With the arrival of Maggie Steifvater’s new novel, Call Down the Hawk, coming out in November The Raven Boys has been circulating across social media for the last few weeks. I last read the book a handful of years ago, mere hours after listening to a hilarious, anecdotal rendetion of Steifvater writing process, diving into my personalised copy straight after the event. Having loved it while in university I was more than eager to stumble into a reread when I found the Audiobook, free, on Spotify last month.
Rich, affluent, well bred Gansey wants the one thing his genes never afforded him: magic. Travelling the world in search of a power he can never own, attempting a quest centuries old, spurred only by small methodical breakthroughs, he drags his three idiosyncratic friends into a strange world they are only on the cusp of believing in. But when a fifth joins their group: a psychic’s daughter with no power of her own, answers start to unearth themselves and leads begin to appear. Suddenly, their collective quest pitches from the improbable to the dangerous. As events start to repeat themselves the group begin to wonder if they’re the first to search for the magic Henrietta kept secret. What lengths did the last quester go to and where are they now?
“She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.”
Characters remain at the heart of this novel. From angry and abrasive Ronan to quiet and mysterious Noah, a multitude of clashing personalities are shown throughout The Raven Boys. Gansey, as the group’s leader, is confident and likeable. His wealth makes him popular while his infectious love for the supernatural and unwavering loyalty to his friends keep him as an interesting and dynamic personality. Blue, meanwhile, is always described as sensible and restrained, although in reality her character appeared more spontaneous and rash than practical. Apart and desperate to enter the supernatural world her family love Blue never could belong, making it clear why she is drawn so heavily to four boys desperate to find magic themselves. The shared enthusiasm for their plot and ever changing relationships with one another as they gradually accept Blue into their male dominated lives creates an amiable undertone to an otherwise dark novel.
Ronan, meanwhile, was guarded and complex. His fiesty character and alluded asides to forbidden secrets make him captivating and mysterious, the reader desperate to discover what’s behind his difficult exterior. The dark and twisted past he presents, accompanied by difficult family and lack of care for his studies, intrigues readers as it is an oxymoron to the close friendship he has with his hard working, kind and almost kingly roommate, Gansey. Adam is simple and honest. Dreaming of escaping his run down trailer and abusive family he is filled with desperation and hope, the only member of their group who needs the favour Glendower promises. The final member of the group, Noah, is difficult to gauge. Illusive and quiet he feels less developed than the other protagonists, almost like a character added for plot purposes rather than creating a unique personality of his own. The dynamic between these five characters throws an unusual light on this peculiar tale, revealing five questers who are almost as nonsensical as the quest itself.
“Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn’t know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves.”
While most fantasy novels favour the enchanted backdrop accompanied by a whimsical senses of magic and discovery The Raven Boys is all grit and blood. With dangerous, unexplained and aberrant occurrences that almost allude to a Shakespearean sense of perturbing the novel plays on a twisted use of nature. These darker aspects present an unnerving, yet somehow beautiful, prose that unsettles and captivates the reader equally. The setting of Henrietta, a small almost rural town in Virginia, America, nursing an uncharacteristically posh private boys school, in unique. The elegant school and it’s expensive cohort make a stark comparison to the natural mysteries that Henrietta offers, the incongruities between the two creating a compelling and well written backdrop to such a sinister tale. The environs are reflected throughout the characters as parallels are drawn between the wealthy Ronan and Gansey and Blue and Adam, who are both local to Henrietta. These stark contrasts adds a further dynamic to both the world building and the character development presented throughout the novel.
In a similar Shakespearean style the plot stems from a dangerous greed for the unnatural, promising sweet rewards at a great price, led by ambitious and selfish young men. With a sinister story and a foreboding sense of danger, amplified by ominous visions of the future, the plot is dark and twisted, nervously guiding the reader to its conclusion. The pacing is well balanced, the events spaced evenly and the tale never dull. The confusing and anomalous events of The Raven Boys make the plot unclear at times, with plot points alluding to future events that do not currently make sense in this novel’s context. This only adds to the already sinister undertone Steifvater has created. These unexplained mysteries and dark offerings of potential futures create an eerie atmosphere and foreboding sense of danger as the reader is unknowingly dragged from their comfort zone, desperate but fearful to see where this dark tale is heading.
Class is a prominent theme throughout the novel. With Ganseys wealth giving him a status he doesn’t deserve, rarely humbled as he glides through his expensive life it is often used in contrast to Adam. Adam’s worn out, second hand school uniform, struggling income and outstanding grades that pay for his place at private school creates a struggling yet determined character. Of all the Raven Boys in this novel Ronan is most oblivious to the money his father has bestowed. Ignoring the expensive education and indulging in the exclusive life he is accustomed to his care free attitude is of great envy to Adam, his education so taken for granted he rarely tries. This theme is often explored throughout the novel as Steifvater examines the various characters at their school and the desperate need money can have on individuals as the plot progresses.
The changing dynamic and relationship between the five protagonists in The Raven Boys are constantly explored in the prose. As a budding and almost awkward romance develops between Blue and Adam, awkwardly appearing around their friends, the group slowly begins to shift to accept this new presence. With Blue’s influence her new friends become more aware and embarrassed by the wealth they’ve come to expect, as a deep routed friendship starts developing between the four from a mutual curiosity with magic. The individual percularities of each character combines together to form an unusual dynamic that remains a basis for the rest of the plot. Throughout the novel Gansey’s unusual choice of friends is often discussed, his relationship with Adam and Ronan being almost fatherly. This complex friendship is unusual and suggests further development as the series inspects the extent of each of their loyalty and the lengths they’ll go for one another.
“They were always walking away from him. But he never seemed able to walk away from them.”
The Audiobook of this novel can be found on Spotify. The slow American drawl of the narrator was difficult to acclimatise to at first, given the accent is so different to my own, but overall it is more authentic and ties in well with the plot. The book is well read: the narrator keeps a good pace and the volume is not pitchy. The reader masterfully creates each character with their voice, from Adam’s slow and defeated drawl to Persephony’s airy and mindless tone, adding another depth to the novel and helping the reader understand which character is talking. Overall the audiobook is well read and I would highly recommend this as a way to digest the novel, the reading making it more engaging and entertaining.
The characters in this novel are at sixth form shortly to be finishing their school careers. The novels sinister backdrop and earie tone lends itself to older YA readers, as do the age of the characters and the darker events presented. There are themes of violence and murder which could upset some readers. The protagonists presented are complex and the novel should definitely be considered creepy.
“Is this thing safe?”
“Safe as life,” Gansey replied.
Overall The Raven Boys is a gripping and sinister read, with compelling characters and a eldritch storyline that plays on a Shakespearean approach to the supernatural. It’s complex plot and darker themes make it a creepy yet enthralling read.