In previous book related throwbacks I’ve mostly been covering books that I’ve already read, or books that I’ve wanted to read for a long while, and have used their anniversaries as an excuse to finally get around to reading them. And whilst I’ve enjoyed them all and seen why they’ve been considered classics, this is the first book I’ve actually regretted sitting down to read, as The Raven Boys left me feeling baffled more than anything else.
The book, the first in a series of four, follows the character of Blue Sergeant, a totally plain and boring teenage girl who is way more than plain and boring. Blue has moved to the small town of Henrietta in Virginia, where she’s staying with a group of female relatives who all have psychic powers. Unfortunately, Blue doesn’t follow in the family footsteps, and doesn’t really have any psychic abilities of her own, though she does have a power that makes other psychics around her more powerful. Whilst living with her psychic relatives, it gets predicted that if Blue kisses her true love they will die.
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When attending a traditional watching of spirits that pass through the town, Blue ends up talking to the spirit of a teenage boy named Gansey. Her aunt tells her that the spirits are of people who are doomed to die within the next year, and that the spirit of Gansey is her true love. Blue discovers that Gansey is a real boy, Richard Gansey III, who’s part of a gang of teens called the Raven Boys, who all attend one of the local rich schools. Over the course of the book we learn that most of the group have dark, tragic, and mysterious pasts that will absolutely become big plot points across the series.
Despite wanting to stay away from the boys so as not to fall in love with Gansey and kiss him (because it will kill him), Blue ends up befriending the group and joins them on their mission to search one of the mystical ley lines around the town. The Raven Boys are searching for the body of Welsh king Owain Glendower, who is thought to be near the ley line. In their search they find a magical forest that can talk to them, learn that one of the group is secretly a ghost, and get involved in other supernatural shenanigans.
The Raven Boys starts off being one book: a story about a teenage girl who has grown up being told that if she kisses her true love then he’ll die, and is trying to deal with that. The book is about whether or not Gansey is actually her true love, whether she should stay away from him or not, and all kinds of teen love angst drama. Whilst I get that love angst is a big part of YA stories this one feels a bit off to me. It’s not a love triangle type situation, or a will-they-won’t-they, it’s something a bit different. The way I see it, there are some really simple solutions for Blue here. Blue can either stay away from Gansey, or just not kiss him. Call me weird, but you can be in love with someone, be in a relationship with someone, and not kiss them. There are happily married people who are asexual and don’t have sex, so I’m sure you can be in a relationship with someone and just not kiss them. It doesn’t make it a lesser relationship or anything. But alas, teen drama needs to be had.
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Another thing that I found odd about the book is the sudden shift towards over-the-top and confusing supernatural plots. The Raven Boys are searching for an ancient Welsh king who may or may not be dead, and is for some reason buried in the US. Magic talking forests exist. One of the boys turns out to secretly be a ghost. There are also domestic abuse plots thrown in, dangerous gunmen, people doing strange rituals, human sacrifices… it all feels very cluttered and not a huge amount is really explained or makes sense. Perhaps this is something that ends up making more sense if you continue reading the rest of the series, but as it stands I find myself hard pressed to carry on with it.
I’d heard a lot of good things about The Raven Boys, and it had been on my list of stuff to read for a while, and whilst it seems to be a popular YA series it definitely seems to be a niche one. It tries to do a lot of things and uses as many tropes and cliche’s as it can in an attempt to try and tick all the boxes. Unfortunately, this results in a book that fell far short of being great for me.