The Raven Boys is only the second novel I've read by Maggie Stiefvater. My reading experience with the first novel, Shiver, did not go very well so understandably I was reluctant to read any of her other books. But then I heard the premise for The Raven Boys and I was intrigued. I couldn't resist giving Stiefvater another shot, and I'm glad that I did.
Seventeen year old Blue Sargent comes from a family of psychics, although she herself isn't one. She never has psychic visions or sees spirits until one year on St. Mark's Eve—when the spirits of those dead within twelve months come out—the spirit of a teenage boy wearing a uniform from the prestigious prep school, Aglionby, appears to her in an abandoned churchyard and tells her his name is Gansey. Blue is told the reason she can see him is because he is either her true love or she is the one who kills him. Complicating the matter is that her mother has predicted that Blue will kill her true love if she kisses him, suggesting that both reasons may be true. Inevitably, Blue meets Gansey and his three friends: Adam, the scholarship kid with something to prove, Ronan, a deeply disturbed boy, filled with rage, and Noah, their mysterious silent friend. Together they seek to find the spirit of Glendower, a Welsh King who disappeared centuries ago, and unlock the secrets of the town of Henrietta.
The Raven Boys is as much of story about Gansey and his three friends as it is about Blue. Written in the third person perspective, Stiefvater follows not only Blue, but Gansey, Adam, and occasionally, their teacher Barrington Whelk. The most compelling part of the story for me was the friendship between the four boys, particularly Gansey and Adam. I thought all four characters we well written, and Stiefvater does a fantastic job of keeping certain aspects of their lives secret from the reader, gradually revealing information throughout the book. The mystery surrounding Blue's family was also intriguing, and I look forward to finding out more about her family in subsequent novels.
In addition to having an original premise, I really enjoyed the prose. The descriptions were magical and emotive without being overwrought or purple, which was one of my complaints about Shiver, though a minor one. Stiefvater's writing-style lends itself well to the third person perspective. Although not nearly as flowery as Shiver, The Raven Boys is still description heavy so I would hesitate to recommend it to those whose chief complaint about Shiver was the prose, or to those who think Laini Taylor's writing is too purple.
My main criticism of The Raven Boys has to do with the pacing. The plot during the first half of the book moves incredibly slowly while the reader is inundated with backstories about Blue and the boys, as well as the history of Glendower, and the history of Gansey's search for him. Reading about Gansey's passion for Glendower might have been more interesting had Stiefvater revealed the reason behind his passion at the beginning of the novel rather than towards the end. Knowing his reasons earlier would also have helped me understand Gansey better and connect with his character sooner. During the first half, there was a distinct lack of urgency to keep on reading, but once the plot starts moving, I became very engaged. I liked that the romance was in the periphery, and the focus was more on the plot and the relationships between the boys.
I'm a little iffy about the romance itself. I was happy that there was no instalove (Blue and Gansey don't even like each other during their first meeting), but the love triangle suffers from the dreaded problem of predictability. There is an inevitability to Blue and Gansey, which made the relationship between Adam and Blue feel like a waste of time. Every time I started to feel something for them, I would remember that their relationship was leading no where and then wonder why it was there in the first place. I'm also not sold on the Gansey/Blue relationship yet, particularly because of the potentially devastating effects it might have on Gansey's relationship with Adam, which I find far more compelling than Blue's relationship with either of them. Had the romance taken a larger role in the story, I would not have rated this book so highly.
All in all, I really did enjoy the story for its original plot, and unique and interesting characters. I will definitely be reading on to find out what happens next.