All the Crooked Saints

I’m deeply in love with Maggie Stiefvater’s writing. She creates such realistic characters and such unique worlds with such beautiful prose. And somehow manages to do it all while making you believe—just a little—in magic. I’m a writer, and reading her work is inspiring. You’d think that reading something so good would be disheartening, but it isn’t; it makes you want to do better. It makes you hopeful for your own writing.

I’m always eager to read a new Maggie Stiefvater book, and All the Crooked Saints doesn’t disappoint.

Overview:

Beatrice is a saint in the desert town of Bicho Raro. It’s not a calling so much as a natural instinct and a burden. Performing miracles might be second nature, but it’s also tricky and dangerous. So when two visitors come to town—one for a miracle, the other for a future—danger is expected. But love is not and neither is questioning family traditions.

Thoughts:

Setting.

All the Crooked Saints takes place in the 1960s, definitely a departure from her other books. The plot wouldn’t work as well outside of this time period, though; technology has a way of making the world smaller and less personal. Radio, for instance, and those days of pirate radio waves and cobbled together transmitters, is central to the story. I start to imagine this story if it was today: you’d have a Facebook page and Instagram account for the Saints of Bicho Raro; the pilgrims would become scientific experiments; nobody would be anonymous. Technology would take the charm away from the book.

I love the sense of place. The desert isn’t often someone’s idea of a preferred setting, but it does have its own beauty, one stark and unforgiving, but lovely in a subtle, savage way. Maggie really made this setting work. The desert—this mostly unpeopled place—is almost symbolic of the vast chasm between the Sorias (the Saints) and other people. And it’s symbolic of their self-awareness. While they give the darkness in others tangibility, they can’t seem to see the darkness in themselves, one of the pervading themes.

Characters.

Another of Maggie’s strengths is character developments. Too often characters—even the protagonists—in YA books are stock. You could substitute them out for each other and one would work just as well as another. But Maggie has never been satisfied with a subpar character. She builds them up, fleshes them out until you get the unique Beatrice, quiet and brainy, but not shy. You get a Saint (who’s not overly saintly), a self-torturing almost bride, and a too famous radio personality. There’s so much uniqueness within the characters, such variety.

Plot.

This book isn’t like Maggie’s others. It’s character-driven, not plot-driven. That’s not to say there isn’t an interesting plot—there is—but it doesn’t revolve around this intensely developed magical world. To me, this plot was as compelling as—sometimes moreso—than her other books. I was never bored. I was enthralled. It was the combination of something magical grounded in humanity, in the mundane, that made this story so interesting. It was about miracles, but the everyday miracles of hope and change that we can perform on ourselves.

Writing.

I started this review by telling you how much I love Maggie’s writing. She creates wonder in only a sentence:

“She had still been learning how to live with the hard truth that the most interesting parts of her thoughts usually got left behind when she tried to put them into words.”

As a writer, the above describes me so much. What I create tangibly is always less than what I intend. Then there’s this insight into change:

“We almost always can point to that hundredth blow, but we don’t always mark the ninety-nine other things that happen before we change.”

And this description:

“What a shame that both miracles and radio waves are invisible, because it would be quite a sight: ribbons of marvel and sound stretching out straight and true from all over the world.”

Final Musings:

All the Crooked Saints is definitely a departure from Maggie’s other books, but I didn’t find it lacking at all. I found its commentary on the ability of humans to change deeply moving, I found the prose almost like poetry, heart-breakingly beautiful. I found the desert enchanting (for possibly the first time in my life). I found this book worth reading on a variety of levels. I think you will too.

Rating: 5/5

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