Review: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

UK book cover of Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

I’d actually already started reading this when I finished my Books I Want To Read By The End of the Year list, but couldn’t be arsed going back and editing it. Plus by that point I still wanted to finish it before 2018, so that definitely still counts, right? Anyway, I’ve finished it now and I have an awful lot of Things To Say. Read the whole review though, as the first sentence might throw you off. I LIKED IT BY THE END, ALRIGHT!?

Plot summary:  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.

Stop comparing this to Harry Potter. It’s nothing like it.

I have to say that I really, really hated Nevernight when I started reading it. I threw it across the room, I demanded confirmation on Twitter that it was worth my time and I did pretty much anything I could to avoid going back to it. My living room has never been this tidy. I knew how amazing Nevernight was supposed to be, but it most definitely was not happening. For context, I spend three days trying to read the first three chapters and then whipped through the rest of it in a day.

It has a terrible start. It’s incomprehensible. There are two alternate realities, I suppose, with the same girl living out two similar experiences. In one she sleeps with a male prostitute and in the other she kills a man, but they’re purposefully told in a repetitive way using the same phrases and prose. I assume it’s trying to illustrate the similarities. It’s really, really annoying. It’s never clear if both paths actually happened or if it was some sort of separate realities thing, but we never know. It’s never explained and it’s never used again.

Then we’re dumped right into the story, but there are two stories. The chapters alternate between past and present Mia, one of which is told entirely using italics (BUT WHY!? Why why why!?). That’s fine (it’s not fine – don’t use italics), but unfortunately that means you have two plots that don’t make sense. There’s way too much terminology and way too little explanation (it took me a good third of the book to work out what a ‘nevernight’ was), and characters use made-up slang way too often. I genuinely didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t really care by that point.

Hated it. Took me days to get through three chapters.

And then I loved it. Oh my God, this book is great. Eventually.

I don’t know at what point I realised how much I was loving this book, but it was definitely after the whole dual narrative thing had died down a bit and the book had stopped trying so damn hard. Seriously, calm down. After that, though… it was honestly fantastic. It hauled itself up from a one/two star read to a full four stars.

The world-building is great, once you know what’s going on. It’s so detailed and well thought out, and includes lengthy footnotes that give you the history of the place inb a very snarky fashion. It’s very unique and I’m not sure I’ve read anything quite like it. The world itself is great, but the whole Red Church and the assassin training program were in a league of their own. It’s a dark and gruelling place, and it’s fascinating. A school for assassins could very quickly become cliched and silly, but it’s far from slapstick or light-hearted.

On that note, although the protagonist is sixteen, this is not not not YA. Aside from the graphic violence and bad language, there are a few intricately described sex scenes that are frankly just awful. Why can’t male authors write about sex without using ‘fold’ and ‘soft curls?’ Whilst the language and violence is necessary for the plot (assassins, duh) the sex was not. Whilst I don’t object to it happening, the level of cringe-worthy detail was not required in a fantasy magic novel about murder and secret plots.

Other than that, the plot really is excellent. It’s mysterious and twisty, and Mia’s shadow related abilities are fascinating. I also particularly appreciated that she didn’t suddenly become some sort of WunderKind with her powers, but is actually still trying to learn along with the rest of us. Nicely done. I’m not convinced of to the true-to-character-ness of a large decision she made towards the end, but I got over it pretty quickly as it was required for the story.

There’s a very dry and occasional sense of humour towards the later parts of the book and it’s really amusing at times. It’s mostly present in the footnotes and the conversations she has with her shadow. Again, I felt that this was a little forced at the beginning but by the end it had settled down a little and I really enjoyed it.

I just wanted to be reading Nevernight absolutely all the time. I went to the library and grabbed Godsgrave, the second book, before I’d even finished reading this one. I started reading it immediately and that’s unusual for me as I hardly ever read books from the same series consecutively.

My advice is to definitely, definitely read this, but you have to stick with it. The first few chapters are really, desperately, hard work but it turns into a truly brilliant, unique story that I can’t wait to continue with.

Read Ellie’s review of Nevernight at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm.

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