By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer
The Young Adult (YA) fiction genre has always been a means to escape from my mundane school life. YA novels often feature themes of fantasy and adventure, which is rad for any sixth grader. As I’ve gotten older, my obsession with YA has veered from escaping through these books to becoming a clucking mother hen over their characters. I took on that role yet again through the dynamics presented in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, the first novel in The Raven Cycle series.
The premise of the book already has pretty cool stakes: the titular “Raven Boys” try to wake up a supposedly dead Welsh king, and Blue, a girl born into a family of psychics, knows that she will one day kill her first love. The plot in itself is pretty neat, but I hesitantly asked, “Where’s the substance?”
To that question, Stiefvater smacked me in the face and invited me to meet her charming characters. She sat me down for two days straight as I maddeningly sped through the book getting to know them. It was a losing battle; I had no choice but to declare these children my children.
Indeed, the most riveting part of The Raven Boys is watching the tight-knit bond grow between our main five: Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah. Not only are these characters appealing, but Stiefvater delivers depth to all of them and draws attention to how they need each other. Reading about how their relationships unfold in the story is rewarding, and for me, this aspect of the story definitely trumps all of the cool things the plot set up. The plot details feel like a bonus rather than the backbone of the story, and surprisingly, I really enjoyed that. I don’t get to read character-driven stories too much, but Stiefvater reminded me why they’re treasures.
As an example, let’s take a look at the character of Richard Gansey III — known as Gansey — who is repeatedly established as the leader of the Raven Boys. Gansey has a big noisy car, is super rich, and sometimes comes off as super cocky. While these types of characters are pretty common, I don’t really care for them that much. They are often caricatures, and their redeeming trait is very singular.
Here, however, Gansey is packed with genuine insecurity and a heartfelt devotion to find something real in his vapid life through the Welsh king — and he is determined to protect his boys doing it. Gansey really cares, and he’s not perfect, but the book never establishes him to be. His relationships with the others feel like they progress at just the right rate, which is truly rare to find in a story.
Stiefvater has a way of making you believe that these characters are meant to be together; she works to tell you why through her characters rather than hiding it behind a well-dressed plot. Yes, there’s an undercurrent of destiny that leads these characters to find each other, but I love me some outcasts finding a family with each other. Stiefvater happily delivers in this department.
All of this is to say, I LOVED this book! I can’t remember the last time I devoured any book — it made me feel like I was in seventh grade again, when I would go through book after book at a rapid pace. It is an excellent saga (there are four books in the series in total!) to add to your bookshelf. And for even more reading material, Stiefvater reprises some of these characters in Call Down the Hawk, the first novel in a Raven Cycle spin-off trilogy, which was released on November 5.