The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

And Not A Stone Tell Where I Lie (review of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater)

The Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic 2012

As never seen in any good fairy tale, Blue must not ever kiss her one true love.  To do so would be to kill him.  A non-psychic in a family of future-tellers, Blue has known this fact for as long as she can remember and has spent her life avoiding almost everyone because of it.  On St. Mark’s Eve, she finds herself with her aunt, recording the names of the spirits her aunt sees, each of which denotes a life cut short over the course of the coming twelve months.  Suddenly, Blue hears a voice and sees the ghostly figure of a young man.  A Raven boy – student of Aglionby, a nearby private school.  Later, Gansey sits in his car desperate to find proof that the ley lines he searches for exist, yet all he hears on the recording he’s made over the evening is the voice of a girl asking his name.  Slowly, Blue and Gansey and his friends Adam, Ronan and Noah find themselves inextricably bound in the search for a source of great power, great promise and great danger.

Blue, surrounded by strong, eccentric, psychic women is certainly strong and working on being eccentric yet the only psychic ability she has is that of heightening whatever energy might be in the air, rather like a TV aerial. Her interactions with the Raven boys move from an initial distrust of their monied confidence to a slow-growing fondness. As she becomes involved in their quest, she realises that she may have finally found a place in which her own peculiar power is of use. Her fear of kissing disallows any real romance and the friendships she develops with the boys are a joy to read, as is her strong-will, her refusal to feel kowtowed by their wealth and her ability to both stand up to the strong women around her while also respecting them.

The Raven boys themselves are something else.  Gansey is one part old money to ten parts ancient wonder with a splash of existential angst thrown in for good measure.  He is at once entirely modern and entirely worthy of any aged myth - a man searching for something that will give his life meaning. For all his charm, he often wounds with his words and in a character who thinks so much about those around him it is a fascinating flaw.  While Gansey is the planet about which stars and moons whirl, each is as vital to the story as he is. Adam, bound inextricably to Gansey, comes from a poorer background and brings to the group a willingness to prove himself by whatever means possible.  He’s an intense and heartbreaking character whose tentative steps towards Blue seem doomed to failure.  Of them all, it is Adam who changes the most during the story yet ironically finds himself truly becoming what he has always been. 

Ronan is all sharp edges and wicked barbs, a boy bitter with grief yet unquestionably loyal to Gansey.  He is rarely pleasant and seems to actively dislike pretty much everyone yet Stiefvater cunningly gives him Chainsaw (a small, ignobly named yet, one suspects, awfully important character) making him a broken bird with a broken bird – a combination that will make your heart bleed for them both.  The final Raven boy, Noah, is an enigma. Hovering in the background, almost out of focus he seems oddly vital to Gansey. He appears only sporadically throughout the story but when he does, he draws the attention of all instantly.  Noah is a triumph in quiet storytelling and is entirely compelling.

The Raven Boys is a story set in the heart of Virginia yet steeped in Welsh myth. Gansey seeks a sleeping king, who will grant those who wake him one great favour and it is this goal that leads the characters to a magical yet terrifying place. Stiefvater weaves other figures into her tale with great skill. Blue’s extraordinary conglomerate of psychic women (who instantly brought to mind Stiefvater’s real life Sisters of Fate) hover, always a bit too aware of what lies ahead; a Latin teacher follows the search with a little too much interest and trees wait and watch and listen.  Stiefvater’s writing is astonishingly beautiful – the kind of writing that you slow down to read, savouring each and every word.  Her creation of Cabeswater is nothing short of stunning, immersing the reader in ancient magic and imbuing in them the same wonder her characters experience. 

The Raven Boys is a slow-burner, with Stiefvater using her own peculiarly unique writing style to create an inimitable atmosphere around her characters. She slowly trickles her story through cleverly created veils of words into a world that entirely absorbs the reader. Not since The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo (an incredible middle grade tale of ancient magicians, mad Welsh grandmothers, love, solace and loss) have I read a story that is so frighteningly magical.  With each book Maggie Stiefvater improves and The Raven Boys she has created a sprawlingly awesome start to what is surely an epic story.  Highly, highly recommended for all who love stories, words, myth and magic.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. The Raven Boys is published on 18th September, 2012. Many thanks to the phenomenal Donna from Books With Bite for queueing at BEA to get me a signed copy (not to mention posting in across the pond). Donna - you rock.


Kelley said…
Stiefvater says this is her favorite review of The Raven Boys, and I have to agree. Oh, you've made me want to read the book all over again!

THIS is what a book review should be. I hope, someday, I can write one as well as you. :)
Holly said…
Your writing is smart and beautiful. I've been waiting for the right time to start this, and think it is now. :)
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