First things first: every time I read the name “Owen Glendower,” this Horrible Histories song popped into my head. This is not a bad thing.
Now, full disclosure: I did not expect to like The Raven Boys, especially not after reading the first couple of pages. The main character is a girl called Blue (because of course) who was raised by a family of witches and has to live with the knowledge that, if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. She is just another girl, but also Super Special, has a slightly eccentric fashion sense, and her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. Basically, Stiefvater has taken every single supernatural YA cliché she could think of and put them in a blender to create her protagonist.
Blue is fleshed out ever so slightly later on, but overall, she is mostly there to serve a narrative purpose. Her actions move the plot along and push other characters to where they need to go, but character-wise, she is easily the weakest link in the book. With a few easy rewrites, Blue and her family could have been left out altogether and the reader would be none the wiser. Sure, we would not have the “true love’s first (deadly) kiss” mystery, but this storyline is not what makes the book interesting (we all know how I feel about love triangles).
The heart of the story is in the title: the Raven Boys. They are a colourful group of friends with distinct personalities and Stiefvater masterfully reveals their backstories, slowly, peeling back the layers one by one and giving us only a little peek at a time. I found myself intrigued by this little band of misfits and became more interested with each reveal. Why does Adam so desperately need that wish? What is Ronan hiding? What is the deal with Noah? Their group dynamic, to me, is the most fascinating mystery in the book. These boys, orbiting around Gansey’s sun and getting pulled into his obsessive quest, are clearly what Stiefvater is most interested in as well, which begs the question: why didn’t she write the story exclusively about them?
You could argue that Blue is a surrogate for the reader; as she gets to know the boys, so do we. However, the book is not told exclusively from her perspective; the narration shifts every other chapter, letting Gansey and Adam speak as well. We don’t need her to introduce them, they can do that themselves (and they do). The only time I found Blue interesting was when she confronted Gansey about his privilege and condescension, but Adam’s entire relationship with Gansey revolves around these issues – once again, Blue’s contribution to the story could easily be left out. She distracts from what I think the focus of this book should be.
That said, I truly enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot and the darkness that pervades this world. There are some wonderfully atmospheric settings and the struggle between Adam’s desire for independence and Gansey’s desire to help fascinates me to no end. That is why I will pick up the second Raven Cycle book in the future – and not because of Stiefvater’s increasingly desperate sequel-baiting towards the end of the novel. I actually burst out laughing when, out of nowhere, she dropped a huge bombshell in the final line.
So here is my wishlist for the other Raven Cycle novels:
1. Cut the excess elements and focus on the essence of the story: the mystery and the group dynamic.
2. Flesh out Blue and give her something to do.
3. A less messy ending to each installment.
4. A quick resolution to the love triangle – if it gets dragged out for three more books, Stiefvater and I will need to have a word.
I’m rooting for you, The Dream Thieves.
Don’t let me down.