Published by Thomas Dunne Books on August 9th 2016
Our reviews of this author: Illuminae
For those of you too busy to read this whole post the ‘in brief’ version of this review is that I loved Nevernight. Its a book that I’ve been highly anticipating and we all know how wrong that can sometimes go and yet it lived up to my expectations completely. I really had a good time reading this. It’s a very entertaining and well thought out story with a very readable main protagonist and her sidekick set at it’s heart. A story of assassins with a murderer running amok in their midst.
I’m going to set this review on it’s head in terms of my usual style by beginning with a few thoughts or maybe even criticisms. I’ve seen, comparisons being made of this book to the Harry Potter series and I can see where those comparisons are coming from. A sizeable chunk of this story is set in a school, the protagonists are teenagers and there are all sorts of fantasy elements blended into the school ranging from bookworms in the library to a labyrinth of tunnels and staircases that never seem to stay in the same place for very long. However, I would point out that Nevernight is a dark tale of revenge containing torture, bad language and creative cursing and sexually explicit content. This book is certainly not aimed at a younger audience so please bear that in mind. The school (or church) in question only contains around 30 students and a good number of these will die during their apprenticeship. Each student aims to become the best assassin possible. Only four places are available in the Red Church for those wanting to become ‘blades’ for the Lady of Blessed Murder and so the competition is tough and the chances of staying alive even tougher.
At the start of the book we are introduced to a young Mia as she witnesses the execution of her father, accused and tried as a traitor and rebel rouser. Her mother and brother are thrown into a prison where the darkness will eventually drive them mad and Mia herself barely escapes death. The story then moves onwards as Mia, sixteen years old, shrouded in shadow, waits for her first kill. Mia has a purpose that will give her focus for the rest of the story.
I thought that Nevernight got off to a captivating start that completely grabbed my attention and then succeeded in keeping it for the rest of the story. The world is well described and easy to picture, maybe not entirely unique in terms of Mia’s home Godsgrave (built on the bones of a dead God) but fascinating enough with a Roman style empire combined with a Venetian style setting. This is a world with three suns, where, unsurprisingly, darkness rarely falls (once every 2 years I think) – hence the name of the book. The religion revolves around the God of Light and Goddess of Dark who basically had a falling out. The ruling faction worship the light and believe the dark worshippers to be heretics. The Red Church, where would-be assassins learn their trade, is hidden within a range of mountains and protected by magic. Once inside the students will be taught the art of swordplay, thievery, seduction and poisons.
The world building is assisted by footnotes – now, I’m not overly fond of this style (even though it’s not the first time I’ve encountered a similar set up). I’m not sure whether it’s because I was reading on a kindle but I found this just didn’t work well and perhaps the paper copy will be better in that respect. I also found the interruptions broke up the flow of the story at first – but, even though I didn’t love the use of footnotes it’s surprising how quickly I got used to them and they were used less as the story progressed so hang in there.
In terms of the characters there is plenty going on. A good mix of people to like and dislike. We have Mercurio who took Mia in as a young child. We don’t know too much about Mercurio although we are given snippets as the story develops. I won’t run over all the other characters but there is a really good mix of students and teachers with plenty to like and dislike. I liked that nobody is perfect, I enjoyed the unpredictability of some of the character arcs and the easy way that the author builds them up and I admit myself impressed at some of the twists that the author pulls that I really didn’t see coming.
Mia herself is a darkin, this means that she can manipulate and use the shadows and in fact part of her ability means that she has her own constant companion in the form of a shadowy cat called Mr Kindly. Mr Kindly has been with Mia since she was a small child escaping death and running out onto the streets of Godsgrave. Mr Kindly is a great character that I really enjoyed reading about although I confess that I’m still puzzled about the relationship and look forward to learning more about these darkin creatures. He keeps Mia grounded in many respects, he helps her with her fear and the nightmares she has and more than that he ensures that she’s never alone.
In terms of the writing. The story is narrated by a character as yet unknown and it appears that this will be a chronicle set in three parts. The bulk of the story revolves around Mia’s time at the Red Church but we are also given a deeper history through the use of flashbacks. Kristoff certainly appears to be one of those authors who is comfortable with description. He has a way with words that I do enjoy even if they can be a little elaborate here and there. As mentioned above he also makes use of footnotes to assist the world building and although this was a bit irritating to start off with I think my main concerns boiled down to how this worked (or not) on my own electronic device.
So, this is a story of revenge, although it’s not quite as simple as it first appears. There is a twist in the tale here and a great set up for the next book.
Basically, I really enjoyed Nevernight. I went into this concerned about all the hype but came out at the other side having thoroughly enjoyed the read and with no hesitation at all about recommending it to others. I can’t deny this is a bit of a wordy novel and Kristoff has a certain descriptive style that may not be to everyone’s tastes but I just loved it. It’s dark and twisted with a great streak of humour that softens some of the blows.
An excellent start to series and one that I’m really looking forward to continuing with.