Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

“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.” – Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys

First read 11/30/2019 – 12/5/2019      //       4.5/5 stars

It’s no surprise that I’m a huge fan of fantasy novels. I love everything about them; the fantastically eerie settings, the roots in folklore, the paranormal, and the unmistakable feeling of magic. Man, do I love the magic. So, all things considered, I was very surprised that it took me this long to pick up The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Theoretically, it has everything I could ever want in a fantasy novel, and, though it could have gone so wrong, it did not disappoint.

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Let me say first that I did not expect to enjoy this book. Being published around 7 years ago, I thought that, by now, I would have definitely outgrown this book. *Psst, past me, you were wrong, you’ll probably never outgrow YA and I’m sorry. Also thank you for buying the book despite your misgivings. I owe ya.* In fact, since writing this review, I have read it twice in one month. Yes, I have zero shame.

The story begins with Blue, but it’s not just her story; it’s the story of Blue and her Raven Boys: Gansey, the fearless leader; Ronan, all beak and claws and sharp edges with a heart of gold; Adam, the would-be golden boy, downtrodden yet hopeful for his future; and Noah… Noah. More on that later. Stiefvater takes her readers along their quest to find a long-hidden secret in the mountains and forests of Henrietta, Virginia, where they find perhaps more secrets than they bargained for. While the main characters are embarking on this magical journey as a single unit toward one goal, each one of them are journeying as individuals, learning how to grow into the people they are destined to be. I found myself growing attached to these wonderfully flawed characters and rooting for them to have the happiness that they all deserved. This book definitely has more substance than meets the eye, and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy with some paranormal elements and a unique twist on the hero’s journey.

 

**This signals the end of the non-spoiler portion of this review. This is no longer safe territory. If you have read The Raven Boys and are interested in my thoughts, please keep reading! Otherwise, you have been warned, and you proceed at your own risk**

 

Oh boy, where do I begin? I have lots of thoughts. First thing, the plot of this book really caught me off guard in the best of ways: Our hero, Gansey, and his friends are on a search for the dead Welsh king, Owen Glendower, so that they may wake him and earn his favor after a brush with death seven years prior leaves Gansey with an all-consuming desire to find the mythical king who saved his life. Here comes the magic that I so desperately love to read. I love to see folklore woven into modern fiction, so I was thrilled to see a plot that revolved around something other than just a paranormal romance. Instantly, I knew that this book, if done well, would become a favorite of mine. Plot-wise, this was a win for me: creative and original, it kept me guessing, and loving it still even when my guesses were correct.

Another big selling point for me was the cast of characters. I was worried I would be faced with too many shallow characters that I wouldn’t be able to connect with. Boy, was I wrong. Let’s start at the top:

 

“She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.”

Blue Sargent. Frustratingly normal daughter of a clairvoyant mother, living in a house full of psychic women. I was worried that I would either find Blue too quirky in a trying-too-hard sort of way, or a Mary Sue. Blue has known for her entire life that she could not kiss her true love, or else he would die. This alone could have tipped the scales into “way too juvenile for my 23-year-old married self” if the romance had been at the forefront of the story. Instead, we see a Blue with a wonderfully fierce spirit who is determined to have normal, healthy relationships, fate be damned, and I LOVED that about her. While the prophecy is always in the back of her mind, Blue’s main focus is kinship and friendship, which we see in her honest familial interactions with her mother, Maura, as well as the other relatives she shares her home with, and the found family aspect with the Raven Boys, five people acting as one heart with one goal.

 

“The way Gansey saw it was this: if you had a special knack for finding things, it meant you owed the world to look.”

Richard “Dick” Campbell Gansey III. Known to his friends as just Gansey. I knew I would love him from his first introduction. Like the blurb suggested, he’s a character who seems to have it all; money, friends, security. But underneath it all, there’s also fear, and anxiety, and the always present possibility of death in the form of a fatal bee allergy. Gansey’s fervent devotion to finding Glendower made him so much more relatable to me. I don’t want perfect characters, I want characters who are obsessive of their passions, who are a little crazy, maybe, but that’s what makes them lovable, and Gansey was just that. I was rooting for him to find his king so that he could reconcile his past with his future. Also, I’m not blind, I loved seeing Gansey warm up to Blue and struggle with his feelings for her. I love a slow-burn romance, this one checked all of the boxes for me.

 

“I guess now would be a good time to tell you,” He said. “I took Chainsaw out of my dreams.”

Ronan Lynch. Be still, my beating heart. I did not think I would like Ronan Lynch, let along love him with all my heart by the end of it, but here we are. Ronan is the most complex character I’ve ever read. He’s makes no apologies for who he is; complicated, honest to a fault, terrifying, mostly, and deeply traumatized from the death of his father. It’s said many times how this Ronan is not the Ronan that Gansey knew before his father died, but Stiefvater does a wonderful job in showing us glimpses of the “old” Ronan, in how he attends mass every Sunday and carries around a baby raven because he knows she needs to be fed every two hours. It’s not at all difficult to see how these two sides of him coexist. Let’s not forget that Ronan is LITERALLY magical, seeing as how he pulled his pet raven from his dreams. He is magic. Ronan Lynch is an angel, and that’s all I have to say. I would die for him.

 

“Being Adam Parrish was a complicated thing, a wonder of muscles and organs, synapses and nerves. He was a miracle of moving parts, a study in survival.”

Adam Parrish. No one broke my heart in this book quite like Adam did. Unlike his friends, Adam is not wealthy, but to compensate, he works ten times as hard to prove himself to his friends, and to himself. I wasn’t a huge Adam fan at first, but when I found the reason for his defensive nature, my heart crumbled into a thousand tiny pieces , all crying for Adam Parrish. I’ve typed and deleted this sentence because I can’t form coherent thoughts about how wonderful this character is. Maybe I’ll update this when I have time to gather myself. Protect Adam Parrish at all costs.

 

“I’ve been dead for seven years,” Noah said. “That’s as warm as they get.”

Noah Czerny. Let’s get this out of the way, Noah is dead. Noah tells us in the first few chapters that he is dead, but when they discovered his several years dead body, I gasped so audibly that my husband thought something was genuinely wrong (and he was right). Finding out that Noah was murdered broke something in me that still hasn’t been repaired, and it may never be.

*cries for literally ever*

I don’t have too much to say about Noah yet, the shock of his death was so unexpected to me that I had to put the book down several times to contemplate my critical thinking skills, because it’s all there. I’m excited to follow up with his story is future reviews as his character progresses.

Some other thoughts that I jotted down during my re-read are as follows:

  1. Holy foreshadowing, Batman (if you know, you know).
  2. I love Ronan Lynch. That is all.
  3. Aside from Noah ACTUALLY telling us he’s dead, all of the clues are there. Wow. How did I not see this?
  4. Ronan listens to Irish pipes while feeding a baby bird. Amazing.
  5. Noah said, “Don’t throw it away.” And now I’m crying.
  6. Adam Parrish is an angel, no one talk to me.

 

I think that wraps up my review/rambling and mildly spoiler-y thoughts on the first book in The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. If you would like to add something, please leave me a comment, I would love to talk to someone about this book! Thanks for sticking with me. In the meantime, happy reading.

H.

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