Since finishing The Lunar Chronicles last year, I’ve been searching for a replacement YA series to become invested in and I think I may have found it in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series—or at least, the first book, The Raven Boys has left me still intrigued enough to check out the next book sometime soon. Bringing together mystical and mythological elements I’ve read about in both other novels and studied the histories of over the years, The Raven Boys definitely sets up a larger story than just the one that gets told in its pages.
Blue Sargent has grown up in a house full of psychics—her mother and her mother’s friends—but she shows no ability herself; she only serves as an amplifier or battery of sorts, helping to strengthen those around her. But one thing all the psychics in her life seem to agree on is that she will somehow spell death for her true love—whoever he might be—and must avoid kissing him to protect him… even though she’s just a teenager and has no idea who he might be. But on St. Mark’s Day when she accompanies one of those friends of her mother’s to the Corpse Road and actually sees and hears one of the spirits—a teenage boy named Gansey who attends the local private boys’ school, Aglionby—she might have learned the first bit about him. Blue has her doubts, however, when she actually meets Gansey and his friends, Adam, Ronan, and Noah, and begins assisting them in their search for the historically mythical Glendower and things in their small town of Henrietta begin getting even weirder than any of them could have dreamt.
It took a while to get into The Raven Boys because narratively speaking—especially in the early chapters—it can be a bit of a mess. There are so many plot elements already in play that overlap in places as perspectives shift and there’s a lot of backstory to establish for each of the characters. It’s about a third of the way through the book that things begin to draw closer together and become clearer to follow—not that the questions raised are necessarily going to be clearly defined or answered, but following who’s who and what they’re doing becomes less challenging. Once the main characters stumble into Cabeswater and the mystical goes from hypothetical to tangible for them, the action picks up and the ride through the end of the book is much more engaging. The end itself leaves much to be desired but there’s also the promise that those answers will be found in the subsequent novels.
Because there are so many major plot elements that don’t pay off in this novel, it can leave aspects of certain characters and scenes feeling (necessarily) incomplete or oddly balanced in the scheme of the novel as a whole. Blue’s home life with so many psychically inclined women is fascinating but underdeveloped at this point in the series and the resolution of what happens with Neeve is decidedly unclear. The end feels abrupt in a way that could easily turn a number of readers off to the series but I believe is meant to drive them right into the next book. For my part, I think I’m going to take a little more time to digest this one first. It has many interesting things to say regarding the nature of free will, independence (and dependence), friendship and family, and what constitutes justice, but it avoids coming down too firmly on defining any one of them definitively.