Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater has written a near-perfect book with The Raven Boys, book one in her young adult series The Raven Cycle.

At times dark and contemplative, others quietly magical, always engrossing. This is a story where you’ll constantly wonder what’s coming around the corner because anything is possible.

My words are unerring tools of destruction, and I’ve come unequipped with the ability to disarm them.

Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys
Tweet: My words are unerring tools of destruction, and I’ve come unequipped with the ability to disarm them. -Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys via @SCBarrus https://ctt.ac/MweeJ+

A dark world filled with quiet magic

The world-building is so subtle that it feels grounded even when the impossible is right in front of you.

This is a world full of magic. The kind of magic you might stumble upon while lost in the woods and later, when you think back on it, wonder if it was ever even real at all.

On the book shelf | The Raven Boys book one of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

I’d love to describe even one scene of magic right now. But each instance is so integral to the plot that even a hint might spoil something.

If there’s a spectrum with typical fantasy magical systems on one end and magical realism on the other, The Raven Boys is definitely closer to magical realism. Even if it doesn’t match it exactly. You’ll just have to read it and see what I mean.

She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.

Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys
Tweet: She wasn't interested in telling other people's futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own. -Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys via @SCBarrus https://ctt.ac/UdSsB+

Blue & the Raven Boys

We follow a teen girl named Blue. She lives with a family of psychics in Henrietta, Virginia.

Blue’s the only one in her family without psychic ability. But her presence makes the abilities of others stronger… sometimes too strong.

Nearby is The Aglionby Academy, a prestigious private boys school. The students there are known as Raven Boys, teens with a bad reputation as wealthy troublemakers without boundaries.

Aglionby Academy was the number one reason Blue had developed her two rules: One, stay away from boys because they were trouble. And two, stay away from Aglionby boys, because they were bastards.

Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys
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On the book shelf | The Raven Boys book one of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah are four of these Raven Boys.

They’re searching for a dead Welsh king who’s rumored to be buried on a lay line—one of many hidden lines of supernatural energy. Whoever discovers this king is granted one wish.

It’d be easy to say The Raven Boys is about these characters search for the lay line and the king buried there. While that’s true, it’s also misleading.

A character driven story

Yes, they’re searching. But there are so many chapters devoted to establishing these characters, you’ll find the plot slips to the background as the character drama takes front stage. In the best way possible.

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.

Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys
Tweet: 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. -Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys via @SCBarrus https://ctt.ac/09Uhj+

It’s a refreshing change of pace from the typical constant drive forward most fantasy novels follow.

I’m not saying one is better than the other. Sometimes I want to get lost in a plot, sometimes in an idea or setting, and other times in the characters themselves. The Raven Boys scratches the character itch as well as any novel I’ve read in a long time.

The Raven Boys is character-driven modern-day fantasy at it’s best.

I rarely read young adult books, but after reading this one, I’m wondering why not. If many others are as good as this, then consider me converted.

“Excelsior,” Gansey said bleakly.

Blue asked, “What does that even mean?”

Gansey looked over his shoulder at her. He was once more, just a little bit closer to the boy she’d seen in the churchyard. “Onward and upward.”

Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys

If you enjoy The Raven Boys you might also enjoy Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.