#1 in the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
Disclaimer: Back when I tried to read Shiver, I found it boring and the main character repellant in every way. The only reason I decided to give the Raven Cycle a try at last is because someone told me they also hated Shiver and that reading The Raven Boys was a polar opposite experience. It wasn’t that magical for me, but two stars instead of throwing the book against a wall is a marked improvement.
Extra Disclaimer: I vented more than I expected to in this review. I think anyone who enjoyed this book is entitled to, and I’d be more than happy to hear them rave about it. As long as no one tells me I’m “wrong,” because no one is wrong about a book unless they make a weird statement like, “Twilight is a VCR manual that can raise the dead.” …even that would be an opinion I’d like to see elaborated upon.
That said, I’ll start with what I liked. Ronan is one of those characters with a load of negative traits, disliked even by the other characters, whom I just adored. Sometimes I just have to love the unrepentant asshole who is also a troubled bad boy. I’m only human. I liked the otherworldliness that came in when they finally followed the corpse road, and I liked the family of psychics. Calla reminded me of Amethyst from Steven Universe, for some reason. That’s a good thing. While I wasn’t a fan of the relationships among the core cast, I actually like the girl joining a group of guys on a quest thing. I’d like to see it without said girl being a romantic interest for a guy in the group, but that was not too bad here. The antagonist is intriguing and legitimately threatening when he needs to be. I loved the way he was set up so early and occasionally bolstered. This is one of the few times that I thought the multiple perspectives were pulled off pretty well.
My biggest problem with The Raven Boys is something I was afraid of and half-determined not to do: I hated the only female main character. I tried to like her. I don’t want to be one of those people who reads a book with a predominantly male cast and hates the token girl just because she’s female and there. I liked all of the other female characters, even Persephone, who is yet another cheap, phoned-in expy of Joss Whedon’s Drusilla character type. I even liked Blue’s name until I realised that rather than invoking Aerith and Bob, almost every name could easily be found on a fancy dog collar. Possibly Helen was one of the characters I wasn’t supposed to like and wouldn’t have if I were an obedient reader, but I liked her too. (and no, her being a helicopter pilot was not my sole reason)
So what’s wrong with Blue? She’s kind of a bitch, but it isn’t that simple. It would have been obnoxious enough if she’d just been another super-speshul fatherless wish fulfilment girl who makes her own clothes and even rebels in a “unique” way, despite having a witch/hippie mother. That would have simply been eye-rolling. But pretty much from the word Go, Blue lays out the one thing that made me want to slap her and later Adam: the nasty prejudice against people with money.
This drove me insane. She damns all rich people and any traits she can pin on them as Bad. Never mind that none of the rich people she meets do anything to validate her views or to deserve her nastiness. Wear anything she can identify as expensive? Guess what, she’ll call you a privileged asshole. Even if she assumed incorrectly. She treated Adam liked this just for going to the rich boy school. Of course, when she realises that he’s One of Her People, she can’t praise him enough–especially so she can compare him favourably to those Awful Rich Guys. (and boy do those two ever act like this is an issue of race)
The worst of it for me was that it usually boiled down to anti-intellectualism. I’m defo not rich, but I have endeavoured to be well-educated, so I will admit that this part felt personal. Gansey has a large vocabulary. The guy goes to a pre-Ivy League high school, and his central motivation in the book is seeking the tomb of a Welsh King. NO FUCKING DUH HE USES BIG WORDS. It has nothing to do with either of them. But both Blue and Adam correct him if he uses a word they don’t know and make it clear that they think he’s wrong for doing so. There wasn’t a single time that either of them accused Gansey of being condescending where he was actually guilty. He could not win. If he said something and defined it, he was called or thought of as condescending. If he said something and didn’t define it, Blue decided he was making her feel stupid on purpose and called or thought of him as condescending. The guy is seeking something supernatural and she acts like his owning an EMF reader is just more rich asshole posturing. The hell?
Adam has an inferiority complex that has basically zero to do with Gansey himself. But Adam blames Gansey for it, and takes it out on him pretty much constantly. I couldn’t stand Adam’s complaining, hateful ass either. He was supposed to have this deep brotherly relationship and fierce loyalty to Gansey, but all Adam ever did was bitch about him. There came a point where I was only reading to see if Gansey would ever stand up for himself (spoiler, he doesn’t) and the scraps of times that Ronan would come in and be the only character I gave a shit about anymore. Noah is sketched so thinly that his entire character arc thing was a bit insulting. It was a good read, but not a moment of it felt like it had been earned, so it either rang false or looked cheap.
Sometimes, I wondered if Stiefvater is just not any great shakes as a writer. The style and voice are dull pretending to be profound. Chekhov should shoot this book for the details that take up significant time only to come to nothing–I don’t care if they’re going to be important later in the series. They belong in the book in the series wherein they become relevant. Fight me. There are also a lot of dumb mistakes that I would think a decent editor would’ve caught. I could live with Llywelyn’s name being spelled wrong, since the king they were looking for was Owain Glendŵr. But saying that Ronan “flaunts” school rules rather than “flouts?” Explicitly stating that a phobia is only an irrational fear? What about acrophobia? Two seconds of looking at a dictionary will tell you that a phobia is an “extreme OR irrational fear.” Then there’s the cringe-inducing misinformation about epipens. While I can believe Blue being stupid enough to think that epinephrine is used to “restart the heart” rather than to reverse the effects of anaphylaxis, I refuse to believe that a rich boy doesn’t carry these on his person as well as keeping a few in his room and car. I know they expire incredibly fast compared to other drugs (I think even etanercept lasts 24 months as long as you keep it refrigerated), but he has a lot of money and is clearly very scared of succumbing to his allergy. No way he has just one epipen in the glove compartment. For heaven’s sake, don’t they come in packs of two?
If there’s anything I find next to impossible to forgive in a book, it’s when the author tells me how to feel. It’s particularly egregious here, where the telling is more of a demand that says if I feel differently, I must be wrong. I think that might turn out to be a problem I will forever have with Maggie Stiefvater. I’m going to read the next book in this series, because someone pointed out that it’s “Ronan’s book” and he’s the only one I still like. But any further than that will be 100% dependent on how much I like that one. I’ve got a feeling the ice is gonna be thin.