Psychics, Baby Birds, and Trees that Speak Latin: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

3.5 stars

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These days I have a habit of reading YA novels that all seem to blend into one another. They’re not bad, they’re not great, they just happen to sit in that weird three-star middle ground in which over time individual plot details are kind of forgotten. The Raven Boys is like this, and yet it’s not.

Who, What, Where?

Let’s set the scene a bit… The book focuses on five teenagers – four boys and a girl. Blue, the girl, is a member of a family of psychics, who while possessing no actual psychic abilities of her own does act as an amplifier for them and other mystical energies. She also happens to be worried about a prophecy which states if she kisses her true love, he’ll die. Then we have the boys – Gansey, Rowan, Adam, and Noah – students of the illustrious Aglionby academy who just happen to be trying to track down ley lines in the hopes of locating some really old dead guy’s tomb, waking him, and getting a wish granted.  Blue joins her aunt at an old church on St. Mark’s eve, a night on which psychics can see the ghosts of those set to die during the next 12 months. Blue somehow sees Gansey’s ghost and her aunt tells her it’s because either he’s the love of her love or she’s the reason he dies. Drama ensued. And there you have it.

Characters

The characters of The Raven Boys all have distinctive and well-constructed personalities. Each adds a little something different to the story and while they weren’t completely lovable, they’re definitely all very likeable (even Rowan whose personality is designed to set people on edge). This is important as while the story does deal with the group’s investigations into the mystical, much of it actually rests on the interactions between the characters and the things going on in their respective lives, especially the boys e.g. Adam’s troubles at home and future aspirations, Rowan’s family and schooling issues, etc.

Romance

One of the main pet peeves I have with YA novels is insta-love. So many good books in this category have been let down by laziness in developing romantic relationships. I have no idea if this will become a problem later in the series but it wasn’t in this book. Blue has feelings for Adam and vice versa but it’s the kind of gradual and slightly awkward relationship development you’d expect from a couple of teens who haven’t been in a relationship before. It’s believable and not overly annoying (yet). However, trying to avoid spoilers, it’s very easy to see that this (a) won’t last or (b) will turn into a love triangle very soon based on insights Blue gains during the book about Gansey. If so, I hope that either relationship will develop gradually *fingers crossed* but I have serious concerns about the kissing-prophecy angst that’s teased to come.

Plot

In terms of the book’s plot, I liked the idea of it in theory – ley lines, magical energies, ghosts, rituals, etc. but for most of the book I was a little confused. Specific information did come out over time and yet I’m still sitting here feeling slightly hazy on a lot of details. I have to expect that books two-four in the series will add the extra clarification. The first half of the book can be a little slow for those who need big dramatic storylines but for those invested in the characters, it moves along at a nice, relaxed pace. One thing I do wish had packed a little more punch was the story’s climax which felt a little on the flat side, despite the actions of one character which I’m sure will cause tension later on. The group’s overarching goals weren’t fully realised in this book but steps were taken in the right direction so as to show to a degree where the later books are heading. As to how there’s three books worth of plot after this, I’m unsure but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Writing

On the whole, Maggie’s quality of writing is good. It’s third-person, clear, doesn’t overdo the extraneous details and still manages to paint a good picture of events as well as characters’ thoughts. The chapters aren’t ridiculously long – which is good for those who liked defined places to stop reading – and there aren’t so many characters that you find yourself losing track of them all.  My only minor complaint here is that at some points it can take a little bit of time to work out exactly whose perspective a new chapter is being written from. This aside, she has a lovely style which is easy to spend a lazy afternoon with.Divider

Final Verdict: While The Raven Boys won’t be as forgettable as many of the other 3-star YA reads I’ve tackled in recent months, it still lacks the magic spark needed to bump it up to the greatness of a 4.0, particularly when it comes to a memorable and dramatic conclusion.

3.5 Stars

Top 10 Tuesday: Kick-Ass Female Characters

Today marks the beginning of June, a new season, and the second half of the year. Woo! However, today is also the day that the DC comics’ movie, Wonder Woman, opens in cinemas. This is the first big comic book movie ever to focus on a female protagonist. In other words, it’s a pretty big deal! I’m super excited to see the film and it’s got me thinking about the many other wonderfully strong, brave, determined, and just generally kick-ass women who have their origins on the page. There are so many amazing women that come to mind that limiting my list to 10 is a crime, so for now, here’s fourteen:

Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series)

It’s impossible to leave Hermione off any list of this nature. She’s kind, courageous, and incredibly smart. While Harry may have been the chosen one, without Hermione both he and Ron would most certainly have died (many times) over the years, and failed a heap of school assignments along the way. Whether she’s solving riddles, crafting massively complicated potions well beyond her years, or erasing someone’s memory, Hermione is most certainly the best person to have in any magical situation.

Celaena Sardothien (Throne of Glass)

If there’s one thing you can say about Sarah J. Maas, she knows how to write strong, bad-ass women. As a trained assassin, Celaena knows just about every which way to make a person hurt and yet, still takes a great deal of pride in her femininity. When someone can kick your ass wearing a dress and high heels, you know they’re definitely not someone you want to piss off.  Having lost her family and spent several years as a slave, Celaena hasn’t let her suffering slow her down. This is a girl who knows how to best serve revenge: ice cold.

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)

Katniss goes through quite a bit over the course of her life – the death of her father, extreme poverty and almost starvation, risking a lifetime of slavery to hunt for game, and that’s all before the books even begin! She’s agile, strong, and a wiz with a bow and arrow, but more importantly, she’s not afraid to throw herself into danger to help the people she cares about or fight back against those who prey on the weak. Even through all of her suffering, Katniss never loses her exceptionally kind heart and it’s from this that she draws her enduring strength of character.

Delilah ‘Lila’ Bard (A Darker Shade of Magic)

A thief, a pirate, a magician, is there anything Lila can’t do? Having been on her own for most of her life, Lila has had to keep herself alive on the rough streets of London. An adventurer at heart, Lila is willing to throw herself into new languages, skills, lands, and experiences without so much as batting an eyelash. Where she finds herself at a physical disadvantage, she relies on quick and creative thinking to get out of tough situations. In doing so, she proves that size and strength are no indication of the trials one may overcome and the enemies they can defeat.

Feyre Archeron (A Court of Thorns and Roses)

My most recently discovered kick-ass protagonist. With her varied and powerful magical abilities, strong will, and determination to protect the human race, she most certainly belongs on this list. Feyre isn’t afraid to speak her mind and call someone out when they’re being a prick. She’s also constantly working to better herself and improve her usefulness to others. Most importantly, she can kill a giant worm utilising only some mud and a couple of old broken bones. If that isn’t kick-ass, I don’t know what is.

Lisbeth Salander (The Millennium Series)

Having grown up with an abusive father, been admitted to a psychiatric facility as a teenager, and survived a sexual assault as an adult, Lisbeth’s life is not a happy one and it’s sometimes difficult to understand how she remains as strong as she does. An exceptional hacker with a photographic memory, Lisbeth is intelligent, calculating, and unafraid of personal expression, even where it makes others uncomfortable. No matter how bad the situation, she never stops fighting. As someone who ties up and tattoos her rapist, sets a man on fire, and even survives being buried alive, Lisbeth is most certainly a kick-ass heroine.

Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows)

Inej, or The Wraith, is the right hand woman to thief extraordinaire, Kaz Brekker. Reserved, spiritual, and honest, Inej has the balance and flexibility of an acrobat, and the strength and knife skills of a warrior. Often filling the role of spy, Inej spends much of her time traversing the roof tops of Ketterdam. Kidnapped and sold into prostitution at fourteen, Inej somehow manages to retain an underlying belief in the goodness of others. As someone who is able to move through the night without making a noise, defeat trained assassins, and scale heated metal chutes with only a pair of rubber soled shoes to assist her, Inej is in good company on this list.

Paige Mahoney (The Bone Season)

Paige, also known as the Pale Dreamer, is a member of one of the rarer clairvoyant categories in Scion. She’s powerful enough to enter dreamscapes and push people’s souls out of their bodies. This would be badass on its own but on top of her magical abilities, Paige is also a part of the Seven Seals, one of the more powerful gangs in Scion’s criminal underworld. Her time with such a group has made her very capable of protecting herself, skilled in picking up on small details, and unwilling to give up when the going gets tough.

Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs)

Clarice is a student at the FBI academy and determined to prove herself in a field largely dominated by men. Despite her inexperience and extreme discomfort, Clarice constantly throws herself into each stage of the Buffalo Bill investigation. While others doubt her investigative efforts and hunches, it is through careful questioning, reviewing of the evidence, and persistence that Clarice digs up the necessary clues to identify Bill. With no back up and only her side arm to protect her, Clarice takes on Bill in a final showdown, her success resting on quick thinking and smart use of FBI training.

Rose Hathaway (Vampire Academy)

A trained dhampir guardian, Rose is direct, witty, protective, and kicks a lot of ass. Over the course of six books, she decapitates strigoi, overcomes death (repeatedly), fights back against bullies, discovers a way to retrieve her boyfriend’s soul, and travels half way across the world to fulfil a promise. At first a little arrogant, Rose grows and develops, and eventually comes to realise that protecting Moroi isn’t as simple as she’d once thought. She’ll make you laugh, make you cry, and in the end you’ll believe, with a little help from her friends, there’s almost nothing she can’t do.

Kady Grant (The Illuminae Files)

The second hacker on this list, Kady is stubborn, extremely tech savvy, and not afraid to bend the rules from time to time. She’s a bit of a flirt, a little snappy, and likes to go in guns blazing. But when your planet gets attacked, your AI goes psycho, and a zombie outbreak hits your ship, this is the girl you want on your team. She reboots entire computer systems, tracks down even the most secure information, can survive a ship full of murderous infected people, and somehow stays on the good side of the crazy AI. Definite kick-ass protagonist material there.

Irene (The Invisible Library)

Irene is a librarian. An awesome librarian. One who jumps between different universes, fights fey, makes deals with dragons, and solves mysteries with Sherlock Holmes like detectives. She’s level headed, articulate, and yet still able to deliver a beat down to pesky werewolves if need be. Irene is the kind of heroine who will bravely rush in to save a friend but she’ll damn well do her best to plan it out beforehand. If that’s not possible, she’s an expert in improvisation. Plus, you can’t help but love a character with the same appreciation for books as the reader.

Daenerys Targaryen & Arya Stark (A Song of Ice and Fire)

It seemed unfair to pick between these two wonderful female characters. Martin’s women are all well-developed, complicated, and just as strong as the men (in many cases even stronger). Both Dany and Arya have suffered great personal losses and been forced to leave their homes because of them. However, both have also worked extremely hard to reshape themselves into people who can claim what they are due, by force if necessary, and will get revenge for those they have lost. Dany and Arya are determined and resilient characters, and although one may show strength through dragons, and the other a “needle”, each is set to accomplish big things in books to come.


Who are some of your favourite kick-ass heroines?