Nevernight

nevernight

Nevernight was written by Jay Kristoff and first published in 2016. It is a dark fantasy novel about a teenage girl who seeks revenge for the murder of her family. The story forms the first part of The Nevernight Chronicle, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

When Mia Corvere was just ten years old, she watched as her father was executed for the role he played in a rebellion against the Senate. Yet the tyranny of Consul Scaeva did not end there. Her mother and infant brother were sentenced to a lifetime in the bowels of the impenetrable prison known as Philosopher’s Stone and Mia was sentenced to death. Scaeva did not like to leave loose ends.

This could have been the end of Mia’s tale, yet it was then that she discovered that she possessed a terrible power: the ability to control the shadows to flit between patches of darkness or make herself invisible. The revelation came from Mister Kindly – a talking cat made of pure shadow – who immediately joined her as a companion. Lost and with nowhere to go, Mia was taken in by an elderly assassin named Mercurio who agreed to train her in his art. Mia studied hard to become a killer. It was the only way that she could avenge her family.

Six years later, Mia makes her first successful kill. Mercurio deems her worthy of the journey to the Red Church – the place where the greatest killers study under the eternal gaze of Niah, Goddess of the Night. Yet life at the academy will be Mia’s biggest challenge. Of the thirty students, only four will prove worthy enough of becoming Blades. The rest are destined for a life or servitude or a sudden, gruesome death…

I shall begin this review with my usual words of warning. Nevernight is not a book for younger readers. Not only is the text incredibly dense, it’s full of a lot of material that sensitive people may find upsetting. Personally, I wouldn’t actually consider this a young adult novel at all. Although it’s marketed as such, I would say it’s New Adult, leaning towards Adult in places. There’s gore, torture, bad language and sex. Oh my there’s sex. More on that shortly.

I was overjoyed to snag a copy of this novel on Netgalley. Really I was. It’s the kind of dark, low fantasy novel that’s usually right up my street. And yet, dear reader, I was unfortunately left sorely disappointed in so many ways. The first thing that you notice when reading Nevernight is the inaccessible way that it’s written. The early chapters are so heavy with purple prose that I almost gave up on several occasions. The narrative felt overly padded and was virtually without substance beneath the lengthy and meaningless descriptions. I mean, just look at this:

“…howling like a dog who’s just returned home from a hard turn’s work to find another hound in his kennel, smoking his cigarillos and in bed with his wife.”

This is seriously a simile taken from the novel. It describes the sound a kraken makes when injured. Seriously. Things were not helped by the numerous, lengthy footnotes. Reading the Kindle edition, these quickly became tedious as I found myself constantly clicking on links to read the anecdotes at the back of the book. A few of these were amusing but most were simply unnecessary. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as too much world building. Kristoff’s world was colourful and memorable – particularly the structure of the City of Godsgrave – yet the footnotes expanded corners of this world that had no bearing on the story.

It was a good job that I stuck with the novel as I must admit that the story became more streamlined once Mia reached the Red Church. However, this was also the point where I realised that the book wasn’t greatly structured. It seems weird to compare Nevernight to Harry Potter but it’s the closest approximation that I can come up with. Mia’s time at the academy became a whorl of lessons and I slowly came to realise that there wasn’t a whole lot of plot outside this. Mia’s revenge plot fades into the background around the 25% mark of the Kindle edition and doesn’t rear its head again until around 80% of the way through the story (at which point the novel does admittedly become rather exciting). Until this point, the chapters flit between scenes of petty one-upmanship, flashbacks of Mia’s childhood and…other things. Yes, it’s time to talk about the sex scenes…

If you followed me back when I reviewed Hell is Coming, you’ll be aware of my opinions regarding the portrayal of sex in young adult novels. Mainly the fact that it’s perfectly okay to depict sex in upper YA novels, so long as it’s not prolonged and graphic. There are three sex scenes in Nevernight, two between Mia and her love interest and another between Mia and a prostitute (which occurs right at the start of the first chapter). All three of these are more graphic than some sex scenes that I’ve read in adult novels.

My other issue with these sequences is that, despite the fact that Mia is a girl, the description of these sequences is told from a very male perspective. I don’t know if the fault here is with the author struggling to write as a woman (Mia does have an odd fixation with her own breasts at times) or in the narrator (whose identity is never revealed in this novel), but the sequences read to me as though they were written entirely for male titillation, with Mia often reduced to a quivering, weakened wreck by the power of her orgasms. More disquieting still is the pleasure that Mia begins to take as she discovers how her sexuality gives her the “power” to control men. I am very worried about where the author will take this in subsequent novels.

In terms of charactisation, the novel most reminded me of The Hunger Games. Other than Mia and Tric, I didn’t care about what happened to any of the characters. Only a few of the thirty acolytes were actually named and only Tric received a fully detailed backstory. The rest just kind of faded into background with only one or two – Ashlynn, Hush – having anything resembling a personality. The characters I was most interested in were the Shahiids – the tutors at the Red Church – yet even they were never fleshed out at all. This was really disappointing for me as I felt that each of them, especially Mother Drusilla, should have had an interesting story to tell.

Mia was also a character that made me feel conflicted. She felt very heavily inspired by Arya Stark from the A Song of Ice and Fire series and, on top of this, she was just a bit too overpowered. Everything came a little too easily to her and no obstacle that was laid in her way seemed to cause her much of a setback. Despite her admittedly tragic backstory, she always felt invincible and so I never got too attached to her. It’s the ability to meet and overcome hardships that make a character interesting. Mia never felt as though she ever waded out of her depth, even when faced with a whole century of trained soldiers.

This was compounded by my disappointment in the lack of explanation for her powers. While it is quickly revealed that Mia is a “darkin”, what this actually means is never explained. She only comes into contact with one other of her kind and even he does not seem to know or care what he is. While it’s implied that all magic comes at a horrible cost to the user, Mia’s only noticeable downside (being mostly-blind while invisible) never seems to cause her much trouble. Based on the way that the novel ends, I expect that the nature of the darkin is going to be a primary plot point in the sequel, but it would have been nice to have had some more clues about it dropped in this story.

Well, I think I’ve probably said enough. Nevernight was a really disappointing novel for me. It had an intriguing premise, memorable world building and an exciting final act, yet I felt the negatives still grossly outweigh the positives. The novel is slow to start, choked with purple prose and contained a cast that I really did not care for. While I may one day return to this series to see if it improves, I’m in no hurry to any time soon.

Nevernight can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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