there, wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever
dared to dream before...
(Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven)
I finally got a chance to read the much-anticipated Raven Boys, the first book of a projected four-book series, by the multi-talented Maggie Stiefvater. Stiefvater's reputation as a fantasy writer is stellar, particularly after her breakout trilogy The Wolves of Mercy Falls and last year's stand-alone blockbuster The Scorpio Races. I kept thinking of Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series as I was reading The Raven Boys, and also a book by Madeleine L'Engle called A Swiftly Tilting Planet--there are a lot of thematic overlaps between these stories, as well as similarly mysterious characters and a compelling, slow-building atmosphere of suspense.
The Raven Boys circles around a quest for the remains of Owain Glendower, legendary Welsh ruler who, like King Arthur, is said to be waiting to rise again when the time is right. Gansey, one of the four Raven Boys in the novel (they're private school boys whose uniform has a raven on the jacket) is convinced that Glendower's remains lie somewhere in the area of Henrietta, Virginia (that's in the USA, not Wales, but Gansey has an explanation for the geographic discrepancy) and has involved his three friends Adam, Noah and Connor in his search. Meanwhile, Blue Sargent, a young woman born into a family of clairvoyant females, has a vivid and peculiar vision regarding Gansey and his death. When Blue and the Raven Boys meet and begin to investigate the ley lines and other manifestations of mysterious energy in the Virginia landscape, boundaries between the real world and the otherworldly begin to shift.
It's interesting that there are really two worlds at work here--Blue and her family, all women, all highly intuitive, private, and naturally attuned to the world of myth and spirit, and the Raven Boys, living in a very masculine world of private school, grades, money, cars, and ambition. Stiefvater is too sophisticated a writer to make this division simple, but moving back and forth between the two groups adds to the reading experience. I really like how diverse the characters are, and how challenging some of them are to understand--I'm certain there's a lot more to find out about them. The last line, uttered by Connor, utterly mystified me. Stiefvater's always been great at creating atmosphere, and I would describe the atmosphere of The Raven Boys as "heightened". By the end, I was getting chills up my spine. Of course, I was reading in bed in the dead of night, when I should really have been sleeping...
As well as being a writer, Maggie Stiefvater is a musician and a visual artist. Here is some art she drew for the trailer of The Raven Boys...I think it's exquisite. Remember those 19th century illustrated novels for grown-ups, with their colour plates? I so think Raven Boys could have been done like that.
And here's the trailer: