Hello everyone, and welcome back!
Well. I finally did it. I caught up to 99% of the YA blogging world and read The Raven Boys.
It’s times like these that I both doubt what I’m doing blogging and am so sure of myself at once. Like, why am I reviewing all of these books? But then also: I should definitely be reviewing all of these books.
Okay, I should explain. So let’s get to it.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
This cover is pretty terrible, by the way. This book isn’t even that old, so I have no idea why the bad font and this way-too-busy cover. And where the heck is Blue? We’re seriously portraying that one kid with no personality over the one female main character? But yeah.
So: The Raven Boys is more or less the story of what happens when four boys, students of a prestigious private school in town, meet up with Blue, the daughter of an eccentric family of psychics. They recruit her into their search for a Welsh king/figure of legend along a ley line that runs through their small town in Virginia.
Honestly, the magic system in this book feels kind of like it doesn’t give a dang about making much sense. Following where they’re going with that plot is a little iffy, but…whatever. There are fun portions of magic as well: Blue’s family of psychics are kind of delightful, for example, and if this book could’ve been entirely about that house of women and their styles of reading and magic, I would’ve been there for that. I also liked some of the imagery when they find some magical places.
I guess I was just surprised at how this book could simultaneously feel like a slog at times and also like it was moving way too fast? Like, Blue becomes friends with these boys within a time jump, essentially, without us getting much of the character development of their interactions or romantic vibes. But, for example, we also know Ronan is keeping more than one secret, and it feels like that is an agonizingly drawn out thing (we finally address the less pressing of them by the very end of this not-short book) considering that he’s a character who, at least in the first book, is mostly just a jerk.
So that was the thing for me with this book: I love modern urban (does it count if it’s a really small town?) fantasy. I love the idea of a girl with no psychic powers living in a family of psychics who live equally mystical and mundane lives. (The author grounds us nicely at times in Blue and her mother struggling to change lightbulbs, or one of the psychics getting a burrito after a hard time at her day job.) I liked Blue, generally, and especially her family; the quest they were all on seemed silly, but the way Blue came into it intrigued me.
But the titular raven boys were irritating to me. This is maybe a matter of bias, because I’m just not that interested by rich white guys struggling with their privilege, or “bad boys” with mysterious angst who get away with treating others like crap, or boys who are so full of pride that they can’t accept help from others even when they are straight-up drowning. (Or boys with no personalities, aka Noah.)
…so Gansey, perhaps the main protagonist of the protagonists, seems like he’s undergoing this search over great time (and eventually at great risk) for no reason other than that he’s a rich kid looking to make his mark on the world, until we get his semi-tragic backstory about it quite late. By that point, I was already feeling pretty meh on the character, since despite his inclination to always help his friends, he was also super oblivious and privileged and unintentionally condescending. He was trying not to be, so I guess that was something? But his reasons for pulling everyone into what he was doing came pretty late, and I guess it was hard for me to get invested in the struggles of a guy trying to be less stereotypically old money. He was okay to me by the end, but I would’ve dropped the book early had it just been about him, and I wouldn’t regret it.
Ronan did precisely one thing that I appreciated him for in the book. I tried to give him leeway because he was clearly angsty about the death of his father, which is legit, but he was kind of an ungrateful asshole with more money than sense mostly making life harder for everyone at all times? Which probably is something I could overlook or understand if we knew from earlier on the circumstances of his father’s death or some of the inward stuff he’s struggling with, but like I said re: slogging, we don’t get any of that early on. We are supposed to care that Ronan continues to hang out with these guys because Gansey cares about that. So I dangled by a thread.
Adam seemed like the most interesting of the group, since Noah wasn’t really given a personality at all (and that became problematic when we were supposed to care about Noah more later on). Adam is…probably the easiest to relate to if you didn’t also grow up with a garage full of million-dollar cars, but frustrating in his own ways. Early in the book, he expresses an interest in Blue and it’s a slog trying to see that go somewhere. It’s also tiring seeing Adam sabotage himself.
I get it, I guess. These are all meant to be flawed, angsty, tragic figures of dudes. Only it’s really obvious the different stuff sought out in male and female protagonists when you line up these rich (except Adam), stubborn, prideful, arrogant (except Adam), handsome guys in contrast to Blue. Male protagonists are meant to be charming and desirable in their flaws. (Bad boys are lovable and can be easily redeemed.) Female protagonists are almost-flawless or else direly disliked. Blue is cautious and so not always totally open, but she’s well-intentioned, curious, self-sufficient, otherwise all positive traits. (She somehow holds down three jobs and still helps her family and still makes her own clothes.) But she still fades into the background as an acting force in this story (she doesn’t actively do or even get to decide much, since so much is “fated”) because…she’s not one of the boys?
(There’s a pattern here not dissimilar to the Wolves of Mercy Falls series: the male love interest is deeply intelligent, poetic, angsty, “desirable”; the female protagonist is just a girl who “gets” it and is enough of an outcast in her own life to slot right into the guy’s. Is this a super cynical reading? Maybe. Is it far off? I don’t think so.)
This character patterns here kind of bored me, even as I did enjoy every time we looped back around to Blue’s house and the mysteries among the women there. And when Ronan finally did reveal one of his secrets in the end, I almost just felt pissed at him. Also, this book mostly sets up more mysteries rather than resolving the two main plots it introduces in the beginning, so on its own, it’s kind of a medium book, all the rest aside. Maybe in the context of the series, it gives you a lot to be excited about, but I’d have to read the sequels to then reflect back and enjoy some of these elements, which is a bit of an ask when I’m not feeling the characters that much.
I don’t know. This is a book I could read the sequel of or just…not. Probably just not.
WELP there are my controversial opinions on the almost-universally-blogger-beloved The Raven Boys, I may never work in this town again, etc. Console me: are there any books everyone loved that you just can’t get into? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon! (Presuming the legions of Ronan fans don’t come rolling in to Internet-deck me.)