Maggie Stiefvater's the Raven Cycle is going to live with me for a long time. I think there are all sorts of arguments against this, of course: it's a young adult read with basically a reverse harem cast of characters, with a little bit of love triangle and dash of "chosen one" to top it off.
It will live with me.
Without spoiling the whole series, I'm going to focus on the very beginning. Blue Sargent has grown up in a house full of female psychics in a small town in Virginia called Henrietta. Blue is odd, making her own clothes from any spare material, and plucky, and everything I wish I'd been strong enough to be as a teenage girl. Blue also happens to be the only non-psychic among them, and instead acts as an amplifier of sorts, strengthening the psychics' power. Every year, on St. Mark's Eve, Blue goes to a graveyard with her mother, awaiting the apparitions of the future dead. Everyone her mother sees will be dead within the year. Two things are different this time around. Blue's Aunt Neeve attends instead of her mother, and for the first time, Blue sees a spirit herself.
This is significant because, as a non-psychic, Blue shouldn't be able to see anything. Because she can, it either means the spirit is Blue's true love... or she kills him. To add to Blue's woes, every psychic this eccentric, spunky girl has ever met has told her the same thing: "If you kiss your true love, he will die."
Enter the raven boys, a slur for rich boys attending the elite school Aglionby. Gansey, charismatic, passionate, and obsessed with a dead Welsh king. Ronan, angry and broken from the brutal death of his father, but also fiercely loyal. Adam, a scholarship student trying his hardest to break free from his dysfunctional family. And Noah, quiet and observant.
Henrietta happens to be situated in a paranormal epicenter of sorts, and the adventures that these characters get into are trippy, whimsical, and dangerous. But it isn't really about saving the whole world or the entire universe at risk of collapse. It's all close to home, and the characters you grow to love are the ones at stake.
Stiefvater's ability to convey whole people is probably unmatched in the young adult realm. The quartet of raven boys and the girl who becomes an integral part of their group are a part of me now. So when I closed the last book, finished the last sentence, it felt like saying goodbye to friends that I've loved for a long time but will never see again. (Presuming there won't be future sequels or live-action adaptations. Fingers not crossed. "The books was better," etc., etc.) ((UPDATE: a sequel trilogy will begin with the first book released in November, Call Down the Hawk. Squealing ensues.))
And it isn't just the teens who get the character development treatment. You ever read YA where the parents never show up or are the most basic suburban, mini-van driving variety? Stiefvater doesn't bother with this. On the list of well-rounded characters: the house of female psychics, a hit man, every villain throughout the series, siblings and parents of respective raven boys. And these aren't Game of Thrones-sized books. So the characterization is so subtle and nuanced you find yourself wanting to strike up conversations with these non-existent people.
Stiefvater's one weakness probably lies exclusively with plot. I might not feel this way upon a second reading, but sometimes it feels as though large points are set up to be resolved quickly or skimmed over. For someone who enjoys plot firstly, The Raven Cycle may not be suitable.
But for unique paranormalcy, whole-hearted characters, and kick-ass, smart dialogue, this is an amazing series not to be missed.