Tuesday 4 September 2018

#CBR10 Book 65: "All the Crooked Saints" by Maggie Stiefvater

Page count: 320 pages
Audio book length: 9 hrs 9 mins
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR10 Bingo: Birthday (Ms Stiefvater's birthday is November 11th)

From Goodreads, because it sums it up nicely:
Here is a thing everyone wants: A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears:
What it takes to get one.

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.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect. 

In this rather strange tale about the sprawling Soria family and the many pilgrims they surround themselves with, all people who have come to see them in the Colorado desert to have miracles performed, Maggie Stiefvater takes on magical realism.

In the 1960s, in the little desert town of Bicho Raro in Colorado, a number of pilgrims come to see the Saint and experience a miracle. The Saint of Bicho Raro is always a member of the Soria family, yet the miracles are strange and usually rather complicated. The  first miracle forces the pilgrim to face up to whatever darkness they have inside them, and only once they are ready and able to confront and process that darkness are they able to experience the second miracle and leave, finally free. If any of the Sorias try to speak to or help the pilgrims in any way, they risk their own darkness (which is apparently usually a lot more serious than that of a regular pilgrim) confronting them, and as a result, they have a strict rule against doing so. However, it means that over the years, more and more pilgrims are stuck in Bicho Raro, unable to complete their second miracle.

With the introduction of each new character, be they a member of the Soria family or a pilgrim, we are told a thing that character wants and a thing that character fears. We learn about the Sorias' history and the strange ways the miracles change the pilgrims. There's a priest with a coyote's head. There's a set of twins connected by a snake. There's a woman in a wedding dress, covered with butterflies, who's constantly wet because of the rain clouds that follow her. One woman can only ever repeat the last thing someone said to her. A radio DJ becomes a literal giant.

Of the younger generation of Sorias, there are three cousins. Beatriz believes herself to have no feelings, but discovers differently when a young man with a weak heart arrives in town to work for the Sorias. Joaquin loves music and wants nothing so much as to become a famous DJ. With his two cousins, he drives a box truck into the desert at night and runs a pirate radio station. Daniel, the current Saint of Bicho Raro defies the taboo of speaking to the pilgrims because he's in love with one of them. Struck down by his own darkness, he leaves his family to keep any of the other Sorias from being likewise cursed.

Beatriz and Joaquin are determined to save their cousin, no matter what the family rules state. They defy their elders and along with Pete, the young man who they were both initially so sceptical about, they set out to save him.

I don't think I've read a Maggie Stiefvater novel that I didn't enjoy. Some of them I absolutely adore. This book was very different from her previous novels, yet was still clearly very much her work. She has a way with words and descriptions that almost ensorcells the reader and keeps you spellbound. This book started slow, and it may have taken a bit too long to introduce every single character before actually getting to the "meat" of the story. But it's all worthwhile in the end. I listened to the audio book, narrated by Thom Rivera, and can very much recommend it.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover features ban owl and black roses, both things that play a significant part of the story. I'm unsure of whether the orange circle is supposed to be the sun or an actual orange - it's unclear.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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