More ravens, less pretension, please.

Holla! It has been a hell of a couple of weeks, hasn’t it? Halloween shenanigans, frighteningly apocalyptic hurricane, an American presidential election, and then, just yesterday, I finally started my NaNoWriMo novel. Better late than never, they say – a dictum I unwittingly seem to live by… oh, and happy American Thanksgiving.

I also have the nagging feeling that there have been some bookish events, topics, and/or developments that I wanted to write about, but I cannot seem to recall what any of those might be. Alas. This is what happens when you wake up at 3:17 in the morning with a brilliant idea for an essay and then decide you cannot bear to slip your arm out of the warm cocoon of blankets to find a pen and write said brilliant idea down, believing – mistakenly, of course – that you’ll remember every witty turn of phrase, every clever metaphor and elegant choice of word, when you wake up in the morning. Although, in my defense, my room is really cold. Like, demonic possession cold.

Anyway. I just saw the first teaser trailer for the film adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s City ofo Bones, and let me just say, OMIGOD OMIGOD OMIGOD. Or this:

And this:

(Yes, dear readers, I am slowly but inexorably becoming familiar with, and therefore addicted to, the wondrous, magical awesomeness that is gifs. Prepare yourself.)

Because I was not convinced. When I heard about the casting of Clary and especially Jace, I was… perplexed. Which is a polite way of saying I went full Robyn-Hulk and metaphorically smashed everything everywhere. It was not a pretty sight. But you know what? I’m not displeased. Maybe I just love those books so freaking much that even a terrible adaptation – no, nope, that’s not it. Never mind. Gods, please let it not suck. Please please please let it remotely resemble the novels!

Anyway. On with the review!

Today, it’s Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys.

Synopsis shuffle. (Ugh, I hate the synopsis portion of the review.) Here we go…

Blue Sargent (yes, that is her name) is the only person in her family who has no psychic abilities. Well, that’s not completely true. Blue’s talent is enhancing everyone else’s talents. As one character puts it, she’s the table in Starbucks right beside the outlet. So that’s why she ends up outside of an old church late on St. Mark’s Eve – she’s there to enhance her creepy aunt’s ability to see who, in their small town of Henrietta, Virginia, will die this year. Blue doesn’t expect to the spectres of the soon-to-be deceased… except she does. Or at least, she sees one: a boy wearing the distinctive uniform of the town’s elite private boys’ school, Aglionby. Raven boys, Blue calls them, and keeps her distance – not only because of her distaste for entitled rich kids, but also because Blue has been told all her life that if she kisses her true love, he’ll die. Best to avoid boys altogether, Blue thinks. But now that she has seen the spectre of the Raven boy named Gansey, she knows that her life is about to change. Is this Gansey her true love, or will Blue kill him before the year is out, the “only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” according to her family of psychics. Before she realizes what’s happening, Blue is drawn into Gansey’s obsessive quest to locate the ley line in Henrietta, a mission shared by his friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah. As they get closer and closer to locating the ley line, magic and myth begin to seep out of the confines of old stories and fairy-tales, leaving Blue, Gansey, and the others to wonder if somethings aren’t better left undisturbed…

Phew. So that was a difficult book to summarize, let me tell you. First thoughts? By the time I finished, I quite liked this book, but unfortunately, I kind of hated it for three-quarters of the story. It was a weird situation, like loathing a thick-witted, inconsiderate jock for three years of high school and then finding out the month before school ends that he reads Proust in his spare time and volunteers at an animal shelter on weekends and the whole dumb jock thing is a self-preservation tactic. Or wait, maybe I’ve just been watching too many ’90s teen movies.

Yeah, The Raven Boys started out so sloooooooow, and while I guess in the end it paid off, I almost ditched it in favour of a retelling of the Tarzan story from Jane’s point of view. So, yeah. (Okay, confession: I did abandon The Raven Boys for the Tarzan book and it was AWESOME. Yay, Tarzan! But then I got back to this one because I had nothing else to read.) The pacing picked up about halfway through. The plot itself is similarly confounding. On the one hand, it felt a bit too expected: girl meets boy, girl dislikes boy, girl finds out a little bit more about boy and then it’s all sugar plums and lollipops. The execution of the quest was nothing original, either. Conversely, the story had several intensely interesting aspects. The inclusion of Welsh myth and ley lines (which are really cool and worth learning more about) were great – of course, I love me anything paranormal – and I also really appreciated the exploration of several of the characters’ unpleasant family situations (gee, wonder why, ha ha). So I guess the positives make up for the not-so-great aspects of the plot.

As for characters… hm. Well, I didn’t like Blue, but I think that’s more because I felt she was a bit of a blank slate, which is a problem I had with the protagonist of Stiefvater’s other YA novels, the Shiver series. Gansey annoyed me, but I absolutely adored his gang of buddies, obstreperous Ronan, withdrawn Noah, and Adam. Adam! Perfect, sweet, complex, heart-breaking Adam! I want to date and/or adopt you (ew, lol). Obviously, Adam in particular really touched me. The experience of an abused child was deftly and sensitively conveyed without being too cliché or heavy-handed. I also liked the supporting characters that made up Blue’s family, and kind of want a spin-off series detailing the goings-on of a house full of female psychics. That’s gold, Jerry. Gold!

The writing presented another dilemma. At times, it was a thing of beauty, almost poetic. Or, to fall into review-speak, LUSH (ugh). Stiefvater is undeniably an excellent word-smith, and she excels at jarring but insanely apt similes and metaphors and descriptions. Alas, this sometimes can come off as a tad too deliberate and studied. At worst, the diction sometimes felt forced and pretentious. The last thing you want is a sentence that jerks you right out of the story because it’s so ridiculous. Case in point: he looked “fragile and dirty, somehow, like a teacup unearthed from the soil” (a description of Adam). In the words of the great Liz Lemon, what the what? Why on earth would a teacup be buried in the soil? Is the omniscient narrator of this tale an amateur archaeologist excavating an area particularly rife with subterranean china? Am I supposed to know what a teacup rescued from the ground looks like? And is this the sort of thing I should be thinking when I see a dirty, fragile boy? Because, lady, that is not the first thing that comes to mind. See? It just interferes with the story, and in my book, writing should enhance, not stand in the way.

So I don’t know. I’m torn. Do I recommend this book to you, my few but faithful readers, when I am still so ambivalent? I’m going to say yes.

Verdict: Read it. The ending was splendid, and makes me excited to read the next books and discover what will befall these characters next. The fact that this book was the series opener might account for some of the problems, right? Stiefvater is laying the groundwork for what may possibly be an epic tale, so I’d say give it a try, and stick with it when the urge to fling the book across the room strikes. Remember Gimli’s little gem of wisdom: “Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens!”  (Yes, I know that’s not really relevant. Shut up.)

Best line(s): “He was full of so many wants, too many to prioritize, and so they all felt desperate. To not have to work so many hours, to get into a good college, to look right in a tie, to not still be hungry after eating the thin sandwich he’d brought to work, to drive the shiny Audi that Gansey had stopped to look at with him once after school, to go home, to have hit his father himself, to own an apartment with granite countertops and a television bigger than Gansey’s desk, to belong somewhere, to go home, to go home, to go home.” (p. 370)

Rating: Three out of five ravens perched upon the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door. Oh, come on. I had to.

Book Cat? What say you?

There were no raven costumes available, then? So you thought a chicken would do. I call that a shoddy go at feline sartorial blogging, madam. Have you no standards, no scruples at all? One day, one day when I finally manage to manipulate my extra claws into opposable thumbs and incite the cats of the world to rise up against the clever apes that subjugate them, I’ll have my vengeance. Mark my words, Robyn. Then we shall see who will wear the chicken suit. We shall see…

Oh, Titus. You silly.

P.S. Did you see hear about the new Crash Course miniseries? It’s all about literature! Yay! John Green, can you stop being so awesome? You’re making the rest of us look bad… Go HERE to watch.

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