5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Tell me that any book is similar to Harry Potter, and I’ll be on it like a shot. The blurb of Nevernight makes reference to Hogwarts – actually saying that the Red Church is nothing like it – and how right it is. However, to all those fans like myself who grew up with Harry and might occasionally enjoy the darker, more graphic fantasy – this is it.
I’ve got to admit, I haven’t known what to make of Jay Kristoff for a while. I basically instantly dismissed Stormdancer, his first novel, because he said in an interview that he did all the research for his Japanese-inspired world on Wikipedia, which didn’t exactly reek of professionalism. But then I read Illuminae, Kristoff’s science fiction not-quite-a-novel (told through chat logs, reports etc), co-written with Amie Kaufman, and really enjoyed it. So when Nevernight first appeared, promising a darker, more seductive world of fantasy than other recent releases, I was rather draw to it. The hype was hard to ignore, and I have a thing for assassin stories. What is it about these types of people that makes them so compelling to read about? And compelling this was.
Nevernight basically went straight into the ‘action’, as it were (wink wink nudge nudge), opening with our protagonist losing her virginity to a male prostitute. Through a series of flashbacks that contrast with the present day, we learn more about Mia and why she is on this murderous path. From the beginning, the violence was graphic, the sex was detailed and the cursewords coming left, right and centre – and I LOVED IT. This book is so, so brutal (if you’ve been reading about Nevernight on social media, you’ve probably heard all about people going crazy for page 553) and literally everything that happened was the complete opposite of what I expected. Kristoff does not hold back.
Mia as a character was interesting. She was a bit of a broody teen, but that was realistic. Having read several different fantasy series where young adults are trained to be killers, I have to say that this has so far been the only one where the characters really confront what they’re doing, and also seem to accept that, whilst it’s not right, it’s what they need to do. I’m not sure entirely how to express this, but Mia felt constant in terms of her personality. She never really once felt like a teenage girl who just happens to know the best way to kill someone, and spends the rest of her time contradicting that side of herself. She knows she is a murderer, and nothing is sugar-coated. The rest of her classmates are the same – thieving, seducing, bribing and more to get what they need. It is a competition in a school of assassins – nothing is going to be easy.
I enjoyed the world-building, a sort of Italian/Roman inspired world, and I’m interested to see what other cultures might be used in the sequel. Also, friendships and relationships were formed that just felt so natural and easy-going, which of course then made certain events even more painful to witness. My only issue with the book was the footnotes – there were a few too many and some were rather long, distracting from the main story. I know that they’re there for world-building, but they felt a little too much like Kristoff was trying too hard to be Pratchett-esque.
Apart from that, Nevernight was an absolute delight – if that’s what you can call a book filled to the grim with guts, gore, graphic sexual encounters and enough swearing to make Malcolm Tucker blush. If you’re bored of fantasy where the characters are all firmly on the side of Good, and are looking for something with perhaps more immoral than moral, Nevernight might be just the ticket.