The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Cycle #1
Release Date: September 18th, 2012 (UK)
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Cycle #2
Release Date: September 17th, 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
Okay, this review is kind of a two for one deal, because I read both The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves within a week of each other, despite having had the former lounging around on my bookshelves for almost a year. The reason for this was that I had read Stiefvater’s Shiver series and… I hadn’t been all that impressed, if I’m honest. I actually think that was more my fault than Stiefvater’s, because while her prose was beautifully lyrical, I just didn’t like either the story or the characters (Sam and Grace, oh honeys, I wish I could like you but you were just so terribly dull tbh), which was more a personal reason rather than a literary one. The Raven Cycle series however, is right up my street, and I’m going to tell you all why:
Let me start by telling you what not to pay attention to. See that blurb up there ^ ? Yeah, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain anything written on the back of these novels, because they’re so far off base I’m like 98% certain it’s slander. These books are not about some dippy romance between a cursed girl and some uptight boy. There is romance in these books, of course, but Stiefvater does what a lot of YA authors manage to miss entirely – she keeps the romantic elements as sidelines to the plot. These books have magic, ancient mythology, mystery, a little bit of horror and a lot of what the heck is going on in much more volume than the romances, which is how everything should always be in my opinion. Four for you, Maggie.
Now let me tell you a little bit about the characters, and I’m going to start with Blue Sargent, because Holy Hell did I need a female character like this in my life. There are so many facets to this girl that even after two books worth, I feel like I am still only scratching the surface when it comes to knowing her. She’s slightly vain and she knows it, she’s a bit of a raging feminist and does not care, she’s insecure about her place in life and her family and yet loves them dearly, she’s sensible and yet strong willed when it comes to doing what she wants, she’s hilarious in a deadpan and sarcastic way, and despite her insecurities and her lack of experience with boys and general social interactions outside of her family, she knows exactly how she should be treated and won’t stand for anything less. She’s also occasionally slightly irritating, because we as readers know that her snap judgments of the boys aren’t correct, which is wonderful. In short, she is perfect, and all female characters should be this complicated and weird and wonderful, because that’s what us girls are. Basically, if you don’t love Blue, you’re wrong okay? Okay.
I should also tell you a little bit about her family, mainly because they’re all women. Need me to say it again? THEY’RE ALL WOMEN. Yep, Blue has an extended family made up of her mother and her two best friends, and various aunts and cousins, who all live under the same roof together. And they’re all psychic. Yep. The characters with all the power in this series are the women. Maggie I love you.
Okay, now for the boys. Although there are four of them, only three of them ever get their own narrative point of view, so I’ll concentrate on those. First of all, there is Gansey or, Richard Gansey III. Yeah, he’s rich. He comes from old Virginia money, complete with parents in politics and a sister who owns a helicopter. But, don’t let that put you off! Because he knows this about himself; he knows that he came into this world with advantages that others didn’t, he knows that there are some things that he just can’t connect with other people over because of this, and the way he goes about rectifying this imbalance between himself and his friends is at once respectful and selfless.
Then there is Adam Parrish, who lives at the other end of the Gansey money spectrum. Yeah, this is the poor boy with the scholarship to the fancy school trope, except in the way that he totally isn’t. He works hard to be where he is, and he has myriad confidence issues and an inferiority complex a mile wide, and the insistence that he won’t accept any pity from anyone is so vehement, that you’ll find it hard to pity him as a reader, just in case you piss him off.
And now we come to my personal favourite, who is basically the embodiment of every character trait that I adore and then some. His name is Ronan Lynch, and he comes from slightly newer money than Gansey, as his father was an Irish self made man. Ronan is… damaged, irreparably broken beyond repair, and his sadness is an almost tangible thing, especially in The Dream Thieves, in which his point of view becomes more prevalent. He’s also cruel, mean to almost every other character he interacts with. He doesn’t ever lie, but then he doesn’t have to; he knows how to wield the truth with the accuracy of a just-sharpened blade. But if you prove yourself worthy of his time, then he’s loyal, and he will follow you wherever you’d want to lead him for whatever reason. He’s also terrified, of a number of things; of who and what he is; that he won’t grow to be the man his father wanted him to be; that he will and it’s not who he’s supposed to be; that he’ll disappoint people; that the person he wants to be won’t be accepted. And he can be unbelievably kind and sweet, and when it happens, it comes from so far out of left field that hardly anybody even notices that it happened at all.
Oh, and he’s gay. Yes, ladies and gents, in a world where women have the power and the main female character is as complex as any woman you would meet on the street, we also have queer representation hallelujah praise Jesus. It’s also equal, with as much weight given to his romantic feelings as there is for the way Blue and the other boys all feel and, I feel I should reiterate this point: absolutely none of it has any bearing on the plot.
I could tell you a bit about the plot, talk about ley lines and corpse roads and weird forests but I really wouldn’t do it any justice. I will just say that the bad guys are all remarkably well fleshed out, with not a single one ending up being just a cookie cutter Bad Guy. They all have their reasons for why they do what they do, and they’re all sympathetic in their own way, which I adore. Suffice to say that there’s a lot of magic and mysticism, mysteries and ancient kings, and it’s all weaved together with Stiefvater’s incredible imagery and lyrical prose. When I read her words, I can feel myself sinking into the humidity of a hot Virginia summer, hear the insects buzzing and feel the heat of the sun on my face, and the juxtaposition of the supernatural elements hidden amongst all of this makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and gives me literal goosebumps. The way she writes is almost too beautiful to be just prose – it’s also poetry.
The only bad thing I have to say is about the ending of the first book, because it feels very abrupt, as though a piece was literally just chopped off the end, which is why it dropped a star for me. I find it very distasteful when a book jumps from the climactic showdown to a brief roundup of what happened to the characters afterwards, and The Raven Boys did exactly that, which was very unfortunate. It also has the worst last line I think I have ever read in a first installment of a series:
(the rest removed because of spoilers), because what? How is now a good time to tell us anything? Are you high? That’s not a hook for the sequel, that’s a sharp left turn into What The Fuck’sville. Thankfully, the ending to The Dream Thieves is far more subtle, as the cliffhanger is at least connected to what has been going on with the rest of the book. There’s also a nice bit of symmetry going on with the prologue and the epilogue, which the literary buff in me appreciated.