About the Book
In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.
Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.
Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.
Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?
429 pages (hardcover)
Published on August 9, 2016
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Reader, it’s taken a long time for me to get to the point where I could write this review. My website has basically been unusable since at least October. I’ve been too busy to really deal with it. Last night, my husband and one of his tech friends sat down for quite a few hours and went through my website’s code line by line to figure out what was wrong. Anyway, long story short, they ended up figuring it out and rebuilding a bunch of back-end stuff and here I am, with a website I can USE AGAIN.
So it feels right to launch off Reviewing v. 2.0 with a book I loved so much it hurts.
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
Nevernight tells the story one Mia Corvere, daughter of a failed revolutionary who was put to death along with his followers, leaving Mia almost alone in the world. The operative word in that last sentence is “almost”. She isn’t quite alone. After Mia escapes the imprisonment her mother and brother face, she loses herself in the city and takes to hiding in shadows, which is something Mia is very, very good at doing. With a special ability she doesn’t quite understand, Mia has an intense and unique relationship with the dark. She can manipulate it, use shadows to hide and travel. And she has a familiar (I think?) named Mister Kindly, a not-cat with not-eyes who eats her fear and helps her survive.
I’m not going to lie, Mister Kindly was one of my favorite parts of the book. Some of his dialogue with Mia just did it for me. Snappy and subtle, their banter often served to lighten the moment, but at times, it functioned like a knife in the ribs. Some of the cat’s lines made me stop in my tracks to just admire them. He had a way of cutting through everything to get right to the heart of things, and since one of his primary roles is devouring Mia’s fear, he often senses things about her that she might not be willing to admit to herself.
“… mia …?”
“… there is no need to be afraid…”
A pause, filled by the whispering wind.
“… no need to lie, either…”
Mia, however, is truly the star of the show. She spends her life after her numerous tragic losses living on the streets, surviving, often with the help of Mister Kindly. Taken under the wing of one rather questionable soul named Mercurio, Mia learns the art of ruthlessness. Though, much like Arya Stark, she’s got a list of names in her head, people who need to be dealt with on her quest for vengeance, and she cannot and will not be satisfied with street life and petty thievery. Following Mercurio’s instructions, she decides to go on a bit of a journey to find the Red Church, where the Republic’s fiercest killers and assassins are trained. This is really where the book gets going.
Now, before you continue reading, please know something about me. There are three things I really, really struggle with when reading. I mean, if I come across books that are largely filled with any one of these three things, I usually do not finish them. One of the things on this list is schools or training academies. I almost never finish books where most of the plot takes place in a school or training academy. Now, there’s a reason for this, and I think it’s an alright one: authors really tend to struggle with infodumps in settings like this. It allows them too easily. When I start feeling like I’m sitting in class with the protagonist, I’m out.
However, on the rare occasion that I find a book that doesn’t use such settings in that way, it really, really works for me. This is one of the latter. Someone on Twitter called this “Murder Hogwarts” and that fits perfectly, but you don’t really get any of those scenes I truly despise, wherein I’m sitting in the chair with the protagonist while they are being lectured about the nuances of magic or history or whatever. Kristoff deftly sidesteps all those pitfalls that really makes me struggle with these settings and by doing, he makes the entire thing sing.
In fact, despite my strong feelings about schools/training academies I do not think this book could have worked nearly so well in a different setting, and Kristoff really displays his writerly prowess by how easily he sidesteps all the pitfalls that make these settings such a slog for me (usually). In fact, he turned something I generally avoid into one of the greatest strengths of the book. Here, Mia not only gets to be young and fallible but (especially toward the end) you get to see a hint of what she’s truly capable of. Here Kristoff gets to work in a fairly closed environment which allows him more time to build up characters and use them against each other in some extremely clever ways.
Here, Kristoff really shines.
Iron or glass? they’d ask.
She was neither.
She was steel.
Perhaps one of the greatest delights of this book was how easily Kristoff worked on so many different levels. Mia is an extremely complex character. At the end of the book, I was stunned by how much I both knew about her, and all the stuff I still don’t know. Usually, I have a pretty good idea of who/what a person is by the end of a book, but by the end of Nevernight, I really felt like I was just starting to crack the envelope on Mia. Now I’m almost a hundred pages into book two, and I’m still trying to figure out the riddle of who exactly this protagonist is. It’s so rare to find a character who is this nuanced, that her mystery is part of what draws me to her. Who is she? No, more than that, what is she? She’s something. I don’t know what yet, but she’s something and I’m dying to find out more.
Mia is also dying to find out more. I’m excited to find out with her.
But you see, this really is where Kristoff shines. On her surface, Mia is a very screwed-up, angry teenager who often lashes out before she thinks. But in this school setting that I shockingly did not hate, you get to see more teenaged bits of her. There’s some sex. She kind of has a crush on someone for most of it. She has friends, falls into a clique, etc. All that teenage stuff. Underscoring all that, however, is the darkness, the death, the murder, the Mister Kindly and his not-eyes seeing too much. And Kristoff works effortlessly on both planes. At times there’s a rather discordant note with it all because Mia is so young to be doing all this stuff, but that’s part of the draw, and that discordant note makes Mia and her various surface/deeper struggles that much more compelling. It gives her an extremely subtle vulnerability that made the entire package that is Mia truly sing.
The ending hit me like a freight train. There was a moment around the 75% mark where I was so surprised I had to put the book down, go into my beta reader group, and ask if anyone has read this book because I had to talk to someone about it. I just had to let out the “HOLY CRAP THIS IS AMAZING OMG” feels, you know? The thing is, around the 75-80% mark, stuff starts happening. The ending is intense and incredible and it goes off like a bomb, but what really got me is how Kristoff set all this up so subtly, I didn’t even realize stuff was being set up until the Big Thing starts to happen. That’s what had me so amazed. That’s why I had to run to my beta group and go “I NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT THIS RIGHT NOW BECAUSE IT’S SO FREAKING INCREDIBLE.” Here we have an ending, and it’s a powerful one, and it was so subtly set up I didn’t even realize a setup was taking place until it was too late.
I edit so many books each year. I read even more than that. Do any of you have any idea how hard it is to surprise me these days? I appreciate books, I love books (my full-time career is working with books, so I better) but sometimes I feel like it’s almost impossible to surprise me anymore and the fact this book managed it says… a lot.
The wolf does not pity the lamb. The storm begs no forgiveness of the drowned.
In fact, the ending was so masterful, I immediately went to the library to pick up the rest of the series. As someone who prefers to let a book sink into me for at least a few weeks before I move on to the next book in the series, the fact that I immediately went into book two without hesitation also says a lot.
Now, as for Kristoff’s prose, I devour things written with heavy metaphor, and some of the lyrical twists of phrase really got my blood pumping. It won’t be for everyone, but if anyone reading this review has read my books, they’ll know I dig a good, meaty metaphor and I love books that work on numerous layers with poetic turns of phrase that are pretty on the surface but hide truckloads of deeper meaning beneath. This book was that exactly. I know some people don’t like that kind of thing, so be aware before you go in, but for me, it ticked off all my boxes. The prose was sublime, and like so much of the book, there is a lot of development that happens beneath the surface. However, in these pages, Kristoff used his prose like the tool it is and often married beauty and pain in a way that zapped me all the way to my marrow. This book is extremely quotable, extremely beautiful, and full of pain.
Be still, my heart.
So, where does that leave us?
If I can leave you, dear reader, with two summary phrases, they’d be: Nevernight is dark fantasy done the way dark fantasy should be done. It’s one of my best discoveries in years.