Book Review: All the Crooked Saints

“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.” 

- All the Crossed Saints

I brought All the Crooked Saints with me to Southern California. I did this because I was under the impression that a story about a Mexican family would take place in Mexico, and SoCal was the closest I was going to get for the next little while.

It turns out the story actually takes place in the deserts of Colorado, so I was wrong on that front, but I did get to eat delicious tacos while in Encinitas and the book was enjoyable, so I felt pretty okay with my mistake.

There were a lot of expectations surrounding the release of All the Crooked Saints, and I know there was a fair amount of disappointment too. The Raven Cycle series is wildly popular and I know a lot of fans were looking for something similar with the Maggie Stiefvater’s next book. They didn't get that, so there was a degree of disappointment after the release of All the Crooked Saints.

I also have mixed feelings about the book, but not in the same way. I didn’t expect another Raven Cycle—I expected something closer to the standalone book The Scorpio Races, which was slow paced but really enjoyable. All the Crooked Saints probably won’t make it to my top ten books of the year, but it was enjoyable all the same, and I thought Stiefvater did an excellent jobs with some aspects of the story.

But before I get carried away, here’s the synopsis for All the Crooked Saints:

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.

This book was full of beautiful, lyrical magical realism. I loved the way miracles worked, and I fell in love with the desert and Bicho Raro and the Soria family’s church. By the end I couldn’t get it out of my head, the harsh beauty of the environment.

I also felt like, by the end, I was as in love with radio shows as much as Joaquin was (like, I secretly want to host a radio show of my own! It’s sounds so fun and romantic). Speaking of Joaquin, he wasn't my favourite of the three Soria cousins, but all three of them grew on me by the end of the story.

But I’m not sure this was Stiefvater’s best book from a pure writing perspective. I felt like there was an excess of colons, even for a book that stylistically requires quite a few. I also personally would have preferred more dialogue; this is a book that draws very heavily on the idea that the environment is a character, and often I felt like the environment got a starring role in a story that would have been better with a more balanced cast.

The book is also full of musings and assertions about the nature of things, almost always as a way to relate back to the desert and to character development. Musings like these can compliment character and plot development very well, but I feel like there were so many in All the Crooked Saints that I resented them after a while. I understand the “This thing is a lot like this thing, in that… [assertion about human nature]” formula was intentional, but after I while I just thought, one eyebrow raised, “Are you sure? Are you sure this thing is like this other thing? You seem to be sure about a LOT of things and you seem to love making up analogies, and it’s all beginning to get a but much.” I’m not sure if that’s a harsh opinion, but that’s really the only aspect of the book that really bothered me.

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All the Crooked Saints seeks to take you someplace you’ve never been before to teach you something that applies to you in the here and now. It’s a beautiful story, with characters that grow on you, and a strong, well-developed world. The magical realism is expertly done, but I think Stiefvater's dedication to the genre may have rendered the prose a bit heavy and slow for some readers. It's her first book of this exact kind, and I wonder if this marks a change in the kind of books we can expect from her or if this is just a brief flash of something different. Either way, I enjoyed the story she chose to tell.

It may not have been my favourite read this year, but I'd recommend All the Crooked Saints to diehard Stiefvater fans and anyone with an appreciation for magical realism. And whether or not you feel the same way, I’m sure it will leave you with a small miracle, growing inside your heart.

Cheers,

Miriam