books · fantasy · fiction · kindle · quartet · review · urban fantasy · YA fiction

Reading: The Raven Cycle

(I can’t find the source for this – if you know where it’s
from, please let me know)

I have a lot of loves and passions and hobbies.

Obviously, there’s sewing, which is primarily what I’ve blogged about before. And coffee. Coffee is pretty much the thing that keeps me going on tough days…well, on any day actually.

But books. Books are my first and truest love (Sorry Mr Cuckoo, but you know it’s true!). I even named this blog after one of my favourite children’s books. I think I’m more grateful to my parents for instilling a love of the written word in me more than anything else. Reading to me is as essential as breathing (sorry for the trite phrasing, but it’s true!) I often get asked if I get tired of reading (I read for work) and the answer is ‘No.’ Always no.

No matter how bad a day has been, or how low I’m feeling, or how much pain I’m in, or how bad an argument it was, just half an hour of reading can take me away, take me out of myself and into someone else’s viewpoint, and when I come back, the problem doesn’t feel quite so immediate, and I can see the problem with fresh eyes.

Plus, every book is a whole new universe, and I get to visit when I read. How is that not amazing?

All this to say: I want to start talking about books on my blog. I love having the opportunity to discuss what’s happening in a book I’m reading, with someone who has read/is already reading/wants to read it, so it makes sense to share it with the internets, in case anyone out there comes across this and thinks: ‘Sounds like something I’d enjoy reading’ or ‘I loved that book too!’

So, without further ado, here’s a bit of a review of my current reads:

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Steifvater

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle Book 1)
The Raven Cycle is a YA (young adult) urban fantasy quartet, set in the fictional town of Henrietta in Virginia, and the plot centres around the relationship between Blue Sargent, a decidedly non-clairvoyant teenage girl who has been born into a family of psychics, and the four eponymous Raven Boys (Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah) who go to the prestigious Aglionby Academy in Henrietta. 
Blue has been told since she was a child that if she kisses her true love, he will die, which has understandably made her somewhat ambivalent toward romantic relationships. Although Blue has no psychic powers of her own, she has the ability to boost the powers of those around her.  On St Mark’s Eve, as part of a yearly ritual, she goes to a churchyard with her aunt Neeve, who will use her abilities to list the names of the spirits who file past them. All these ‘spirits’ are shadows of those who will die in the next year. Whilst in the churchyard, she sees a spirit who tells her his name is Gansey. According to her aunt Neeve, the only way a non-psychic would be able to see a spirit on St Mark’s Eve is if they are the person to kill the spirit, or if they are their true love. 
As situations conspire to bring Blue and the Raven Boys together, it becomes clear that Gansey and the rest of the boys are looking for something supernatural hidden around Henrietta, and despite herself, Blue finds it impossible not to help them. Before she knows it, she is as involved in the hunt as any of them. But surely everything will be fine, as long as she doesn’t kiss anyone…
So far, I’ve read the first 3 of this quartet in chain-reading fashion, and if I’m perfectly frank, part of the reason I have stopped reading 10% into book 4 to write this review is because (let’s face it, we’ve all been there!) I don’t want to finish the final book, and then be bereft of Blue and the boys. Yep. I’m enjoying them THAT MUCH.
I’ll be honest though, when I first started The Raven Boys, I was fairly sure I’d hate it. 
  • For starters, the whole ‘If you kiss your true love, he will die’ motif made me roll my eyes so far back in my head, I thought I’d fall over. Talk about your average fairy tale concept of telling the innocent, hapless girl that love is dangerous, stay away. 
  • I also tend to find the ‘your love is fated’ trope fairly hackneyed, and a bit boring. 
  • Psychics are NOT my thing at all. I read an obscene amount of sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy, you name it, and I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but I find the non-specific ‘woo-woo’ nature of psychics’ and clairvoyants’ predictions annoying.
  • This is quite a small thing, I found it really annoying that the main female character was called ‘Blue’. I’m still trying to work out why that is, exactly… if I manage to wrangle my thoughts into any kind of concrete idea about it, I’ll add an edit. 
  • And the Raven Boys. Initially, it annoyed me that there was a rich-poor divide, with the princely, accomplished and privileged boys and the poor, ‘alternative’ female. Ugh. So many ughs. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to invest any time in reading about self-important, rich teenage boys and their angst.

I actually read the first 20% or so (I’m reading them on my Kindle), and then bought another book, because I was fairly sure I wouldn’t get much further without throwing the book across the room (figuratively, not literally, it’s a new Kindle, and they aren’t cheap).

But I didn’t. I got hooked. And these are some of the reasons why:
  • Blue Sargent is not your stereotypical YA female lead. She’s not sitting around waiting for a prince to come along and save her. In fact, she is actively avoiding it. As a distinctly ‘ordinary’ member of a very extraordinary family, one of her ‘powers’ is just how practical she is. In many extreme situations, Blue is the voice of reason and her realism is what seems to ground even the most fantastic and magical of situations. And I love that. Her questioning and pragmatism mirror what the reader (or, well, me at least) is thinking. 
  • The Raven Boys are not your typical hard-done-to rich boys. They seem to be, but Maggie Stiefvater has done such a brilliant job in rounding out their characters that even when they’re being selfish, privileged ass-hats, you can see why they’re behaving that way, and before you have time to get more than a little irritated, their poor behaviour is immediately challenged by another of the boys, or Blue herself.
  • Gansey is a complicated leader. He’s charismatic, driven, charming and endearing, but he’s also forever saying the wrong thing, slightly clueless, and underneath it all he’s unsure of his motivations and scared.
  • Ronan seems like an angry, violent and prickly teenage boy, who just wants to break things and race cars. And yet he’s not. He’s caring when he thinks no one is looking, supportive and faithful to Gansey above all things, and as the story progresses, the more complex and endearing he is.
  • Adam is the poor boy impostor, who works harder than anyone in an attempt to extricate himself from his terrible home life. But the chip on his shoulder and his mood swings are not automatically forgiven because of his past. He can be a likeable character one minute, and then annoy the crap out of me in the next. 
  • Noah is simultaneously the simplest of the Raven Boys, and the most complicated. And I don’t really want to say too much more about him, for fear of spoilers. He is the least well-rounded character, but I’m hoping there may be more about Noah’s back story in book 4 ‘The Raven King’.
  • The relationship between the boys (and to a lesser extent, Blue) is rich, and complicated, and full of love (although they don’t know how to express it) and is redolent of the old school, chivalric order that Gansey is so intrigued with.
Stiefvater is so good at recreating the confusing tangle of emotions and actions that come with complex relationships, and despite the faithful rendition of teenage emotions, I come away from the books feeling a fuzzy feeling a warmth toward the characters, rather than feeling overwhelmed by teenage self-absorption and navel-gazing.
There are a few little quibbles I have, despite loving the crap out of these books.
  • There are quite a few references to Gansey’s journal, which documents his search for the *something supernatural* mentioned earlier, and a lot of discussion about his studies and research. But these are things mentioned in passing and then never really elaborated on. As a geek, I want Steifvater to show me this research, not just tell me that it exists. I’d love to get even just a section of Gansey’s journal to read, some excerpts here and there, and maybe a few scenes in which the research is mentioned. It would make it all the more believable and immersive for me.
  • Noah. As I mentioned above, I don’t feel like his character has been developed enough. There are reasons for this, that I’m deliberately not mentioning, because spoilers, but even so, I feel like Stiefvater is breezing over Noah a bit and not really grounding him in the narrative, which I feel is a little bit lazy. As I said, I’m hoping that this will be resolved in the final book, but if it isn’t, I will probably be a bit disappointed.
  • There don’t really seem to be any repercussions or ramifications for the characters, despite THINGS HAPPENING that, realistically, would involve more investigation by the police, and would have an impact on the way the characters would behave. In particular, there’s a scene at the end of Book 2: The Dream Thieves (my current favourite) that I’m SURE ought to have resulted in more fallout. But, it didn’t even really get mentioned again, which I felt was very unrealistic. 

Despite these little irritations, I really love these books. I enjoy the characters, I like the setting, I love the fact that any kind of romance is a complication that distracts the characters from their motivations, rather than being the main driving-force of the plot, as is often the case in YA fiction.

Basically, if you’re interested in YA books, or even just urban fantasy, do yourself a favour and try these out!

I’m going to go back to Book 4 now, and do my damnedest not to read it as quickly as I did the others!


4 thoughts on “Reading: The Raven Cycle

  1. Reading was my first love, too. And based on what you wrote here, I suspect I'll like your taste in books–fantasy is my #1 genre! So bring on the book talk. 🙂


  2. Ohhh I came here for the sewing – but I’m staying for the book reviews. I too love a good book – and young adult fantasy is my favourite. Thanks for the recommendation I think I’m going to try and find these in the local library.


    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the review! 🙂 I worry about people being bored or thinking I should just stick to the one thing, but I think it’s important to blog about what I’m interested in!

      I’d be really interested in your opinion on the books if you do read them! I think YA fantasy is just brilliant – I plan on reviewing another series I’ve recently read soon.


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