I get an extra month of Scribd if you sign up for a two-month free trial.

  1. The master list, in more or less the order I read them:

    THE BLACK TULIP by Alexandre Dumas
    FOOL’S ERRAND by Robin Hobb
    SWORDSPOINT by Ellen Kushner
    SANTA OLIVIA by Jacqueline Carey
    THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater

  2. Though of course I was interested prior to that. I almost never give a book a shot unless it sounds interesting, though I do occasionally pick things up simply because a friend has told me to.

    Sometimes, too, I'll also fall in love with a book's first line but slide out of the story soon after that. An awesome first line does not always guarantee an awesome reading experience.

  3. For which my family was grateful. I set out a pretty great sweet table after Christmas dinner, if I do say so myself. We had Jamaican spice cookies, chocolate caramel crackers, salted butter toffee, brown sugar shortbread, gingerbread people, gingerbread loaf, Mars Bar square, iced pepper cookies, peanut butter crispy balls, chocolate hazelnut ice cream, and coffee meringues stuffed with whipped cream and drizzled in Frangelico caramel sauce. My aunt also brought an assortment of delicious tarts and suchlike from a local bakery. It was epic and awesome and there were so many leftovers, even after I'd made everyone stuff a takeaway box.

  4. This was sort of masochism and sort of practicality. I wanted to focus on la TBR in December so I could start 2014 with as few unread volumes as possible. Since THE DREAM THIEVES wasn’t already on la TBR, I had to add it instead of taking something away. So I figured I’d do best to read another couple of books I already owned before I dove in.

    Once I'd done that, though, it was straight on through to the other side. We'll talk about it two weeks from today.


  1. Posts like this make me so glad you're blogging again <3 I know just what you mean about everything being organic and earned. And I can't wait to hear your thoughts on The Dream Thieves (RONAN OH MY HEART).

    1. My review of THE DREAM THIEVES is basically, "RONAN RONAN LOTS OF STUFF ABOUT RONAN YAY RONAN oh I guess I'd better talk about everyone else too okay then."

    2. YES THIS. I feel the same way as Ana, Memory.

  2. *sigh* Another book I will want to listen to on audio. I am getting too many of those lately. I own it in paperback, but, well... Everyone says the audio is good!

    I liked the fairy duology by her, was meh about her werewolves, and have heard good things about The Scorpio Races, etc but haven't read them yet. I got The Scorpio Races on e-book because it was a deal around Christmas so hopefully I will get to it soon.

    1. The audio is fabulous!

      I have the first werewolf book on audio, since Sync offered it a year or two ago. People seem divided on the series, but I'm still looking forward to it on the strength of THE RAVEN BOYS. And I've heard so many good things about THE SCORPIO RACES that I intend to make that one a priority in the near future.

  3. I had such a hard time articulating why this book was so awesome - I feel like I did such a bad job of it, but just kept telling people, "THIS THE AUDIOBOOK LISTEN OMG." Why do I have a blog again? And the only reason I downloaded it was because I thought it was another book! Anyway, I'm SO GLAD there are folks like you and Renay out there to explain why this book is awesome, other than Will Patton's voice is the dreamiest, which was about as critical as I got. I especially love what you say about how Stiefvater subverts archetypal characters by expanding them beyond what you expect and the same is true of the plot. NOTHING is resolved in the first book and that was totally fine with me.

    1. I'm eternally grateful to you for putting this on my radar. Friends who give solid recommendations are the best. <3

      I don't mind the lack of resolution, either. In fact, part of me would be perfectly happy with a whole string of books without proper resolutions, if only because it means the series isn't over yet.