Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Raven Boys (Book 1 of The Raven Cycle)

I began to read The Raven Boys entirely because of Barnes and Noble. Well, to be more specific, it was because of an employee who wrote a recommendation: "It takes place in Virginia and has dead languages and Welsh kings!" Oh, well then, I suppose I'll take a look.

I poked around online for reviews and discovered that a fair number of people really enjoyed the book. Gaining further insight on what it's about, I decided to give the first book a try and downloaded it to my Kindle.

Allow me to begin with a little forewarning: If you begin this book and find it hard to follow or a little confusing -- stick with it! It gets better, I swear! Many reviews mentioned how the readers struggled with the start of the book and I was relieved to find that because I struggled as well. With all of the character introductions, switching of points of view, and character names to remember, I was struggling to keep up. I kept rereading sentences and thinking, "Am I too tired to be reading this? Why can't I follow it?" But only a little while later, that feeling had passed and I was fully submerged in the world of the raven boys.

Now that's out of the way, let's really get the review underway by clearing up a few things. The premise is that Blue, our pint-sized, opinionated and strong female character who befriends the raven boys, has discovered a few things: 1) That she will kill her true love with a kiss and 2) Richard Gansey III will either die by Blue's hand, or he is her true love. Immediately, some readers may sigh and roll their eyes, "Another YA love story? Really?" No! Stop that train of thought right now because there is so much more to this series than that. 

Blue comes from an elaborate family of strong females. They cover the spectrum of characteristics but are never in my mind labelled as weak. That's something I've really come to love as it's a great balance to the four raven boys that Blue befriends. Her family specializes in fortune telling and magic without the books dripping with scifi/fantasy feelings. The women seem very normal, they're people you may know, and they just so happen to be capable of telling fortunes.

Then we have the raven boys: four boys, all best friends, who attend Aglionby Academy--a rich, all-boys school nestled in the hills of Virginia. They are a group of their own, the students of this school. A touch of the rich and famous in a small town filled with people who were born there and would likely die there. 

Blue may be one of the locals but there is more of a bridge from the locals to the raven boys by means of Adam Parrish, a local who is driven by his need to escape the area for greater things and works hard to attend Aglionby and pay for the hefty tuition.

Beside Adam, we meet Noah, who is quiet and sweet. He's supportive, a little mysterious, but kind and yet... easily forgettable, or so it seems.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ronan Lynch, the resident jerk. To me, he was instantly unlikeable, and I continued to feel that way through most of the book. He had his reasons, sure, but most times I found him unbearable.

Lastly, there's Gansey. Handsome, rich, well-meaning but at times oblivious to his position and how he treats others -- he immediately gets off on the wrong foot with Blue. Still, he is passionate and what brings us here today. Gansey is in search of a dead Welsh king who, according to documents, might have been buried in the hills of Virginia. The person who finds him and wakes him will be able to grant a wish. You'd assume Gansey, this rich guy, is being particularly greedy but again--there's more than meets the eye.

Along with Adam, Ronan, Noah and Blue, they join Gansey to search for this king. Simple enough, right? Not really.

We are introduced to ghosts, wishes, tarot readings and magical words. Things shape up to be magical but not so much that you have to stretch your belief. It's still believable, and that's the fun of it. I can still picture this happening near my home. I can still picture this being true. But what really stuck out about this book and the series, for me, are the relationships and characteristics of each character. I've never read a YA book I could identify with so strongly. Not the outer layer; character appearances, voices, or the things they do (i.e., interests), but the internal realm--their drive to do something, the way personal tragedy affects them. My goodness, I would put the book down and catch myself thinking about a character (namely Adam) and realize "wow, I'm just like him." In many ways, it was eye opening, because you see the characters at their most raw and it's identifiable.

Not everything is magical adventures for the group. Quickly enough, the group is brought to face issues anyone would rather avoid, such as child abuse or, you know, murder. 

Paired with Stiefvater's expressive writing, I was fully immersed in the world of the characters and at times was left feeling like I had just read poetry. While the book begins with the romantic destiny of Blue, I feel that the true focus isn't her relationship with any one boy, but the friendship of the group as a whole. Their relationship with one another makes the group unified and hard to ignore.

Also? As a now-Virginia resident (three years strong) but a country girl at heart (I live near DC--where Gansey's family calls home, but my heart is most content away from the city) I'm so happy to read the tiny details of Virginia springtime that makes this state so beautiful.

As soon as I finished this book, I downloaded the next in the series. I couldn't put it down and I needed more. I needed a fix.

Last Week's Review: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
Next Week's Review: Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

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