Since we're in the thick of winter, I wanted to read something cozy yet dark, magical yet set in the real world. Fortunately, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater hit all of those notes. This book has been on my TBR for ages, and I finally decided to review it for our "New Year, New Reads" theme.
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Category: Cozy Read
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RATING: 4/5 Stars
Plot: 3/5 stars
Characters: 5/5 stars
World: 5/5 stars
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.
His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she'd been told that she would kill her true love.
[...] If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die.
Annnd we are off to an awesome start with that first line and the following explanation. It immediately sets the tone of the story with a dark, almost-fairytale feel in the modern world, sprinkled with humor and uncertainty.
Truthfully, that's the atmosphere throughout the entire book. Funny, dismal but whimsical, and heavy with the unknown. Combine that with tons of woodland scenes and dark academia aesthetics, and we've got a winner for cozy fairytale read.
The reader finds themselves in the southern town of Henrietta, Virginia, where the all-boys' private school for rich kids, Aglionby Academy, is the center of both attention and distaste among the locals.
Blue Sargent, already considered "weird" for belonging to a family of psychics who make a living telling fortunes and reading cards, especially can't stand the Raven Boys (named for the school's symbol). To her, they're a bunch of stuck-up assholes who flaunt the wealth they didn't earn.
So she's unnerved when she catches a glimpse of the future—her future—and sees a Raven Boy. She's certain of only two things: his name is Gansey, and she's going to kill him.
Which can only mean he's her true love.
Gansey is, in fact, real. Richard Gansey III is much more than a rich kid. He's a rich man's son with one goal: do something important with his wealth and status, because he's tired of only being good for his money. That "something" happens to be locating a mythical Welsh king, Glendower, whom he's certain exists.
Gansey has obsessively researched myths, history, and geography for years to piece together the location of Glendower's tomb. Whoever finds Glendower first will be granted one wish—and Gansey wants that wish.
We never learn what Gansey's wish is, exactly. It's one of the many mysteries about him. Despite spending a good deal of time in Gansey's head (probably more than Blue's), there's this sense of distance, even within himself.
What we do know is he loves his group of friends dearly: Adam, the nobody kid from an abusive household who's worked his ass off to earn the money for Aglionby; Ronan, the politician's son who's still fighting demons from knowing too much about his father's death, and being the one to discover his brutalized body; and Noah, the quiet one whom no one knows much about.
Pretty soon, Blue's thrown into their world and their mission when a psychic reading confirms two things: the boys are closer than ever to their goal, and Blue's fate is somehow tangled up with theirs.
[Blue] recognized the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, that strange happiness that was sometimes so big that it felt like sadness.
When she opened her eyes, she was both in her body and watching it, nowhere near the cavity of the tree. The Blue that was before her stood inches from a boy in an Aglionby sweater. There was a slight stoop to his posture, and his shoulders were spattered darkly with rain. It was his fingers that Blue felt on her face. He touched her cheek with the backs of his fingers.
Tears coursed down the other Blue's face. Though some strange magic, Blue could feel them on her face as well. She could feel, too, sick, rising misery she'd felt in the churchyard, the grief that felt bigger than her. The other Blue's tears seemed endless. One drop slid after another, each following an identical path down her cheeks.
The boy in the Aglionby sweater leaned his forehead against Blue's. She felt the pressure of his skin against hers, and suddenly she could smell mint.
It'll be okay, Gansey told the other Blue. She could tell that he was afraid. It'll be okay.
Impossibly, Blue realized that this other Blue was crying because she loved Gansey. And that the reason Gansey touched her like that, his fingers so careful with her, was because he knew that her kiss could kill him.
I adore each of these characters for different reasons. Gansey for his bravery, leadership, and all the little ways he takes care of his friends; Ronan for his fierce protectiveness, irreverence, and how well he hides his brokenness; Adam for his kindness, determination to make something of himself, and unwavering loyalty; Noah for his quiet humor, perceptiveness, and acceptance; Blue for her quirkiness, fire, and maturity.
Being Adam Parrish was a complicated thing, a wonder of muscles and organs, synapses and nerves. He was a miracle of moving parts, a study in survival. The most important thing to Adam Parrish, though, had always been free will, the ability to be his own master.
This was the important thing.
It had always been the important thing.
This was what it was to be Adam.
They all revolve around and complete each other in such complex, unspoken ways. Stiefvater's characterization is definitely the strongest point of The Raven Boys. The core mystery took a backseat to these characters' lives, and I'm completely fine with it. Every chapter draws you further into their web, and I just wanted to know more.
In the end, he was nobody to Adam, he was nobody to Ronan. Adam spit his words back at him and Ronan squandered however many second chances he gave him. Gansey was just a guy with a lot of stuff and a hole inside him that chewed away more of his heart every year.
From the passenger seat, Ronan began to swear at Adam. It was a long, involved swear, using every forbidden word possible, often in compound-word form. As Adam stared at his lap, penitent, he mused that there was something musical about Ronan when he swore, a careful and loving precision to the way he fit the words together, a black-painted poetry. It was far less hateful sounding than when he didn’t swear.
Ronan finished with, “For the love of … Parrish, take some care, this is not your mother’s 1971 Honda Civic.”
Adam lifted his head and said, “They didn’t start making the Civic until ’73.”
Since it's set in the modern world, it's less about worldbuilding and more about atmosphere. I've already hinted at the foreboding cloud hanging over the charming academia, but the creeping sense of unease and sadness is woven so well with the humor. This entire book felt like reading a dream, and not in an unpleasant way.
The way Stiefvater words things is so unique and interesting. I can't get enough of it.
More than anything, the journal wanted. It wanted more than it could hold, more than words could describe, more than diagrams could illustrate. Longing burst from the pages, in every frantic line and every hectic sketch and every dark-printed definition. There was something pained and melancholy about it.
For the first several chapters, I wasn't sure what to think of The Raven Boys. It was so different. There isn't much plot tugging you along, but I didn't mind, because the characters do that all on their own. Each one is so dynamic and alive, you can't help but be immersed even when they're just hanging out.
If you like dark modern fairytales, whimsy with a little melancholy, and heavily character-driven stories, The Raven Boys is for you. There isn't a lot of romance in the first book, but it builds slowly in the following ones. I snatched the sequel up immediately, because I wanted to know more about these characters, if they ever come to terms with the things haunting them, and if some of them can avoid their tragic destinies.