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.Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff
Series: The Nevernight Chronicle #2
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on September 5 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Buy on Amazon
The nitty-gritty: A bloody good, bloody brilliant sequel in Kristoff’s ode to the Roman Empire. Hey, let’s face it. This story is just bloody.
Small, unavoidable spoilers for Nevernight, if you haven’t read it yet. Fair warning!
There were several times while reading Godsgrave that I had to stop reading and ask myself, “Did Jay Kristoff really just do that??” And the answer is, yes, he did. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years of reading this author, it’s that Kristoff is famous for doing the unexpected and “going there” when you hope—in your heart of hearts—that he’s actually bluffing. But Kristoff is also known for his twists. So that thing that you can’t believe he did? Well, maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. It’s all part of the fun—and agonizing emotional rollercoaster ride—of reading a Jay Kristoff novel.
As far as “second in a series books” go, Godsgrave held its own and then some. Kristoff wisely leads his characters away from the setting of Nevernight, the Red Church where Mia gained status as a Blade in the first book. This time the Roman influences are very clear, as the story involves Mia—still on her path of vengeance—concocting an elaborate and dangerous scheme in order to position herself just right in order to fulfill her goals. Set some time after the end of Nevernight, Mia is now a literal slave (and I won’t spoil things by telling you how she ends up that way) and has been sold into a family of gladiatii, the best warriors in the land who compete against each other in terrible, bloody battles. Mia is determined to become the best of the best and eventually make it to the biggest battle of all, the magni in Godsgrave, where the winner will earn his freedom.
But freedom isn’t her ultimate goal. Killing the two men who were responsible for her family’s death is, and she will stop at nothing until that goal is realized. Along the way, Mia encounters a host of fellow slaves and fighters, but who she can trust and who is out to stab her in the back is a mystery. As always, accompanied by her faithful shadow cat Mister Kindly, and the shadow wolf named Eclipse who she acquired at the end of Nevernight, Mia navigates an increasingly dangerous landscape, full of friends and foes alike.
The biggest surprise for me was discovering just how much I loved reading about the gladiatii, or gladiators. This is one blood-soaked and violent story, as you might imagine, as many of the best scenes are set in the arena where the gladiatii are pitted against each other and fight to the death. My heart was literally in my throat during these scenes, which become increasingly tense and violent as the story goes along. Kristoff may have a tendency toward overblown prose at times, but his ability to create tension is uncanny. I had to put the book down at times because I was terrified about what was coming next. This is very much a page-turner of a novel, but I also needed to take breaks so my head didn’t explode. One of the best aspects of these battle scenes was that the arenas were staged in such creative ways. During several battles, the staging was set up to depict famous battles in the Republic’s history, which was great fun for the reader, if not for the participants.
But as much as I loved the battle scenes, this wouldn’t be half the story it is without its characters. In Godsgrave we get to meet plenty of new characters, and a handful of old favorites come back as well. Some readers may not believe that one little slip of a girl is capable of causing so much carnage—Mia’s abilities with a sword are going to require some suspension of disbelief—but it wouldn’t have been quite so much fun if Mia didn’t have a strong emotional side. During the story she grapples with her growing fondness for her fellow warriors (well, at least some of them!), versus her sworn duty to avenge her family. This duality makes her a very interesting character, and it’s hard to predict what she’s going to do next. She’s also struggling with what it means to be darkin, especially when she meets another of her kind. Kristoff drops several hints that Mia’s darkin side will be further explored in the next book, and I’m really looking forward to finally getting some answers.
As he did in Nevernight, Kristoff includes at least one very graphic sex scene, although I have to say I loved the scene that opens the book, which sets a tone for the rest of the story, that “tone” being one of inevitable violence. So if you’re hoping to give this book to your teen to read, I’d say there are way more appropriate books for that age group. Hey, not that teens can’t handle sex scenes, but Kristoff’s idea of a sex scene is not one you want your sixteen-year-old reading, trust me.
Kristoff also uses footnotes in this story, much like he did in Nevernight. The footnotes are purely optional, in my humble opinion, since they basically do nothing more than expound on certain world-building elements. However, I have to say that I did read most of them, and they are worth reading for the “mysterious” narrator’s snarky commentary on the Republic’s history.
The one part of the story that didn’t work for me was the odd dual timeline in the first part of the book. Now you may know from previous reviews of mine that I am a big fan of dual timelines in general, but for some reason this just didn’t seem necessary. Kristoff cuts back and forth between the time after the first book when Mia is a working assassin, and a time further in the future when Mia has been captured by a band of brigands and is beginning the adventures which eventually lead to her becoming a gladiatii. Eventually the two timelines meet, but one sort of fizzled out before I could make sense of what was going on. I just didn’t think it was a very effective way to use this format of storytelling, and I’m grateful that it didn’t go on very long.
By the end of Godsgrave I was a wreck. The last fifty pages went by in a whirlwind of fight scenes, betrayals, surprise reveals and twists that I didn’t see coming. Kristoff clearly sets everything up for the finale to come, and I can’t believe it’s going to be another year (or more!) before we get to see how it all ends. If you haven’t read Nevernight, then by all means hop to it! This is one series that MUST be read in order, and you won’t be able to enjoy the glory of Godsgrave until you catch up.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Read my review of Nevernight.