Sunday January 27, 2013
In pursuit of love
TOT TO TEENS
BY DAPHNE LEE
Amidst the supernatural elements of this tale lies the concerns that occupy the minds of most teens: friendship and family; loyalty and betrayal. And romance, of course!
The Raven Boys
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic, 464 pages
SOMETIME last year, a friend wrote on her Facebook wall: ďOMG one of the reasons I love The Raven Boys is because they are like Caucasian versions of my favourite Asian pop idols.Ē
Now, the thought of K-pop boy bands strikes horror in my heart so that remark didnít exactly encourage me to read the book.
However, another friend then told me that the book is about a girl who is told that sheíll kill her true love.
This bit of information coupled with the bookís title immediately made me think of Crazy Man Michael, a song by the 1970s folk-rock band Fairport Convention, in which a man is told by a raven that he will kill his true love.
This got me rather excited because I love the song and I enjoyed Maggie Stiefvaterís The Scorpio Races (although I disliked her other books) and was curious to see what her spin on Michaelís doomed love affair would be.
As it turns out, The Raven Boys has nothing to do with Fairport Conventionís song. The raven and the slaying of a true love are just coincidences, but both tales are about doomed love, or rather the song is and the book promises to be partly about it.
Actually, Iím quite relieved that The Raven Boys is not, after all, another story about star-crossed lovers who must overcome an ancient curse or prophecy, rotten luck, betrayal, species incompatibility, etc, in order to be together. Havenít you had enough of that sort of thing? I can just about cope with my own doomed love affairs without having to deal with other peopleís, even if they arenít real.
Any way, Blue is the girl who doesnít quite have a doomed love affair in this book. In fact, she is careful not to have any sort of love affair for fear that itíll end in death (for the poor bloke).
When she sees the spirit of a boy named Gansey, a student from the townís posh boarding school, Aglionby, sheís told that she will either kill him or fall in love with him. Either way, itís not good news for the guy.
Of course, Blue and Gansey meet and while there arenít exactly sparks, there is something there, even if itís simply awkwardness caused by Blue being conscious of the link between them.
Blue has always given a wide berth to Aglionby Boys, believing them to be, without exception, rich and arrogant, but Gansey, while being rich and a tad (although unintentionally) arrogant, doesnít seem to be too bad.
His friend Ronan is definitely a bad seed, though Ė bitter, angry and violent too, although obviously dealing with some personal struggle to do with his late father. And then thereís Noah, the shy, silent one; and Adam, the beautiful elegant scholarship student (heís the one Blue is most drawn to, the one I too felt for most ... at first Ė I canít say more without giving the story away).
These are the Raven Boys (the bird is Aglionbyís mascot and emblem), the ones my friend said were like Asian pop idols. I can see what she means: The Raven Boys are like the countless boy bands I interviewed in the 1990s. There was always the Bad Boy, the Shy Boy, the Cheeky One, the Heartbreakingly Handsome One. Iím guessing itís the same for K-Pop bands nowadays?
Stiefvater would probably throw a hissy fit if she read this but itís like sheís created her characters especially for fangirls to swoon over and fanfiction writers to ship ítil the cows come home.
If youíre not familiar with the world of fanfiction, to ďshipĒ means to imagine (and write about) a romantic relationship between fictional characters.
Well, Blue and the Raven Boys are engaging, intriguing characters whom Stiefvater obviously got to know intimately in her headspace and has successfully given shape and substance, light and shadow (lots of shadow) to through her words. Theyíre all characters you want to prod and pick at, dissect and explore: a fanfiction writerís dream come true.
The urge to write Mary Sues will, Iím sure, be too hard to resist. (And once again, for those not familiar with fanfiction parlance, a Mary Sue is a writer who inserts herself into her fiction, thinly disguised as a character.)
These five characters are the glue that hold Stiefvaterís rather airy-fairy, too-busy plot together.
I must say Iím not entirely convinced of the sleeping Welsh king that Gansey and his friends are intent on finding and I am even less convinced of the way the boys (especially Adam) believe so absolutely in his existence.
The magic wood is totally, scarily believable, though. It spooks me good and proper, the same way the dream landscape of The Back of Beyond in Diana Wynne Jonesí The Time Of The Ghost never fails to spook me. Iíd have to experience the wood first to believe in a man who will rise again after snoozing for hundreds of years but for the lads it just seems to confirm what they have always known.
Not that these details really matter. Clairvoyance, magic, ley lines, human sacrifice Ė I feel all of thatís just window dressing and Stiefvater pleasing her fans who have probably come to expect supernatural plot elements from her. The Raven Boys is really about the search for identity and meaning; itís about the pursuit of love and happiness; itís about friendship and family; loyalty and betrayal.
It is, quite simply, a bildungsroman five times over, but one that is incomplete by virtue of it being the first of a four-book series.
So much has been hinted at in this book that I think Stiefvater will need at least three more to properly develop every plot strand, tie them all up and ensure that none are left flapping noisily and untidily.
I like the idea of seeing how Gansey, Blue and the others grow and develop over the series and how Stiefvater makes the magic make sense in the story of their complicated, very human lives.
> Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.