Monday, December 24, 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Since childhood, Blue Sargent has been warned that if she kisses her true love, he will die.  She's long since convinced herself that she wouldn't fall in love--therefore avoiding the problem.  

Every April, on St. Mark's Eve, Blue stands in a chilly churchyard beside her clairvoyant mother, waiting for the spirits of the soon-to-be-dead to appear.  Since she didn't inherit her family's predictive powers, Blue has never seen any of these ghostly figures on St. Mark's Eve--until this year, when a boy steps into the moonlight and speaks to her.  His name is Gansey.  Her mother and aunts all insist that there are only two reasons that a non-psychic would see a spirit on St. Mark's Eve: either he is her true love or she will kill him sometime this year.  For Blue, both explanations seem equally possible.  Even worse, Blue soon learns that the mysterious Gansey is a Raven Boy--a student at the town's exclusive boys' school.  And Blue has always had a rule about the rich, trouble-making Raven Boys: stay away from them.  

But when their paths actually cross, Blue can't help feeling drawn to Gansey and his rag-tag group of strange, secretive, and devoted friends.  There's Adam, the scholarship student struggling with his resentment of the privilege surrounding him;  Ronan, the volatile boy constantly swinging between fury and despair; and Noah, the  mostly silent observer who sees and knows much more than he'll ever share.  And at the center is Gansey, whose seemingly ideal life hides a passionate longing for something greater--and whose charisma has drawn the others into an obsessive quest tracking hidden ley lines in the Virginia mountains to find the resting place of a long dead, wish-granting Welsh king.  Soon, despite her mother and aunts' warnings, Blue joins the boys' quest, growing more and more entangled in the strange and sinister fate pulling them together.

Whew! What a delicious and utterly spellbinding new novel!  Since I first encountered Maggie Stiefvater's writing in Shiver, her first Wolves of Mercy Falls novel, I've admired her many unique talents.  I've found that her work frequently stands out for its strong sense of place and its atmospheric quality.  I read Shiver in the middle of summer but quickly felt enfolded in a midwestern winter;  I remember feeling surprised to look up from the pages and see sweat-inducing sunshine outside instead of downy snowflakes.  Her bestselling Scorpio Races had one of the most intriguing and fully formed settings I've read recently.  Additionally, however, Maggie also creates incredibly rich characters--and portrays their complex relationships with each other with great accuracy.

The Raven Boys combines all these elements to create a compelling tale that plumbs the depths of human connection and emotion, exploring love, death, longing, and friendship.  While the town of Henrietta and the Blue Ridge Mountains stand out as intriguing settings, it is the characters that dominate this novel.  From the creative, doubtful, and fierce Blue and her house full of odd, loving psychic women to intellectual, earnest, oblivious, and passionate Gansey and his crew of loyal misfit Raven boys, each character is fully fleshed out and utterly believable.  I especially enjoyed getting into the heads of Blue, Gansey, and Adam, whose conflicted and tangled relationships with each other reveal fascinating and heart-wrenching truths about friendship, attraction, and social class.  The magical elements feel natural in the environment and world Stiefvater has created and enhance the characters' intertwined stories rather than distract from them.  Her language also continues to be poetic; The Raven Boys is a well-crafted and elegantly written novel.          

Reading The Raven Boys was a wonderful experience; from the moment I began reading, I was immediately immersed in the world and the lives of these characters and when I finished the last chapter, I wanted to go back to the beginning and jump right back in.  I'm very glad that The Raven Boys is a series opener because while I felt satisfied upon completing this novel, I am definitely not ready to leave Blue, Gansey, Adam, and the others behind yet.  I would (and have) highly recommend this novel to a variety of fantasy fans--and perhaps even readers who simply enjoy a rich tale.