Sunday 15 October 2017

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1), Jay Kristoff

"The brighter the light, the deeper the shadow"
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.

* * * *
4 / 5

I resisted picking up Nevernight for a goodly while, mostly because I when I had heard about it I had just finished savouring the experience that is Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, and the two sounded goodly similar: a young girl, trained as an assassin; some kind of vengeance in the works; a creative kind of universe; but mostly it was the very young girl trained at a school for assassins part. Nevernight, thankfully, beyond the premise, is not really like Red Sister; it truly is a book of its own, sometimes one that annoyed and frustrated me, sometimes one that made me laugh and cry and swear. 

"You have travelled miles and years to be here. You have miles and years to go. But at journey's end you will be Blades, wielded for the glory of the goddess in the most sacred of sacraments"

Beyond the Red Sister comparison, the opening pages had a feeling that reminded me of the Lies of Locke Lamora, a book beloved by many that I never finished. Great start. And then there's this goddawful sex scene such that I nearly gave up. But persistence, dear readers, is key. Because after a scant handful of kinda bad chapters, I was utterly engrossed. This is the story of Mia Covere, daughter to a traitor to the Republic of Itreya, bent on revenge for her executed father, and her mother and baby brother who were thrown into the depths of the dungeon. Having trained in the city of Godsgrave, Mia must now take the perilous journey to become an apprentice of the Red Church of Assassins. There she trains hard to be made a full assassin, at which point she will have the skills to take her vengeance.

Despite the synopsis proclaiming that the Red Church is not Hogwarts, it kinda was. The students engage in four classes, staples of this kind of genre - poisons, blades, seduction, and pickpocketing - none of which are particularly innovative in their interpretation (the poison teacher poisoning her class, for example), but they are fun. I feel like this sums up most of the plot of Nevernight: fun, but not all that original. Students fight in a sort-of points based system to be in the top four to be made full assassins, there's a mean girl, the boy Mia get into cahoots with, Tric, a couple of hangers on including Ashlin. The start also lacked an emotional punch - the competition was clearly bloody and brutal, but those that died were mostly nameless characters, no one of importance. It was in the second half that this book really started to impress me; the plot diverted, surprising me, some familiar and well-loved characters took an unfortunate turn. 

"You will be a rumour. A whisper. The thought that wakes bastards of this world sweating in the nevernight. The last thing you will ever be in this world, girl, is someone's hero"

But what I loved most of all about Nevernight was the main character, Mia. Yes, her backstory and motivations were very cliche, as were her powers, but man she was badass. Her domain in shadows and since she was young she has had a familiar of sorts, a shadow cat called Mister Kindly who eats her fear and is equal parts creepy and hilarious. Mia is dark and brutal and bloody and she swears like a drunken sailor. Her sense of morality is also kind of wacky. I do think her character is perhaps a little inconsistent; particularly at the scene at the end, the final trial, I do think she would have done it. But no spoilers!

The writing is going to be a bit of a "love it or you hate it" for some people. Perhaps it is a little jarring at the start, it's sharp, short, with mostly tiny sentences. At times it's like the narrator is talking to you, and boy does the narrator, and Mia our protagonist, swear a goddamn lot. But the writing is exceedingly quotable and I feel like it does work for the book; Flame In The Mist also used very short sentences, but it didn't fit the book at all and just became a frustrating experience, Nevernight has gorgeous prose of a strange variety; it's like a really ugly looking flower in your garden that you want to pull up, but when you look at it closely realise that it's an attractive kind of ugly. What I adored about the writing is the use of footnotes, something I've loved since I read Stroud's Bartimaeus Series. They're a great way to add in myths or funny anecdotes a writer has thought up without ramming them into the plot; you can read them or you can leave them. Note, I think it's worth purchasing a physical copy of this book, as it really doesn't have the same effect as a kindle copy. 

"Too many books. Too few centuries"

What I hate, hate hated was the continuous flipping between past memories and the present. This is perhaps an entirely personal judgement about the book, perhaps not. Each chapter, at least for a significant portion of the beginning of the book, is split in two: the first half, in italics, is the past, Mia's memories of her family, of running wild in the streets; the second half is the present, her journey to the Red Church and her lessons there. Whenever I became significantly invested in either plotline, I was ripped out of that little bubble of contentment and interest and into another world. It was very annoying. The other thing I couldn't stand? The sex scenes. I have no objection to a well placed and well written scene of that nature, but these were not good. First of all, the very idea of a forty year old woman teaching a bunch of teenagers how to give blowjobs is rather disgusting, and then Kristoff chooses to couch all this in a "women + sex = power" sort of equation, one that I find male writers often engage in. 

Overall, I loved Mia, I adored the world and the myths, and parts of the writing were amazing (particularly the footnotes, more writers should do this!). Like most books, there were also parts that I wasn't all that fond of, but Nevernight is a wild, bloody and enjoyable ride, and absolutely at the adult end of the YA spectrum, possibly even just straight up adult. Don't buy it for the younger teen!

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