17 March 2015

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I was introduced to Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN BOYS in a workshop on voice taught by Heather Alexander, literary agent at Pippin Properties. It was presented as an exemplar of handling multiple characters in third person close.

Some months later my esteemed Critique Partner mentioned THE RAVEN BOYS as a possible comp title for her book, and so it moved higher up on my To Be Read list. And now, like Yeats's rough beast, its hour has come round at last.

I read THE LYNBURN LEGACY some time ago, and it was billed as Gothic Mystery, or occasionally Gothic Horror or even Gothic Romance. That was my first Gothic anything in a long while. Yet now, having read THE RAVEN BOYS, it seems more Gothic than anything since Edgar Allen Poe. Maybe it's all the ravens. Who can say?

What overwhelmed me, first and foremost, was the intense sense of place in THE RAVEN BOYS. The town of Henriette, Virginia is as much a character as any of the humans, and is woven as tightly into the narrative as Middle-Earth was woven into THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Each page that went by I could almost smell the dust in the air or feel the muggy heat of Virginia.

THE RAVEN BOYS starts off with Blue Sargent, psychic amplifier (though not a psychic herself), staking out a churchyard on St. Mark's Eve, to assist her aunt in cataloguing the spirits of those who will die in the coming year. Blue has never seen a spirit before, but this time she does - a boy named Gansey, who goes to the prestigious, expensive Aglionby Academy, known for their Raven mascot.

All her life Blue has been warned that if she kisses her true love, he will die - and when she sees Gansey, she's told there's only two reasons she could see him: either he's her true love, or she kills him. Of course, in Blue's case, it could easily be both.

Naturally, Blue is bound to meet Gansey and his friends and fellow Aglionby Students - Raven Boys - and join in Gansey's possibly-insane quest to find the ancient Welsh king Glendower, supposedly lying in eternal sleep along the leyline passing through Henrietta.

Complicated? Yes, and yet, no. The novel races along, and yet it never feels rushed. Each of the Raven Boys - Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah - get their moments to shine, to be wonderful, to be awful. Gansey's lived a life so privileged he doesn't even realize when he's being a condescending asshole. Ronan's so angry inside, he knows he's being a condescending asshole. Adam's a scholarship student, living with his abusive father in a double-wide outside of town and wearing hand-me-down Aglionby sweaters. And Noah...well, Noah is quiet and different. Each boy's internal life is vividly portrayed, a few well-chosen words bringing them into sharp focus.

It's overwhelming, how artfully all the characters are woven together. There are no saints, and yet each character invites so much empathy. Adam, in particular - the poor kid who stubbornly refuses the help of his friends, believing if he doesn't accomplish something himself, it doesn't mean anything - intrigued me. And indeed, his journey comes into sharp focus as the novel nears its end.

I absolutely loved THE RAVEN BOYS, which you can probably tell from how much I just wrote about it. I'm so glad I was introduced (and then re-introduced) to it.

I'm already halfway through its sequel, THE DREAM THIEVES.