The Raven Boys: a Rich Story

If an author can successfully hook a reader within the first sentence of their book, they’re doing something right. Evidently, Maggie Stiefvater knew this, while writing The Raven Boys, the first novel in the popular Raven Cycle series. 

“It was freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrived,” Stiefvater begins her novel. “Every year, Blue and her mother, Maura, had come to the same place, and every year it was chilly. But this year, without Maura here with her, it felt colder.”

Happily, the first sentence of the chapter sets a precedent for all of the chapters to follow.  The rest of the novel is just as engaging as the opening line.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater is a paranormal fantasy novel that centers around five teenagers and their perilous quest for the lost body of a Welsh king who is said to be magically preserved on a spirit road (or a ley line), waiting to grant his finders one wish. Together, the five teens (Gansey, the leader; Ronan, the recluse; Adam, the hard-worker; Noah, the follower; and Blue, the quirky psychic’s daughter) traverse the terrain of Henrietta, Virginia in search of the lost king Glendower. They explore the supernatural wildernesses of Henrietta and discover along the way that each of them is not what they seem. 

The Raven Boys was a pleasure to read, predominantly because of the cast of characters. Each individual is well-rounded and fully developed, and the reader gets to know each in such an intimate way that it almost feels as if you’ve been friends with them for years. They all have their own quirks, tics, and interests that make them feel tangible to the reader. For instance, Gansey is an old soul stuck in a young body who chews mint leaves and is obsessive in his studies, while Ronan is sharp-edged and reclusive, choosing to live his life dangerously. 

Stiefvater has a talent for describing each character in a unique and accurate manner; for instance, Stiefvater once says that “When Gansey was polite, it made him powerful. When Adam was polite, he was giving power away.” Through a simple phrase, Stiefvater has already given you a profound insight into the dynamics of each character. None of the cast fits into a cookie cutter mold; each is fully formed and has a developed personality in a way that endears them to the reader.

Stiefvater’s writing is a joy to read. Her voice is clever and, though her descriptions are unique, they still accurately portray the exact image that she intends. For instance, Stiefvater describes Ronan’s character to the reader: “Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn’t know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves.” Stiefvater’s descriptions paint a vivid image in the reader’s mind of exactly what she wants to describe.

Stiefvater’s novel is not lacking in description, and neither is it lacking in humor. For example, on swearing: “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.” Stiefvater’s writing makes her reader chuckle. 

As the quintet of teens explore the wilds of Henrietta in search for ley lines and lost kings, they also face personal problems. Throughout her novel, Stiefvater confronts the shockingly real issues of wealth, poverty, power, and abuse. These issues mostly center around Adam and his relationship with Gansey. Gansey is rich; Adam is poor, coming from an impoverished family where he must work twice as hard for everything he’s ever gained. Gansey’s family is doting; Adam’s father is abusive. The contrast between these two characters gives a disturbing yet enlightening insight into the struggles of poverty and the dangers of wealth; specifically, the stigma that comes with wealth or the lack thereof, and how these differences can strain relationships. Throughout the novel, Gansey and Adam’s friendship is strained by socio-economic differences.

Additionally, The Raven Boys gives the reader insight into the harrowing paradox of why the abused often choose to stay with their abuser. The premise of The Raven Boys is intriguing and the story twists and turns in a way that keeps the reader captivated. New challenges present themselves to the group of teens in the form of hidden magical forests, or old school teachers whose sinister pasts have an uncanny connection to the teens and their quest. 

The only downfall of The Raven Boys is the plot’s extreme complexity, though this is predominantly a problem in the books that follow The Raven Boys as the series progresses. However, all in all, the plot is well-constructed and engaging, filled with paranormal happenings and spooky encounters that are sure to please any X-Files fans.

All in all, I would recommend The Raven Boys to anyone looking for a mysterious, fantastical read to snuggle up with during the increasingly cold and snowy Michigan nights. The plot is interesting, the writing is hilarious, and the themes are profound.The Raven Boys checks all of the literary boxes. So, to anyone looking for a comfort-fantasy read and for some new fictional friends: The Raven Boys is for you.