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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.