(This review originally appeared in Viewpoint: On Books for Young Adults – Summer 2013)
Maggie Stiefvater is a world-renowned author, well-known for her speculative-fiction series, the Shiver trilogy, the Books of Faerie, and her stand-alone novel, The Scorpio Races. The Raven Boys is the first in a new series, The Raven Cycle, and by-and-large, it’s a great read, full of suspense, intrigue and adolescent angst – and I don’t mean that in a bad way.
Blue Sargent comes from a long line of fortune-tellers, but she does not have the gift. Blue lives with her Mum, aunts and cousins in a big, old house on Fox Way, and her predicted future is always the same: Blue Sargent will kill her first true love. Early in her life Blue is really worried about this, but as she gets older the answer to this problem becomes clear. The tarot cards are just playing cards, the predictions are alcohol-fuelled speculation, and the prediction doesn’t matter.
“She knew better, though. The predictions that came out of 300 Fox Way were unspecific, but undeniably true. Her mother had dreamed Blue’s broken wrist on the first day of school. Her aunt Jimi predicted Maura’s tax return to within ten dollars. Her older cousin Orla always began to hum her favorite song a few minutes before it came on the radio.”
By the time that Blue is sixteen, she has decided that to beat the curse “she will never fall in love”.
Blue does have a gift, of sorts. She is able to amplify the range of the abilities of her psychic relatives, and she accompanies her mother to the churchyard every St. Mark’s Eve to see the spirits of those who are to die in the coming year. Blue cannot see the spirits, but her gift allows Maura to speak to the dead, which in turn allows Maura to share their names with the locals and warn them of their impending death, sort of a community service to the town of Henrietta. But on St. Mark’s Eve this year, for the first time, Blue sees a spirit and “there are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve… Either you’re his true love…or you killed him.”
Henrietta is host to a grammar school, Aglionby Academy, which is “the number one reason Blue had developed her two rules: One, stay away from boys, because they were trouble. And two, stay away from Aglionby boys, because they were bastards.” Aglionby is a school for rich, rich, rich boys – boys that drive “cars that speak German”. Dick Gansey III (known simply as Gansey), Rohan and Noah live together in Gansey’s apartment – a converted factory – and the last of the quartet, Adam, might as well live there as he spends barely anytime at his own home. Each of the boys is a misfit of sorts, and secrets abound.
Blue works at the local pizza shop, Nino’s, and it is here that she meets the boys for the first time, when Gansey clumsily tries to introduce her to Adam. Feeling insulted and furious, Blue vows never to having anything more to do with the Raven Boys. But the best laid plans…
Gansey is on a mission to discover whether Henrietta is the site of any ley lines – lines of power that lie deep in the earth, lines which hold spirits and magic, and which Gansey is determined to find and control. He is assisted by his friends, each of whom brings a special gift or talent – Rohan, who is a whiz at Latin, despite his distain for attending school; Noah, who is steadfast and supportive, and Adam, who is a thinker, and can see the path beneath the clues. There is one more person they need, a fifth person – Blue – to clear the way to finding an answer.
Stiefvater is an excellent writer. Her stories are highly addictive and her characters are authentic and interesting. The plot of this novel is quite convoluted and includes elements of Celtic myth and ritual, family, psychic powers, spirit worlds, death and love. Even after two readings, there are still questions unanswered, although on the second reading I noticed many of the clues that I had previously just read right over the top of. There are a number of recurring themes – the number five has particular significance – but as this is part one of three there is still a lot of story to come.
Blue is a terrific character. She is strong in herself, but with only females in her house, and an absent father, her experience with boys and men is not good, and her experience with the rich, rude Aglionby boys has been all bad. Blue doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere. She has no psychic skills, she is not pretty, and she doesn’t shine at school. Blue has a talent for making interesting clothes out of second-hand finds, she is independent, and she loves her family of magical women, but until the boys arrive with their quest, she has no real friends or passion.
Gansey is everything that Blue is not – confident, rich and with a ‘born to rule’ manner that is both his shield and his barrier. His passion, or more accurately, his obsession, is what binds the group together, and it is the thread that links all the disparate parts of the story and its characters.
Stiefvater’s writing has appeal across ages, and I am eagerly awaiting the next installment in this series, as is my 17-year-old daughter. Another quality effort.