Sun September 16, 2012
Doomed Love And Psychic Powers In 'Raven Boys'
Originally published on Sun September 16, 2012 7:20 am
Maggie Stiefvater is a young-adult author with a passionate fan base — she describes her subject matter as everything from "homicidal faeries" to "werewolf nookie."
She wrote the best-selling Shiver trilogy and the novel The Scorpio Races. Her most-recent book, The Raven Boys, is the first in a series of four that will follow Blue Sargent, daughter of the Henrietta, Va., town psychic, as she becomes involved with the lives of four students at the local private school who call themselves the Raven Boys.
Though Blue comes from a family of clairvoyants, she herself has no particular powers.
"She's completely ordinary — except she amplifies other people's psychic abilities," Stiefvater tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. But that doesn't mean Blue's life is boring: She's destined to fall in love with one of the Raven Boys — and be the cause of his death.
Writing the stories of the four Raven Boys was the fun part, Stiefvater says.
"I love writing characters, and this was like a French braid, a knot of characterization to deal with. All of these boys are defined by each other, and they're very much defined by money or not having it" at their affluent private school, she says. "It was interesting as an author to try and play them off each other."
Blue — like many of the townies in Henrietta — wants nothing to do with the Raven Boys and their private school cohort. But once a year, Blue and her mother watch the spirits of the dead appear on a ley line, a line of magical energy running through the town. When one of the Raven Boys appears on the ley line even though he's still alive, Blue knows he's doomed.
Stiefvater based her story on magic and Welsh mythology about sleeping kings who will return to save a troubled land. But at its heart, The Raven Boys is a simple human story of a star-crossed love between a poor girl and a rich boy.
"As teenagers, we all see ourselves as outsiders ... and it's very easy to look at other people who are more popular, who have more pocket money, and it makes you feel even more like an outsider, and it does shape who you become as a person," she says.
A sprinkling of the supernatural makes that story universal, Stiefvater adds.
"Doesn't matter what culture you come from, as soon as you put it into that world of myth, it becomes something that you can understand from all different places," she says.
Magic can also reverse real-world power dynamics — the Raven Boys, for all their material advantages, are powerless in the spirit world, whereas Blue's family has great ability there.
"The psychic abilities do balance it out," Stiefvater says. "The women are all extremely powerful in this because they have a sort of mystical knowledge the boys can't have."
"It's been a fascinating thing as an author to watch how the Internet has shaped how we deal with our readers," she says.
But she does not subscribe to the common fear that the Internet will be the death of printed books.
"This object that we hold in our hands, a book ... that tactile pleasure, it's just not going to go away," she says.