Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nevermore

I think it was Will Patton who prompted me to choose Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys for listening. (More accurately, I casually put myself on the hold list for a digital copy and promptly forgot about it ... then it arrived and -- as one must do with digital books -- physical ones must be set aside because e-holds cannot be frozen nor e-items renewed [OK, so I probably couldn't have renewed The Raven Boys] which, in a nutshell, are the reasons why I have yet to buy an e-reader.)  I've enjoyed the two Steifvater books I've read (listened to this one), but I'm not a drop-everything-to-read fan (unless I have to be). Narrator Patton seemed like a good fit, as his warm, Southern-inflected voice instantly evokes the mountainous region around sleepy Henrietta, Virginia.

Henrietta is the home of the prestigious Aglionby (pronounced AG-lon-bee) Academy for privileged young men, called Raven Boys in the town because of the school's mascot. Town and gown don't mix much in Henrietta; Blue Sargent, 16-year-old daughter of a local psychic, particularly doesn't because she knows they are "bastards." But Blue, who is not psychic herself but can amplify the paranormal activity in her presence, finds herself becoming friends with four of the Boys after they come to her mother (and the other three psychics who live with them) for a reading that will help the Boys with a mysterious quest.

The Raven Boys -- Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah -- are seeking a ley line that runs through Henrietta. Ley lines crisscross the globe connecting magical sites, and adherents believe that people and objects have been transported along them. (The Nazca lines in Peru are perhaps the most famous ancient monument held by some to be ley lines.)  The Boys believe that a 15th century Welsh king named Owen Glendower -- who fought for independence from the English until he mysteriously disappeared in 1415 -- fled along a ley line connecting Wales to Henrietta and is buried on it.  For some reason that I missed when I was listening, they want to find his body and "awaken" him. Since Blue can augment any energy along the ley line, the Boys need her to help them.

Blue falls for one of the Boys, Adam, a scholarship boy also from Henrietta. But Blue has been told by her mother not to kiss her true love because her kiss will mean his death.

The Raven Boys is the first installment in a four-book cycle and it sags under the exposition. The first half of the novel is comprised of lots and lots of atmosphere -- the bright orange power car that Gansey drives, Adam's unhappy home life, a few scryings and trips into the ether by the quartet of psychics in Blue's household, the introduction of the villain of the piece (who then disappears until the very end), and much, much more. I could not focus enough on these details to remember the ones that proved to be important as the plot kicked in. (I also read a huge spoiler as I was poking around online to try to get a handle on what hadn't sunk in.) The plot does take off at about Disc 7 (with the discovery of a body) and concludes at an exciting pace (although there are an awful lot of guns). But way too many things are left hanging: Why is it important to raise Glendower, what about Blue and her true love, what does Blue's absent father have to do with anything? And even though there are all these questions, I can live without knowing the answers.

Stiefvater's writing is lovely, particularly when she gets into the Virginia mountains and describes the whispering trees (which actually whisper ... in Latin), the meadows and the dense forest. A car that has been abandoned in the woods for seven years is vividly pictured coated with pollen. Her characters are also fully fledged creations (because of all the information that's thrown at us in the beginning) -- even though there are four Boys and four psychics, I had no problem remembering who was who.

When I (eye) read The Scorpio Races, it gets off to that boffo start ("It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.") and then never really lets up until the race and its aftermath. The Raven Boys has a first sentence that also packs a punch ("Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.") but then it seems to take forever to get back to that statement and even then it doesn't really pay off. Someone does, indeed, die in The Scorpio Races; in The Raven Boys that true love's heart remains beating.

To the audiobook. Will Patton is just excellent here. His raspy drawl embodies those boys of privilege beautifully and he makes poetry out of Stiefvater's descriptions of the haunted Virginia mountains. When the story turns exciting, his pace quickens as well. Each character has a distinctive voice that accurately reflects their personalities and these were sustained throughout the novel. The Boys are each natural sounding and authentically youthful. Blue sounds differently youthful without being femmy. Two of the psychics have an exaggerated delivery that gets a little wearing, but neither appears much and their voices are in character.

I have to say, though, that Patton's reading stopped me cold late in the book with his pronunciation of "ignominy." Ig-NOM-ih-knee. I have never heard that word pronounced that way. That aside, this may be one of those cases where the audio version improves the book.

The producer creates a nice effect when two characters speak at once (which happens just a few times in the novel), providing two voices -- each in character -- simultaneously. The first time I heard it it was a bit startling, but then I grew to like it. On the other hand, something happened in the translation to digital (or maybe this book is only available digitally and it was the translation to OverDrive): Only about a minute of Chapter 18 is heard before it cuts in mid-sentence to Chapter 19. I never did learn what the Latin teacher Barrington Whelk found in Gansey's locker.

[At the tarot reading the Boys attend with Blue's mother, Gansey turns over the Death card. This Troccas-Karte XIII - der Tod is from the 19th century and was created (?) by Johann Georg Rauch. It was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Narrated by Will Patton
Scholastic Audio, 2012. 11:04

1 comment:

Veronica Laster said...

Will Patton narates one of my favorite adult book series, and that is why i chose The Raven Boys. Glad to hear you enjoyef it. I just started, so i will let you know. I agree with you on Scorpio Races. Veronica