Even though the target audience is young adult, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys is an entertaining supernatural story that captures all of the teen angst you’d expect, but is still engaging for readers of all ages.
The story centers around Blue Sargent, a 16-year girl from a small town in Virginia. She’s part of a family of local psychics, but unlike her family, she’s not a psychic. Instead, she’s more of a psychic “energizer bunny” that boosts the abilities of the others.
Instead of feeling shunned by her “freakish” family, Blue embraces her difference and really doesn’t care about what other people think of her. Blue stays away from boys because they were trouble, and she especially avoids the boys from Aglionby Academy, “because they were bastards.” Aglionby is a nearby prep school for the privileged, and the boys who go there are called “raven boys” after the school’s mascot. We see her distaste for these rich boys early on in the story. While working as a waitress (one of her part-time jobs) at the local pizza joint, one of the boys offers to pay for her time just to so she’ll talk to one of his buddies.
During an annual ritual at a cemetery where Blue and one of her family watch the spirits of the future dead, Blue sees a spirit for the first time. She’s able to converse with the spirit, and learns his name is Gansey. While still trying to understand why she saw the spirit, things get crazier as she learns days later that Gansey has made an appointment for a session with her psychic family. Blue discovers than Gansey is the same boy who approached her at the restaurant, and his buddies are part of the that group.
She discovers that there’s more to Gansey and his prep-school buddies. They’re on a quest to find a mythological sleeping king and believe that ley lines (lines of concentrated mystic energy) are the key to finding him. Supposedly, whoever awakens the king will be granted a great favor. Despite warnings to stay away from the boys, Blue joins in on the quest and she’s quickly accepted as part of the group.
The boys themselves are a bit of a mismatched group with very different backgrounds, but all are drawn into Gansey’s quest to find the king. The reader is drawn in as well as we learn more about the family backgrounds of Blue and the boys, more about the quest, and Gansey’s obsession with finding the king. Although each is helping Gansey with his quest, they are all on their own quest to understand who they are and their place in the world.
The supernatural aspect of the story revolves around spirits, psychic visions, rituals, and ley lines and is designed to be very vague and intangible. There are no vampires or werewolves in this story which is also a nice change of pace.
There’s also not a lot of romance, either. Blue does find herself attracted to a couple of the boys in the group, it doesn’t become a central part of the story – which, after reading the whiny characters from the Twilight books, is a welcome change.
Despite having some nice effects involving one of the magical locations they eventually find, the deliberate fuzziness of what is happening, magically speaking, gets in the way of the story – especially at the climax. You’ll read through the climax and the aftermath and still be left wondering what exactly happened.
The other unfortunate aspect involves the antagonist. The reader learns and suspects who the antagonist is early on in the story, but he really doesn’t do anything to elevate the stakes for Gansey, Blue and others until very late. In fact, one of the pivotal scenes in the book the antagonist’s arrival is purely coincidental. I wish the antagonist had been more active in elevating the stakes – or at least put pressure on the others that someone is taking an active interest in their quest. That way, once the main characters learn of his identity, the stakes would be even higher.
Outside of that, I found the story to be very enjoyable. After reading the Twilight series years ago, it’s a nice relief to find a young-adult series with a strong-minded female lead character as well as Gansey and his cohorts. Despite the vagueness of the supernatural aspects of the story, I’m looking forward to picking up the next story in the series to see what happens next.