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Staff Picks: “The Raven Boys” by Maggie Stiefvater

I’m a sucker for tragic love stories, whether it’s Ellen Olenska and Newland Archer from The Age of Innocence or Buffy and Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I also have a penchant for the magical way Maggie Stiefvater strings words together. So when I first read the synopsis for her new book, The Raven Boys, I was already hooked.

The Raven Boys is the story of Blue, a teenaged misfit in a household of psychics. But unlike her clairvoyant mother, Blue’s only talent is to amplify the psychic abilities of others. Though the women Blue has grown up with aren’t always able to give specific readings, they all agree on what lies in her future: if she is ever to kiss her one true love, he will die. Of course, that’s not the only reason that Blue avoids the boys of Aglionby, the local private school. These boys with their raven-crested sweaters are rich, privileged, and definitely bad news.

Each year on the eve of the festival of St. Mark, she accompanies her mother to an abandoned church to watch the procession of ghost-like figures parade down the Corpse Road so the psychics can learn who will die in the next twelve months. Blue’s never seen those fated to die before, but in the graveyard that night, she sees Gansey, a dark-haired boy wearing an Aglionby sweater, a raven embroidered on its breast.

When she asks how this could happen, the answer is simple: either he’s her one true love, or she’s the one to kill them. In her case, probably both. Blue’s mother warns her to stay away from the raven boys, and whatever she does, not to kiss one!

Of course, fate is a tricky thing. When a group of Aglionby boys comes into the pizza parlor where she works, it isn’t Gansey who is immediately taken with the short girl with spiky hair and odd, handmade clothes, but his friend Adam, the poor boy only able to attend Aglionby on scholarship. But it is Gansey who has made an appointment with the psychics of 300 Fox Way.

Gansey has an odd hobby for a blue blood teenager: he’s on a quest to find King Glendower, a long lost Welsh king rumored to be buried in the New World somewhere along the ley line. If he wakes up, he will grant a wish to the person who discovered him. Gansey hopes the psychics in Blue’s family will help him locate the ley lines, but it is Blue who joins their quest.

But Blue and her raven boys aren’t the only one seeking the Welsh king, and waking up the ley line might be more dangerous than they anticipated.

As the first in a four book series, The Raven Boys is a lot about world-building and character development. For the first third of the book, I found it difficult to keep all of the raven boys straight. Gansey, the ring leader, was easy, but Ronan, the angry soul with a dark secret and recently dead father, Adam, the scholarship boy with a fierce desire to escape his abusive father and the trailer park where he grew up but only on his own terms, and Noah, the quiet onlooker, at times bled together until I slowly realized why each boy was significant. The plot is complicated, and not just because there are several scenes that take place in locations where time doesn’t pass in a fixed line.  Though the main action is focused on the quest for Glendower, there’s also the question of who Blue’s father is, which will certainly be important in the subsequent installments.

The Raven Boys is an original, exciting kick off to what promises to be a popular series. Its cast of quirky, compelling characters, dash of obscure mythology, and hint of romantic angst are a winning combination. Fans of Maggie’s stories of fairies, werewolves, and killer horses will delight in this project, but I have a feeling this tale will win her new readers who enjoy paranormal fantasy in a real world setting.

- Molly, YA Staff

 

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