“Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’s been told that she would kill her true love.”
My only experience with Maggie Steifvater’s work was with Shiver, which I thought was a well done teenage werewolf romance, but not really my cup of tea. However, I had heard really great things about her most recent book, The Raven Boys (Scholastic 2012), so I decided to check it out. From the killer first line quoted above, I was hooked.
Blue Sargent is the only non-psychic in a family of psychics, though she does have the talent of enhancing other people’s psychic abilities when she’s around them, which has to suck because you’re constantly being taunted with the power you don’t have. Blue takes it pretty much in stride even though every psychic she meets tells her that she’s going to kill her true love the first time she kisses him. So like any sensible person who doesn’t want to kill someone, she resolves not to kiss a boy. Ever. This is easier than you would think until an incident in the graveyard sets in motion the plot of the whole series. See as the town psychic, one of the ways that Blue’s mother makes money by letting people know if they’re going to die that year. In other stories this would probably be a big no-no, but here it’s a valuable service. Anyway, she finds out this information because every year the spirits of everyone who’s going to die walk the corpse road (cheery!) and disappears into a church. Blue tags along every year to do her supernatural battery thing, but has never actually seen a spirit. Until this year. She spies a teenage boy named Gansey wearing a sweater from the local snooty boarding school and stumbling along the path. Blue is told that the only way a non-psychic could see a spirit is if she’s his true love or the one who kills him. It’s all very dramatic.
Enter The Raven Boys, so called because of the bird associated with the aforementioned local snooty boarding school. First you have the supposedly doomed Gansey. Gansey is the charismatic and generous leader of the group who, because of his immense wealth and privilege, doesn’t really understand how most people live and can sometimes come off as condescending, despite his good intentions. After a childhood trauma, Gansey is obsessed with finding the burial place of the lost Welsh king, Glendower who, legend tells it, is merely sleeping and will grant a wish to the first person who finds him. Because he is super loaded, Gansey is considered eccentric not crazy, and his permissive parents indulge him in his little search. He’s at the snooty boarding school because Glendower is rumored to be buried on a supernatural ley line and one supposedly runs through the town. If you’re thinking that a ley line sounds an awful lot like that corpse road thing, then you’ve been paying attention.
Along for the ride are Ronan, Adam, and Noah. Ronan is another Richie Rich who hasn’t been the same since he found his father’s dead body under mysterious circumstances. Gansey is pretty much the only thing that Ronan cares about and Gansey spends a lot of time trying to save Ronan from himself. Adam is the kid from the wrong side of the tracks obsessed with earning the kind of status that Gansey was born in to. He has multiple jobs, attends snotty boarding school on a scholarship and thinks that it’s not worth anything unless he does it all himself. And Noah quietly flits in and out of their lives, yet seems to know everything.
So Gansey is in a different graveyard on that fateful St. Mark’s Eve and somehow records the conversation between Blue and spirit Gansey. He’s pretty psyched about it because he doesn’t actually realize what the conversation’s about, so he decides to consult the town psychic, aka Blue’s mom. Aah, world’s colliding. Being psychic, Mom knows this is not going to end well and orders Blue to stay away from the Raven Boys. But Blue is sick and tired of being on the outside of the supernatural world looking in and decides to join their merry little band of Glendower hunters. Unbeknownst to them, someone else is also looking for Glendower: the boys’ latin teacher, Barrington Whelk. 7 years prior, Whelk had been an uber-rich student at snooty boarding school but lost it all when his dad got busted by the feds and now he’s desperate to get get all that money and power back. I’m not going to give any of the plot twists or surprises away, but I’ll say that shit gets intense, scary, sad, and at times, really weird. I mean there are trees that speak latin, y’all.
The plot is really interesting and a new twist in the supernatural genre, which is not easy to do in YA these days, but what really grabbed were the characters. With the exception of evil latin teacher who was just evil, all of the characters were layered and rich and felt real despite the not particularly realistic situation. I also appreciated that despite the Twu Love stuff mentioned above, that the book was more about establishing the relationships between Blue and the boys. Yes, there are hints of the romance(s) to come, but I think it’s important to start caring about the characters as a group before you star slitting them up or pairing them off. There are also a few vague ominous hints about what will happen in the rest of the series, but for some reason it didn’t annoy me like it did with The Diviners. I think it’s because all of the characters were fully fleshed out and involved in the action and the foreshadowing was used sparingly. So instead of turning me off, the book just made me want more. AND NOW I HAVE TO WAIT LIKE A YEAR FOR THE NEXT ONE. Ugh, my life is so difficult you guys.