Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Titles: The Raven Boys (#1), The Dream Thieves (#2), Blue Lily, Lily Blue (#3), The Raven King (#4)
Genre: young adult, fantasy
My rating: 5/5 for every single book. If I had more stars to give, I would.
Let’s get one thing clear straight out of the gate: I love this series. I love the magical, laid-back atmosphere of Henrietta, Virginia. I love the nuanced characters of Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah. I love the vibrant and multifaceted people they interact with, from the women at Fox Way to Henry Cheng to Mr. Gray. I love the Welsh mythology. I even love all the attention Maggie Stiefvater lavishes on the cars everyone drives (which is saying something, since I’m not even really a car person).
I first read these books a couple of years ago, back in college, when one of my friends recommended them to me and another friend; the three of us had a great time reveling in both the books themselves and the thriving online culture surrounding them (seriously, the memes are great). We even got to go see the author speak at an event in downtown Nashville, just 15 minutes from our campus. Basically, during an era when I had very little time to read for fun, these books were a patch of sunlight. So, naturally, with a new spinoff series about one of the boys recently released, I wanted to refresh my memory on them and decided to give the audiobooks a shot, to listen to on my commute every day.
In short: they were even better than I remembered. The details were lush, the writing was hypnotic, the banter was both humorous and realistic, the emotions ranged from despair to elation, and the plot twists–especially now that I knew where and when they would happen–were cleverly foreshadowed without being given away a moment too soon. And the narrator of the series, Will Patton, was about as perfect as you can get. He did a spectacular job of bringing every character to life without turning anyone into a caricature. The differences between the characters’ voices were subtle but distinct, from Adam’s drawl (more pronounced whenever he was nervous) to Noah’s almost-whine to Ronan’s icy tone that was like the auditory equivalent of a sneer. He varied the pacing perfectly, from the sense of wonder necessary for some moments to the fast-paced urgency needed by others. He nailed both the sarcasm and the emotions. In short: he took an already-magical book and added another dimension to it (though I will confess my disappointment that he didn’t have a melodic interpretation of the Murder Squash Song, which is one of my favorite running jokes of all time).
It’s hard to review this series without spoilers, especially once you get past the first book, so instead, here’s a brief blurb on each character (which more or less sets up the plot, too), and then I’ll do a bullet-point list of my favorite things.
Richard Campbell Gansey III (a.k.a. “Gansey”): super rich boy, sometimes referred to as being “presidential” (which isn’t too surprising; his mom is in politics). Can talk and/or bribe just about anyone into doing just about anything, because he’s just that smooth. Smells of mint because he always chews on mint leaves. Drives a bright orange Camaro known as “The Pig.” He’s brilliant, he’s an insomniac, and he’s allergic to wasps. Oh, and he’s also hunting for an ancient Welsh king who supposedly will bestow a favor upon whoever wakes him from his slumber of several hundred years.
Ronan Lynch: angry at the world, determined to rebel against everything and anything, though he does still go to church literally every Sunday because he’s a Good Irish Catholic Boy™. Doesn’t really care if he lives or dies, and he’s a sarcastic jerk 95% of the time, but he can be surprisingly thoughtful when he wants to be. Lives with Gansey, but don’t you dare go in his room. Drives a BMW. Has a pet raven named Chainsaw, because of course he does, and also has a couple secrets (some magical, some mundane). My favorite character by far. Oh, and his dad was murdered a couple years ago, and he was the one who found the body, so he’s more than a little messed up from that.
Blue Sargent: the only non-psychic in a family of psychics, and lives in a house with tons of other psychic women. Most of what she eats is yogurt. Short but feisty and will definitely fight you if given a reason. Thrives on being different, so her hair is messy and her clothes are often full of holes that she put there on purpose. A “feminist,” though sometimes a little loose in her interpretation of what that term means, and very much an enviornmentalist. Her family isn’t rich, and she’s a public school kid, but she somehow falls in with the crowd of Gansey and his friends, who all go to the private, ultra-elite, uber-expensive Aglionby Academy. Oh, and every psychic she’s ever met has told her that if she kisses her true love, he will die, so she’s pretty much sworn off all things related to boys and dating.
Adam Parrish: scholarship student who feels woefully out of his depth, yet has for some reason been adopted by the dynamic duo that is Gansey and Ronan. His family life is a mess, but he does his best to just focus on school, work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and stay out of trouble. Won’t take anything he perceives as “charity” (including Gansey’s repeated offer for Adam to move in with him and Ronan) because he is determined to make his own way in the world and not owe anything to anyone. Often sad, always stressed, never wants to show it. Oh, and he might have a crush on Blue.
Noah Czerny: pale and smudgy, Gansey and Ronan’s third roommate. Kind of quiet, and kind of a chicken, but really enthusiastic and friendly once he opens up. A precious ball of sunshine who must be protected at all costs. Likes to pet Blue’s hair. Oh, and…well, you’ll find out in the first book, but he’s got a really big secret, too.
A few of my favorite things…
- The romance doesn’t include much in the way of sex or kissing–it is very much about the relationships and emotions of everything, which is vastly preferable to me
- All the characters are just so well developed, including their relationships to each other
- Plot twists galore! Not big, obnoxious ones, but subtle-yet-significant ones. Maggie Stiefvater really knows how to write an ending, especially–the final sentence of each book is just excellent and sets up a major cliffhanger
- Lots of commentary on things related to class, with the stark divide between Gansey/Ronan/most Aglionby boys and Adam/Blue/Blue’s family
- Goes into a lot of other big issues, including abuse, mental illness/suicide, panic attacks, pressure to go to college, and casual racism (including a comment about how one Korean student at Aglionby knows he’s largely there because the school wants to be able to advertise how diverse its student body is)–without coming off as preachy or being insensitive in its handling of them
- Magic that isn’t like a superpower, but is instead more nebulous in its approach and workings
- All of Ronan’s creations
- “WAKE UP, FUCKWEASEL, IT’S YOUR GIRLFRIEND!”
- The amount of random research Maggie did for this book? Like, there is a TON of Welsh mythology and history woven into this. A couple months ago she did a thing on Twitter and Goodreads where she live-Tweeted her reactions to rereading her own books, and she included tidbits of things she had found that influenced pieces of the story. Very cool stuff.
- The Murder Squash Song
- The sheer nonsense that is Greenmantle. Talk about an unhinged villain.
- Also, a hitman who is NOT the villain??
- Lines like this:
Anyway, that’s enough rambling for now. This series is amazing. If you haven’t read it yet, drop everything you’re doing and read it now. If it seems slow, don’t worry–just let it wash over you and enfold you in its bizarre, magical embrace.
Until next time,