THE RAVEN BOYS (Book 1 in The Raven Cycle)
by Maggie Stiefvater
Why I Read It
I knew nothing about this book—literally had not heard of it—before I attended BEA this year. But on the first day of BEA as I was madly dashing through the booths and snatching up galleys and tote bags, I noticed a bunch of people crowded around this beautifully-stacked crescent of books. Deciding this was probably a sign of a popular book, I dove into the fray and emerged a few moments later with my ARC (advance reader copy) of The Raven Boys. It ended up being the first BEA ARC I decided to read. Honestly, I think I just liked the cover, but I was also curious to read a book by Maggie Stiefvater, since she’s such a big name these days and I hadn’t read any of her other stuff.
How I Read It
I commute to work daily, and the ride to Midtown Manhattan usually takes 20-30 minutes from my apartment. I started reading The Raven Boys on the way home after BEA. I had no particularly high hopes for it, and I just started it without bothering to read the jacket copy/blurbs, so I had no idea what it was about. But it hooked me from the very first page and subsequently became my default commute book. I even went so far as to deny myself the chance of reading it unless I was on a train or a subway platform.
What Is It About?
Click here to read the book description (if you must). In my opinion, though, the jacket copy doesn’t do it justice. Instead, here’s a collection of keywords (in no particular order) that will hopefully give you a better sense of what to expect:
Ravens (obviously), Welsh mythology, Owen Glendower, modern-day psychics (of the clairvoyant, tarot-card-reading variety), murder, deaths foretold, ghosts, ley lines, friendships (among boys, primarily), mother-daughter relationships, private schools, Latin, magic, rural Virginia, class/money distinctions and tensions, and romance (yes, just a little bit, and it’s very subtle and realistic).
What I Thought Of It
There is a reason that this is the first book I’ve chosen to review on my blog, and it isn’t just about it being my first BEA ARC read of the summer. I’m reviewing it first because I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a book so thoroughly on every level.
Let me explain what I mean by that.
As you may or may not know, I’m a fan of straightforward, no-nonsense prose. I’ll opt for interesting plotlines and interesting characters over interesting sentences just about any day, and it’s not because I don’t appreciate the latter. It’s just that, when it comes right down to it, books are about storytelling for me, and I have little patience for beautiful imagery and lush metaphors that don’t move the story forward. When a writer gets indulgent, I get bored.
When a writer can pull off stunning imagery WHILE developing interesting characters and a forward-moving plot…I am putty in that writer’s hands. That’s what happened with this book. I am utterly serious in saying that I have not encountered something that so effortlessly merged beautiful writing with character and plot since I read His Dark Materials back in 5th grade. And guys, in case you didn’t know, The Golden Compass is one of my favorite books. Like, ever. So this is not a comparison I make lightly. Reading The Raven Boys, I found myself pausing on nearly every page to just admire a particular turn of phrase. It’s not really the sentences themselves that are beautiful so much as the absolute precision with which Stiefvater nails an endless variety of images, feelings, and moments of interaction between human beings. I won’t try to quote things at you because I think most of them draw power from their contexts (besides which, my copy is an uncorrected proof and thus may be subject to change before the publication date), but suffice it to say that I am blown away.
On a related note, one of my favorite parts of this book was the characters and their interactions. Again, I’m so impressed by these fully-fleshed human beings that Stiefvater has conjured. The story is told from the perspective of four characters—three protagonists and the antagonist—and each one has totally comprehensible feelings and desires and relationships. They’re flawed, and above all, human. Which is why the romance (or rather, the lead-in to the romance, since this is the first book in a trilogy) totally worked for me. If you know me in real life, you may know I’m far from being a romantic, and I don’t really care for romance in fiction on the whole. But I totally believed this because it was so much more realistic and complex than the old “boy-meets-girl” formula.
In short: wow. This book wasn’t just a great read—as a writer, I found it so inspiring. And the fact that I forced myself to savor it by only reading on the subway should tell you that this was something special. On the downside, having read it in ARC form months before its release, I have to wait even longer than the rest of you before I get to find out what happens next.
Where You Can Get It
As of the writing of this review, The Raven Boys has not yet been published (though I’ll try to remember to come back and update this post once it is). My ARC lists the official release date as September 18th, 2012, although I think if you’re desperate and poke around on the internet enough you might be able to scare up an ARC or two. You should also feel free to preorder it.
Magic and ravens
Awesome images. Problem:
You can’t buy it. (Yet.)