Review: ‘Nevernight’ by Jay Kristoff

nevernight_cover

Destined to destroy empires, Mia Covere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Six years later, the child raised in shadows takes her first steps towards keeping the promise she made on the day that she lost everything.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, so if she is to have her revenge, Mia must become a weapon without equal. She must prove herself against the deadliest of friends and enemies, and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and demons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Red Church is no Hogwarts, but Mia is no ordinary student.

The shadows love her. And they drink her fear.

Given the whole girl-goes-to-assassin-school vibe of the blurb, I had originally thought this book might be YA. You’d think the “assassin” part of “assassin school” would have tipped me off. Still, by the end of the first chapter I knew very well that Nevernight wouldn’t be for younger readers. Jay Kristoff doesn’t pull his punches.

The book is violent, and doesn’t make any excuses for that. There are sex scenes that are just shy of erotica in their level of detail, though I never found them gratuitous. And in the opening chapter we actually get both, the scene flipping back and forward in time between a sex scene and a stabbing, highlighting the, erm, rather obvious parallels.

There are a lot of flashbacks in Nevernight, especially early in the book. The main storyline picks up when Mia is 16 and seeking to be accepted into the Red Church (said assassin school), but we get glimpses into the formative events of her past. I found the flashbacks interesting, but they were presented in italics to differentiate them from the main story, and I found them harder to read as a result (physically harder; large blocks of italics are painful. Maybe I’m just getting old!).

The other stylistic quirks of Nevernight are the use of footnotes, where the narrator provides extra detail about the world — generally amusing anecdotes and trivia that don’t really have a place in the main story but give a glimpse into the narrator’s personality. The other quirk is that we don’t actually know who the narrator is, just that it’s not Mia herself. (My money is on her shadow companion, Mister Kindly.)

There is magic in the world of Nevernight, which is a lush combination of Ancient Rome and slightly less ancient Venice, but it’s the sort of magic that imposes a cost on the user. I really liked that as a mechanic; it stopped the various magic-users from being completely overpowered and silly.

As far as the characters go, Mia is — unsurprisingly — hard as nails. But there’s an empathetic side to her that is rather out of place in a school of murderers, and as a result she makes herself some good friends and snags a sort-of boyfriend among the other novices. Of course, there’s the obligatory mean girl (who has a very good reason for hating Mia, so she’s not your typical shallow archetype) and the Snape-like teacher (though he makes Snape look soft and cuddly). And the classroom politics and scheming tends to wind up with people dead.

Story-wise I won’t say too much, except to say that there’s a plot twist I didn’t see coming and all sorts of other awesomeness in there. I did have one head-scratching moment over Mia’s apparent inability to remember one particular event in her past — I wasn’t clear on the reasons for that, though maybe I missed something.

I’d recommend this book for people who like their fantasy gritty, their prose rich with metaphor and their heroines stabby.

nevernightsting

Four-and-a-half stars

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