In a nutshell, this book is what I had hoped The Mortal Instruments series would have been, and as you know from my review of City of Bones, I was less than happy with the cliches, teenage drama, and terrible love triangle. I’m happy to report that literally NONE of that exists in The Raven Boys. Even though the characters are all high schoolers, and they do believable high school things, this was a mature plot with mature characters. It tackled big issues in comprehensive ways, and even though there is a bit of a cute-meet and some cliche sounding destiny, nothing in this book functions the way you thought it would, lending itself to a refreshing twist on the typical YA thriller.
We follow Blue, a young girl who’s the only person in her family who isn’t a psychic. However she tends to make psychic powers stronger, and knows enough about what her family does to understand and assist at readings, especially those dealing with the dead. Stiefvater does a brilliant craft choice in that she immediately sets up the destiny on the first page, claiming that Blue’s destiny is to kill her one true love with a kiss. But we soon learn that Blue is practical, down to earth, and puts very little stock into this until she assists her aunt at the passing of the dead on St. Mark’s Day. She runs into a specter who is too young and who effects her greatly. Her aunt tells her it is her true love, but when she finds out the real-life boy is a student at the prestigious and wealthy Aglionby school, she dismisses everything. However, against her better judgement, Blue finds herself involved with Gainsey, who is her supposed true love and the leader of a small group known as The Raven Boys, questing to solve the legend of a lost king who’s body was supposedly buried somewhere in the mountains of Virginia.
She’s not a big fan of Gainsey, and she spends a decent portion of the book trying to wiggle out why everyone thinks this is her true love when her feelings for him border on general toleration. Gainsey in his turn is an out-of-touch Baron Trumpesque boy who continuously embarrasses himself by his unawareness of his own privilege. However, the great hallmark of this book is that Gainsey surrounds himself with friends who call him out and make him grow. Gainsey and Blue are cliches on the surface: Blue is the strange, misfit girl, and Gainsey the dashing, wealthy, connected potential love interest. But Stiefvater is neither quick to pigeonhole her characters into their respective roles nor does she trot out the same old love triangle. It’s not so much of a love triangle as a like-square where the characters are realizing they have something that feels like romantic emotions, which is believable for their age bracket and experience.
The characters in Stiefvater’s novel are incredibly refreshing, and there are no tropes here. Each student is carefully crafted and three dimensional with motive. Each of the teenagers are looking for something bigger than themselves, a way to explain their world, and to exist within it. In a way it’s coming-of-age, even though I feel the main plot of this book is Gainsey trying to define himself as himself, and not by his wealth. Throughout the story, there is no drama without cause, and the teenagerly things each character encounters is based in the events and environments that create their drama. I ended this book with quiet satisfaction, loving where Stiefvater was taking me and enjoying the ride. I like that it ended in a way that allows the book to stand alone, but also be the first in a series if I chose to continue.
4 big stars for excellent craft and characters.