by Maggie Steifvater, 2012
In the midst of this shitstorm we call politics, I find myself at a point where I want to bury my head and escape in books. I have tons of heavy hitters on my to-be-read list that I really want to get to, but I know that I just can’t face reading about some of society’s more troublesome ills right now. Soon, but not yet. Given that, I’ve taken advantage of my reading mood to check out some of the more popular YA books that are so ubiquitous on book blogs and BookTube. Fluffy escapism is what I want and, in The Raven Boys, fluffy escapism is what I got.
In this first book of The Raven Cycle, we meet Blue Sargent, your typical high school teenage daughter of a psychic. I’m just kidding, there’s nothing typical about that and Blue is not your typical teenage girl. Growing up in a house filled with gifted women, Blue does not possess any powers of her own, except that her presence enhances others’ abilities. When her half-aunt Neeve strolls into town, Blue accompanies her on the yearly trip to the corpse road on St. Mark’s Eve to see the souls of those who will die in the coming year. For the first time ever, Blue is conscious of an apparition and this can only mean one of two things: either she will kill him or he will be her true love.
This apparition is none other than Gansey, one of the “Raven Boys” who go to Aglionby Academy. He and his pals Ronan, Adam, and Noah band together in the search for mystical ley lines to awaken the Welsh king Glendower, who promises to grant a wish to the one who finds him. Yeah, the plot’s a bit hokey, but it is to Steifvater’s credit that these Raven Boys are not the typical douchebags you’d expect private school boys to be. Sure, Gansey is a bit oblivious to the power his money buys and Ronan is outwardly hostile to most people, but each boy is going through their own personal crisis and their backstories greatly inform their present actions. They are fairly well-developed characters, which, I admit, I was surprised to find.
Actually, I was fairly surprised that I mostly liked the book. The plot may have some holes and there’s the impending love story to contend with, but I liked that Blue was simultaneously special and not-special, that she was resigned to fate while resisting it, that she did not throw away everything her mother taught her because a boy gave her a second glance. Aside from the beautiful-girl-who-doesn’t-know-she’s-beautiful cliche (seriously, classifying girls as pretty but not too pretty is not a character trait, so let’s stop writing it as such), Blue was a compelling protagonist and I’m interested to see how she handles herself as the series progresses.
If there’s one point about which I must criticize The Raven Boys, it’s that Steifvater struggles to present herself as an overly-florid writer. She has a penchant for invoking metaphors and similes that, frankly, make no damn sense. “Robert Parrish was a big thing, colorless as August,” she writes of Adam’s father, and I read and reread that sentence until I gave up – I have no idea what “colorless as August” is supposed to mean. “Only one of Calla’s eyebrows was paying any attention” – I did not know that eyebrows were sentient. “[S]he climbed out of the vehicle, which was blue-green like everything else in the day” – again with the meaningless colors. I love a good turn of phrase, but the words do actually have to mean something.
Nevertheless, I liked the book well enough to want to continue the series at some point. Blue and Gansey are inexplicably entwined and I’m curious to see how that plays out. Sometimes I just need something so wholly different from the real world that I’m willing to overlook certain critical flaws. Sometimes that’s what I need to just get through another day.