Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stiefvater, Maggie: The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)

Expected publication: September 18, 2012
Scholastic Press
YA Paranormal/Mythology, 304 pages

Acquired and read: From the publisher (courtesy of BEA 2012), in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. It's taken me a good three months to get through this troublemaker.

Disclaimer: This is a pre-release ARC received from the publisher. As such, please check any quotes or information against the finished copy of the book.  

There's this constant debate about authors being kept in their place - and what I mean by that is that every once in a while, a writer that everyone hearts and expects to keep merrily rolling in the dough of their numerous sci-fi novels, or whatever, will suddenly be declaring their intentions to write an authentic recounting of the romance between Shakespeare and his wife.

You know, something unexpected. Something out of the mark they've already made on the publishing industry. Something that, to the author's primary group of readers, often comes as a total shock.

(If you still don't understand what I'm getting at...weren't you also thinking that J.K. Rowling wouldn't stray from the fantasy genre?)

To me, being both a writer and a reader, I not only look forward to such "infractions" - I give my blessing. I know that, at least when you're first breaking into the market, it's probably better if your work can be shelved under an appropriate genre, if you can be placed on panels and in library catalogs alongside other authors who write the same. But, I also know that it isn't right to constrain creativity. Sure, I might've enjoyed writing a dystopian, but if I had to write any more, I'd probably end up scribbling out parodies of the Hunger Games with cartoonized Katniss-esque characters and bury Peeta in hummus and have Gale be the hero of all of it.

Well, I might not go that far. I do treasure my life. But I think you get what I mean. The muse comes when it comes, and I am not definitely not one to argue with the muse or pick a market-appreciated idea over one that I'd rather write for me.

Take that as a prologue of sorts for my experience with The Raven Boys.

If you read my sum-up of BEA 2012 (or at least, my day there), you probably know how thrilled I was when one really awesome Scholastic rep took a copy of The Raven Boys out of the closet for me. (Just goes to show...pushing and shoving and snatching ARCs without taking time to talk to the people standing around? At the end of the day, you lose.)

Anyway, I held it on my lap all the way home, stroked the cover, pretty much extricated a pinky promise from myself that I would read all of it that night - and then I didn't. Well, I opened it and read the first two chapters, and then I closed it back.

Not a very auspicious start, especially from a Stiefvater fangirl, right?

Once I got myself going, though, I pretty much kept up a constant commentary with my younger sister about how...different The Raven Boys was. I think at one point I creeped her out by dropping the book in my lap, closing my eyes, shaking my head and going, "Why, Maggie, why?"

(In my defense, someone turned up dead who I didn't expect. But I won't spoil.)

The thing is, now that I'm trying to fence in all my thoughts, Maggie Stiefvater's switched gears, and it's pretty obvious when you look at The Raven Boys. It's third-person, no alternating POVs (yeah, that killed me, too). Every bit of the text is dense with details, details that sometimes don't feel important and you might skip over, but later you're skipping right back through what feels like hundreds of pages to find, because HOLY CROW YOU DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING and you've completely forgotten who this new character is.

Switching gears is not at all a bad thing. I mean, previously Maggie's switched from deep, poetic werewolves to vicious, human-eating water-horses, and look how well that turned out. The Raven Boys, once you pull away the unfamiliar surface, is still traditional Stiefvater fare. There's a heroine with a unique name (Blue), dysfunctional family and attraction to a boy who may not be healthy for her. Well, this time around, there's two (yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is a love triangle involved here - I wasn't too happy about that, but c'est la vie). The boy(s) have questionable pasts, interesting quirks (Gansey chews mint leaves) and a quest, though perhaps Gansey's isn't as desperate as Sam's desire to keep from being stuck a wolf forever.

A quest for a king.

Yes, a real, live king - or probably a ghost king, though that was one thing I didn't get the full importance of. I mean, everyone wants King Arthur to come back, but knowing our luck, he'd probably arrive wrapped in the whole enchilada: cheating wife, back-stabbing nephew/son/stepson/whatever, evil stepsister, and creepy old prophesizing guy.

Yes, I just de-romanticized the legend of the Once and Future King. I hope we can still be friends.

Somewhere around here, I know I should probably plug in an appropriate conclusion, so here it is. The Raven Boys. Not what I expected, definitely not an easy road to travel down, but...somewhat satisfying, once you get to the conclusion. It's different, it's got a love triangle (okay, so maybe that bothered me. A lot. But that's just me being anti-love triangle) but every author's gotta change sooner or later, and as long as the quality of her writing stays the same and she still touches base with her readers, I'm right behind Maggie Stiefvater for the rest of her (long, fruitful, bagpipe-playing) career.

And thank you for being patient and reading this monstrosity. I should probably keep quiet about The Raven Boys when I can't even curb off my own reviews.

Warnings: Strong language; some mention of the fact that Blue's parents were not married, and a really weird, possibly innuendo-fraught nickname Blue's mother had for her father. Gansey's real name might be taken as a swear word in polite society - DO NOT ASK ME WHAT IT IS. There's also a character death (well, that might be a loose definition, and you'll see for yourself).


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