Ancient myths? Ley lines and ghosts? Talking trees? I'm in!
'The Raven Boys' is one big adventure. It reads in places like a mystical, sinister variation of The Goonies. There's a friendship group (the titular Raven Boys), whose bonds with each other far surpass the familial; a psychic's daughter whose destiny becomes ensnared with this enigmatic troop; and an all-consuming quest to wake the revenant of a long-dead Welsh king. It's all about the essence of magic itself.
Gansey, the leader of the Raven Boys group, has searched all over the world for Glendower (the awesome moniker of this Welsh king). He frequently goes on expeditions with his dowsing stick, dreaming of unearthing something magical. When Blue, the psychic's daughter, sees Gansey's spirit one night on the Corpse Road where ghosts of the soon-to-be-dead congregate, she knows that he will be dead within the year. Their fates are inexplicably linked, but she does not yet know the dangers of this entanglement.
The characters were beautifully rendered in this novel. Gansey, Ronan, Noah and Adam, the four Raven Boys who work together to turn Gansey's dream into reality, are the focal point of this first instalment. Their love for each-other was heart-warming, and I felt like I got to know them as if they were real people.
Although very little is revealed about the fantasy world in this novel, what we do see is wonderfully-crafted. Stiefvater uses the ominous, fae beauty of the forest to conjure up a truly atmospheric vision of the paranormal. At times the gorgeous imagery ("the air moved slowly around his body, somehow tangible, gold flaked, every dust mote a lantern") of the woods reminded me of the eerie Godswood in George RR Martins 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series. Trees, to me, have a looming aura of innate power and magic, therefore I enjoy this type of utilisation of nature in fantasy. The whole section at Cabeswater was amazing in my eyes, primarily because of the spooky atmosphere!
My issues with the book were thankfully very small. Unfortunately, the fantastic development of the Raven Boys eclipsed the characterisation of the other weird and wonderful people populating the novel. Most problematic of all, I did not feel very connected to Blue. Furthermore, the glimmers of romance between Blue and Adam grated on me. Yet these 'flaws' did not significantly detract from my enjoyment of the novel.
This foray of mine back into the YA genre after a couple of years out of the loop is proving to be very fruitful. After reading the wonderful Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor, I was worried that all other YA books would seem lacklustre in comparison. However, The Raven Cycle, while not currently quite at the level of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, is shaping up to be very promising.