Review of “The Raven Boys”
Blue Sargent always knew she would kill her true love. In Maggie Stiefvater’s paranormal fantasy “The Raven Boys” follows the story of Blue and her four friends from Aglionby Academy to find the lost tomb of Welsh King Glendower. The first in an upcoming series begins with Blue. She is the sightless daughter of a psychic who runs her business with other intuitive women out of her house in modern day Henrietta, Virginia. Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah must balance schoolwork of a pre-Ivy League high school and learning about ley lines, energy, and ancient designs. Before Blue meets the boys, she finds and reads Gansey’s lost journal and discovers his affiliation with the paranormal. Together, the team of five journey to a mysterious forest facing perils of a sacrificial ritual, other seekers, and relationships of love and anger. Embedded within their friendships hangs the looming premonition that Blue will kill her true love with a fatal kiss, known only by herself and her family. The novel develops Gansey and his relationships with his peers and focuses on characterization rather than advancing the myth and lore surrounding Glendower. It is a mistake to think this plot will progress like Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Stiefvater’s greatness comes from the interactions between complex characters dealing with complex social problems. The suspense takes a backseat to descriptions and emotional tension.
Stiefvater uses modern day Virginia as the setting for Blue and the Raven boys. The reader is only required to adjust to the paranormal activity that Blue and her family observe and translate. The mystery of tarot card readings, spiritual rituals, and death are common subjects to Blue. Gansey and his crew discover more about this world while accompanying the reader to familiarize him/her with such events as death marches and ghost chasing. The pacing of the plot is choppy and distracting. However, of the novel succeeds in displaying the relations between the boys as they struggle with social, fiscal, and familial responsibilities.
Stiefvater is known to use two characters intertwined in the plot to fuel complications. Her formula differs from “The Scorpio Races” by creating two characters from opposing backgrounds. She grants power to each of them in separate worlds.
Blue’s understanding of the magical realm comes from the psychics in her house. Henrietta is physically located on top of a ley line. Here the normal and paranormal are less divided, making it easier to tap psychic powers. Blue is not gifted with paranormal vision, but is an amplifier for those with powers to gain a clearer, louder, more vivid foresight. She interacts in the paranormal world, but is powerless and relies on her family for help and guidance. Unfortunately the novel does not explain her background entirely. Blue’s school life and father remain absent limiting her depth as a character. Her only human interactions are between the women at home and the Aglionby boys outside.
The novel excels in demonstrating how the males belonging to the one-percent struggle. Gansey subsides in the old rich, highly educated, elitist society. He struggles with his self-image and fights to be seen as more than his wealth. Gansey flips between a “troubled and passionate, with no discernible accent” teenager of aristocracy, to someone “bristled with latent power.” On the outside, he greets “people with the slippery, handsome accent of old Virginia money” destined to be a senator. Blue nicknames him “President Cell Phone” because of his elevated body language while doing something as mundane as taking a call.
The novel simulates the tension between the dominant and the subordinate. During a psychic reading, Blue describes the boy’s tangible effect on their environment. “They filled the hallway to overflowing, somehow, the three of them, loud, and male and so comfortable with one another they they allowed no one else to be comfortable with them.” Their gender made them “a pack of sleek animals armored with their watches and their Top-Siders and the expensive cut of their uniforms.” Blue feels their presence is a “weapon, somehow slicing” at her. She cannot resist the overbearing force of males. Blue has not learnt how to deal with masculinity in her home of all females. The novel grants Blue power over the boys by giving her experience and knowledge in the magical realm.
Gansey and Adam struggle for power and control to be an individual. Adam comes from a very poor background and works two jobs, sleeps very little, and deals with a physically abusive father to attend Aglionby. Gansey and Ronan pay for tuition through generations upon generations of family wealth. Their struggle is cliché. The poor man wants to make his own name without any help. The rich man wants to improve his world because he takes it on as his duty. Regardless, the understanding Gansey shows and the pain Adam endures, makes the experience palpable.
It should be noted the problems that arise do not have a clear and single answer. There is no suggestion of an answer and this motivates the reader to turn the page. Sorting out priorities and agendas of each character is the true plot arch.
The biggest problem of “The Raven Boys” is its resolution. The build up to Glendower feels secondary to the social issues, but the finale is so quick, incomplete, and unsettling that the reader feels betrayed for even caring about the plot. Glendower could have been entirely removed from the plot and the novel’s characterization and complications would have fueled the interest of readers. The plot distracted me from true brilliance of the novel. It is understandable why the novel needed to finish with some unresolvable ends since it kicks off the series. However, continuing the social drama would be preferred to the half-hearted search for a King and paranormal powers.