I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
Series: The Nevernight Chronicle #1
Published by Thomas Dunne on August 9 2016
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: Hogwarts for assassins! A fantastic start to a new series by one of my favorite authors.
Some of you may know I’m a huge fan of Jay Kristoff’s The Lotus War trilogy, and so it was with much excitement that I started reading his newest series. There are many similarities between the two, most notably Jay’s writing style, his penchant for drama and violence and quirky female protagonists, and even the inclusion of an animal sidekick. Honestly, even if his name hadn’t been on the cover of Nevernight, I would have immediately guessed that Kristoff was the writer. But there are differences as well, and you can tell by my five-star rating that I enjoyed these differences very much. Where Stormdancer was set in a fantastical feudal Japan, Nevernight takes place in a world that has strong Roman influences. It’s an interesting mix of very formal speech and teenage slang that somehow just worked for me. There’s also humor in this book, which gave it a lighter feel than his first trilogy. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of heavy stuff going on here—assassination, revenge, imprisonment, torture—but it’s all tempered with lighter, funnier moments that give the reader a chance to breathe.
Mia Corvere is a young girl who has had everything taken away from her. At age ten, she was forced to watch her father die on the gallows, hanged for treason, while her mother and baby brother were taken away and thrown into prison. Mia herself was nearly drowned by the same men who killed her father, but she managed to escape when a cat made of shadows rescued her. Ever since, she’s been studying as a fledgling assassin with Mercurio, a man who understands her need for vengeance and has prepared her to join the Red Church, a secret school for assassins. Mia sets out to become an Acolyte in the church and joins other potential students, each with their own reasons for being there.
But as classes begin, Mia realizes the road to becoming a full-fledged Blade, the highest honor given to an Acolyte, is fraught with danger at every turn. Not only are twenty-plus students competing for only four Blade spots, but their teachers are trying to kill them. For in order to be a proper assassin, one must not only learn how to kill, but how to avoid death. Mia and her fellow Acolytes study in the Hall of Songs (skill with blades), the Hall of Masks (the secrets of seduction), the Hall of Pockets (thievery and lock picking) and the Hall of Truths (poisons), and each day is more dangerous than the next. As their ranks begin to thin, only the most adept will earn one of the four top spots, and the competition is not only fierce, but deadly. Mia is so close to finally being able to avenge her family, but will she succeed?
So what did I love about Nevernight? Well, let’s start with the world-building. Kristoff is no slouch at creating intricate worlds that completely immerse the reader, and this book is no exception. This time he’s built a world ruled by three suns, which remain in the sky in various combinations (some setting at different times than others) for a full two and a half years before night falls (and that’s where the word “nevernight” comes in.) Kristoff plays with the themes of light and dark throughout the book, not only with the suns, but with a group called the Luminatii, who not only worship the suns and curse the darkness, but are the very group of men responsible for Mia’s father’s death. Mia herself is a “darkin,” someone who is able to control the shadows around her, so in a sense, Kristoff has reversed the traditional meanings of light and dark, making the bad guys the followers of light, while Mia seeks the relief of the shadows. I loved this idea, especially when we learn more about Mia’s abilities as a darkin.
There is a bit of a Harry Potter vibe to this story, in the sense that it reminded me of the classes and teachers at Hogwarts. Despite the seriousness of the Acolytes’ situation, there is a certain sense of wonder within the halls of the Red Church and in the streets of Mia’s home in Godsgrave, like the magical way the Acolytes travel from one place to another unseen, and the stunning abilities of a woman known as the Weaver, who is able to miraculously heal mortal wounds. (As you can imagine, in a school for assassins, students acquire mortal wounds all the time…)
Which brings me to the footnotes. As we learn in the beginning, an unnamed narrator is telling us Mia’s story, and as the book progresses, he often stops to comment on certain world-building elements in the form of footnotes. This was a clever way to get those elements across to the reader without resorting to info dumps (although one could argue that footnotes are exactly that—info dumps!). But what I loved about them was that you can skip them if you want to—they don’t seem to impact the actual story one way or another. However, I found myself reading them all the same, even though they did interrupt the flow a bit, but because I was so fascinated by this world, the footnotes added an extra layer and made the world that much more interesting. Also, our narrator has a wry and snarky humor that I loved, so not only were the footnotes interesting, but entertaining as well. (I also have an inkling of who the narrator may be, but we’ll just have to wait and see…)
For such a large cast of characters, I felt Kristoff did a great job at fleshing out their personalities. Mia has enough flaws that she doesn’t come off as ridiculously perfect. Her nose is crooked and she doesn’t seem to have much talent for fighting with blades. But her heart knows what it wants, and she never loses sight of the reason she came to Red Church. Then there is Tric, another acolyte who ends up being a romantic interest for Mia*, a boy named Hush who never speaks, and a rather nasty girl named Jessamine who gets on Mia’s bad side right off the bat. Each of the adult characters has a distinct personality, and my favorites were a mysterious librarian named Chronicler Aelius who befriends Mia, and a teacher named Spiderkiller who teaches the acolytes about poisons.
And I can’t write this review without mentioning Mister Kindly, the shadow cat who follows Mia wherever she goes and “drinks” her fears and feeds on her nightmares. The further you read, the more you learn about Mia and her darkin nature, and when she discovers what she can do, it’s very cool!
It’s been pointed out by other reviewers that Kristoff’s prose leans towards purple, and that his writing is at times over-wrought and flowery. But although I did run across a phrase or two that was a little too “out there” for me (for example: “…a burst of profanity so colorful you could fling it into the air and call it a rainbow.”), it wasn’t enough to make a dent in my rating, obviously!
So before this review becomes too long (or has it reached that point already?), let me wrap things up by saying this: Nevernight is a fantastic start to a new series, with characters that will make you want to follow them to the next book, and the next. Thrilling, horrifying, bloody, dangerous, funny and intricately plotted, fans of Jay Kristoff will not be disappointed, and new readers will most likely run straight to the bookstore to check out his backlist.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
*O gentlefriend, you knew I was going to add a footnote to this review, didn’t you? In this case, I want to mention that this book has several very graphic sex scenes, and so Nevernight may not be appropriate for younger readers.