Maggie Stiefvater is a prolific author in the Y/A, teen fiction genre who specialises in supernatural romance type books which are marketed in much the same way as the popular Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.
I was sent the latest of Stiefvater’s books, ‘The Raven Boys’, to review, and to see if it was suitable for our older, KS2 readers in primary school.
In short, it isn’t.
It is however, a very interesting book for older teenage readers. I would say 13 years and upwards is probably appropriate here, not because of the sexual content, because there isn’t really any in this volume, but because of the fact that the book contains some reasonably graphic violence in places, and the supernatural element is quite dark.
The Raven Boys is the first in a series set in a small American town where a private boy’s school provides much of the income for the inhabitants of the town. Rich, privileged teenage boys co-exist amongst the locals, not always in harmony.
The story starts in quite a traditional vein, with the sixteen year old heroine, Blue, living with her kooky psychic relatives on the fringes of respectable society, burdened with the knowledge that her family have told her that she will kill her first love with a kiss. Her part time job as a waitress means she locks horns with the privileged Aglionby boys more than she would like, and she despises most of the boys she waits on.
Through a series of supernatural events that shake her and wake her curiosity, Blue becomes mixed up with a gang of boys from the school who are also outsiders. Living in a converted warehouse outside school grounds they combine teenage angst and school work with searching for the remains of the ancient Welsh king Owain Glendower, subject of ring leader Gansey’s obsessions.
I confess to having expected this book to take the usual teen supernatural romance path of drippy, useless girl who strikes up some kind of wildly inappropriate relationship with a supernatural being who you wouldn’t want to introduce to your parents.
These expectations were confounded. The book is much more than this. The romance thread takes a back seat for most of the novel, focussing instead on the complex relationships between the boys, and their various hang ups and problems. The supernatural elements are quite dark and chilling, and there is a thrillerish edge to the work which really adds bite and a great sense of mystery and suspense.
The characters are well drawn, and Blue, in particular, turns out not to be the weedy, pushover that I had feared she would be. Which is a relief.
The second book in the series: ‘The Dream Thieves’, will be published in September 2013.
Having read this I was curious to find out more about Stiefvater, and got her book, Lament, out of the library.
Lament is slightly more traditional in that it focuses quite heavily on the romance element of the book, and is much more concerned with the heroine, Dee’s inappropriate feelings for a faery assassin, caught between two worlds.
It still has the dark edge of Raven Boys, but without the quirks and freshness that makes Raven Boys so appealing. It is full of violent episodes, and the sexual content is much more obvious here. Dee’s relationship with her assassin being much more driven by desire. Although there is no actual sex, there might as well be for all the lingering clinches, breath pantingly rich scenes and frisson of thwarted passion that hangs over the whole book.
Having said that it is still to be applauded that Stiefvater clearly relishes writing about strong female characters, and both Dee and the supernatural women in the book are strong, feisty individuals who are not swooning on the sidelines waiting for handsome men to come and rescue them. In fact it is a book in which male characters are very much side lined in favour of the female perspective and the men in the book are in thrall to the women they serve/want.
Lament is the first in a trilogy about Dee and her dealings with the world of faery.
Shiver is the first in a trilogy about romance between humans and werewolves. I am unable to comment on this, not having read it, but it is the first of Stiefvater’s work to find fame, and remains a firm favourite with fans of he work.
There is also a standalone novel by Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races.
Stiefvater has a website, which you can access by clicking on the link here.
The website contains mini sites dedicated to all her books and/or series of books, as well as a blog, and other resources/materials about Stiefvater and her work. It is regularly updated, and provides a wealth of information for fans.
Stiefvater is not really an appropriate author for teaching in schools. Her work is too violent and too sexual. It is also probably too frivolous for teaching purposes. She is however, an excellent author to stock in High School and college libraries, as long as the content and age appropriate material is pointed out. Her writing is fresh and vivid. She really knows how to tell a story, and her material is far from run of the mill. You can see why she is an author who inspires devotion in her fans, and if you are looking for something to recommend to a teenage girl who is reluctant to get her teeth into fiction but who likes things like Twilight, Stiefvater is the author for you.