Review: The Raven Boys

I am not, by and large, a cynical reader—I dive into most books with an expectation of being reasonably entertained, and generally, I am. Occasionally, a book blows me away—Code Name Verity is the last book that I recall that did—but now I can add Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys to that list. When the last page was done, I just sat back and basked in the ride it took me on. By blurb alone, I probably would not have picked this book up, but people I trust kept saying I should, and I’m thankful for them.

Raven Boys cover art

The Raven Boys

Protagonist Blue Sargent, raised in a bustling household of psychic and clairvoyant women, has grown up with the prediction that she will cause her true love to die; on the night of St. Mark’s Eve, she sees the spirit of Gansey, the boy who is either her true love, or whom she will kill. Gansey, for his part, is on an obsessive quest to find the long-slumbering Welsh King Glendower. Alone, these might well make for an interesting story, but what breathes life into are all the supporting characters—Blue’s hectic household with its eccentric characters and Gansey’s group of friends, the titular Raven Boys, so named for the wealthy private school they attend.

The characters spring to life so quickly, their personalities so quickly made distinct and colorful in deft strokes. I could see them so clearly in my mind’s eye as I read, with all the wonderful details that made them human and memorable. Blue’s grounded sensibility in spite of a concerted effort at cultivating a reputation for quirkiness (like younger me, or, I suppose, many other teens dearly wanting to be an original), Gansey’s inadvertent and often annoying shows of privilege, Noah’s quiet gestures, Ronan’s gentle side lurking beneath the pugilistic exterior, Adam’s fierce and stubborn pride—they all felt so real, flawed and sometimes fragile and human. The connections they form also felt real, sometimes conflicted but always genuine, with a sense of inevitability to the whole thing that somehow just works.

The magic in The Raven Boys is also fascinating. Its existence is treated so matter-of-factly and from so early on in the story, my inner skeptic didn’t have time to pipe up with an argument. And I’m glad for it–before I knew it, that magic manifested into truly wondrous things that surprised and awed me, leaving me mulling over them long after I’d closed the book. At one big reveal, I had to ask my husband if he had any intention of reading it, and if not, could I rave to him about that cool Thing that just happened? Oh, and that plot twist that caught me unaware but that I could see the clues for once it was revealed? And that last line, amiright? I was babbling about it for a few days, honestly. If this taste of magic is only the beginning, I’m dying to know what else is now possible in the rest of the books (I already have the sequel, The Dream Thieves, checked out).

Alongside the friendship and wonder, I also have to give props to the writing itself—it was full of delicious turns of phrase, wonderful bits of description, and some downright charming word choices. We’re not talking long descriptive paragraphs, just well-chosen details that brought the rest to life. I suppose this is as good a place as any to give props to audiobook reader Will Patton for his beautiful delivery, the languid drawl with which he delivered it suiting the tale perfectly. I will probably continue this series in audio form for the telling alone.

I loved it all. As much as I try to analyze why The Raven Boys worked so well, what I walked away from it with was a more emotional-level satisfaction. I think that’s what it comes down to—emotional resonance. For all the magic and wonder it invoked, it felt true. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

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