Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book Review - The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater

I was really afraid I was getting into a romance with this one. I’m a little romance-weary when it comes to teen lit, and I’m especially done with paranormal romance; I can happily live out the rest of my days without reading another book involving a girl’s forbidden interspecies love with a vampire, werewolf, ghost, zombie, angel, orc, mummy, leprechaun, or any other miscellaneous creature of the night. Stiefvater’s Mercy Falls series fits that bill, which is why I’ve never read any of her work until now. As it turns out, I’ve been doing myself a disservice. Stiefvater is an excellent writer, and this a taut and fantastic book.

The story of Raven Boys follows two distinct households. Blue Sargent has grown up in a loud and eccentric household of psychics in rural Henrietta, Virginia. She can’t see the future, but she seems to amplify the extrasensory powers of those around her. Ever since she was born, she has carried the burden of an ominous prophecy: if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. As a result, she’s carefully cultivated a veneer of solitary weirdness, content in her own eccentricity. Meanwhile, across town, Richard Gansey III continues a longstanding eccentricity of his own: hunting for the final resting place of the mythical Welsh king Glendower. He is a Raven Boy, one of the well-heeled princelings that attend the prestigious Aglionby Academy. He methodically searches for traces of old magic with three fellow students: surly Ronan, studious Adam, and inscrutable Noah. Blue is thrown in with this motley crew through a twist of fate: one of them may be the true love of her prophecy, and despite the warnings of her family, she can’t help but be drawn into their quest. However, they are not the first people to try and wake the magic that lays sleeping in Henrietta, and the stakes become much higher when others around them realize what they are doing.

The book defied pretty much every expectation I had of it. Instead of being a romance, it was an ensemble piece that deftly examines class differences and the profound effects that ripple out from broken family lives. There isn’t any hand-holding when it comes to the paranormal aspect of the book; the reader is dropped right into the quest for ley lines and ancient wish-granting kings, and catches up by way of fascinating little bits of expositional trivia. The characters are charming, realistic, and an absolute joy to read. The story is pretty grim overall, but the heavier moments are balanced by plenty of humorous interludes and by the surprisingly homey feel of Blue’s oddball family.

The ending is a bit problematic, as this is very clearly the first volume of a pending series. However, Stiefvater avoids the common trap of using a cliffhanger to hook the reader. She does paste on a last-minute reveal, but for whatever reason it didn’t really put me off. The climax is a bit vague, but the most urgent plotline is resolved nicely, and the reader is left with few wildly waving loose ends that lead enticingly into the next volume.

This book was exquisitely enjoyable, and a very impressive series opener. The story is odd enough that I have trouble recommending it for a specific group outside of “teens” or “paranormal fans,” but I honestly liked it from cover to cover. It’s definitely worth a try.

Verdict: 5 / 5

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