Friday 3 November 2017

All the Crooked Saints, Maggie Stiefvater

Night fell, and the stars sauntered out. Night fell, and the owls opened their eyes 
Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

* * * 
3 / 5

If I could only say one think about All the Crooked Saints it would be that the language was beautiful. Sumptuous. Divine. It was entrancing and enlightening and so very in tone with the magical and bizarre plot, the very same plot that unfortunately let this book down for me. A book can be gorgeously written, with a plethora of great characters, and some strong messages and themes, but if nothing really happens then my interest is going to wane.  

He fell in love so fiercely that the desert itself noticed

I have had a love-bored relationship with Stiefvater's books. I have loved The Raven Cycle, like many of her fans, but have found some of her other books, The Scorpio Races for example, to be tedious and dull. I greatly admire the fact that she never seems to dip her writing fingers in the same pool twice; it strikes me that it would have been very easy for her to capitalise on the success of The Raven Cycle and write about another rag-tag group of teenagers and their banter, but instead she chose to strike out and write about a family in Colorado in the 1960s, a family surrounded by miracles. The town of Bicho Raro is a haven for pilgrims, those searching for an answer and here, with the Soria family, is where they will find it. But a miracle here takes two forms:
  1. the inner darkness of the pilgrim is made manifest
  2. that darkness is healed and banished
Recently, the pilgrims that comes to Bicho Raro have been unable to cure themselves. They are unable to look into themselves and find the truth about who they are, and so remain "cursed", and so they linger and the town begins to overflow with pilgrims. Enter our four "main" characters. I say "main" because All The Crooked Saints has an omnipresent narrator, think Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed, where we focus on all the characters, the Soria family and the pilgrims, as a whole and their relationships with themselves and each other. Pete has come to town in tow with a celebrity radio presenter who wants a miracle to help him to be ignored, wanting a truck to start his own shipping company. Unfortunately, Joaquin Soria is using that very truck to run an illegal, unlicensed radio station out of under the name Diablo Diablo. His co-conspirators are his cousins Beatriz, a girl who views the world as a science experiment, and Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro. 

Here was a thing Beatriz wanted: to devote time to understanding how a butterfly was similar to a galaxy. Here was a thing she feared: being asked to do anything else

When Daniel falls in love with a pilgrim, Marisita, who is perpetually covered in butterflies and has her own personal rain cloud, he invites his own darkness to take form. Fleeing out into the desert, Daniel leaves the town Saint-less and his family in disarray. My favourite cousin is, by far and away, Joaquin and he gets frustratingly little page-time; I believe the cousin with the most appearances is Beatriz, whose tale takes on tones of self-exploration, of romance, and, my personal favourite aspect, her relationship with her father. The characters have a peculiar duality: on the one hand, they are intriguing and definitely unique, but on the other hand the choice of narration separates you, the reader, from them emotionally. You never really get the chance to connect with them, only to watch them as though they were a particularly interesting beetle. 

So whilst I loved the writing and the setting and the vibrant characters and ideas behind All the Crooked Saints, I felt disconnected from the book and the plot moved terribly slowly. 

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