Title: Nevernight (Nevernight Chronicle 1)
Author: Jay Kristoff
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: August 6th, 2016
Subjects and Themes: Fantasy School, Assassins, Revenge
Page Count: 448 (hardback)
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, a sixteen year old Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic ― the Red Church. Treachery and trials await her with the Church’s halls, and to fail is to die. But if she survives to initiation, Mia will be inducted among the chosen of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the only thing she desires.
Lying cat! SHHHHHH. I can’t think of a better title right now, okay? Let me have this clickbait one. Also, I think you’re just jealous because there’s a cat character in the book and he has cooler powers than you.
I’ll preface this by saying that I didn’t think this was a bad book (so hold your rotten vegetables ’till the end). I thought it was an okay fantasy story with quick pacing, snappy action, and good humour. But from all the things I’d heard about it, I was expecting something a little more…exceptional. I had an image of Harry Potter bathed in blood and guts and dripping sensuality, and instead I got a typical school fantasy with stabby action (of several sorts) and illogical plot points. It was underwhelming to say the least.
(Also, I read this as a buddy read with my friend and it took us nearly four months to finish–which isn’t an indicator of the quality of the book but rather my lamentable efforts at buddy reading.)
Quick points on what I did enjoy about the book:
- The footnotes provided interesting details about the world and its history. Some facts were silly, others more serious, and I liked the variation in tone. They’re akin to codex entries in video games; information that won’t hinder your understanding and enjoyment of the story if you choose not to read them, but will add extra depth to the narrative.
- Mia’s shadow powers are pretty cool. And I’ll always champion the existence of magical animal companions in fantasy. I heard great things about Mr. Kindly the shadow cat and I wasn’t disappointed.
- I really really liked the teasing of a possible enemies-to-lovers F/F for the sequels (it’s probably the main reason why I want to continue reading)
The biggest problem for me is that I couldn’t take the Red Church and its people seriously.
This is an assassin’s school (church/organization–whichever) that one enters knowing full well that it’s an assassin’s school. It’s an organization of the best cold-blooded killers in the realm that churns out more cold-blooded killers into society. Its teachers aren’t there to whack you over the head a few times and then hold your hand afterward. They’re there to let you break or be bent into their image of the perfect assassin.
So it makes ZERO sense for the apprentices to be constantly dumbstruck by the trickery that occurs during their lessons. I can give a pass for the first few times; they’re still kids, after all, and there are probably dregs of naivete still pooling around in their collective psyche. But when poisoning and maiming and “gotcha!” moments are part of your weekly routine and yet you’re still fooled time and time again by situations you should be learning to recognize as suspect, I have to ask what you’re even doing here.
“They’re not playing about anymore,” exclaims Mia two-thirds of the way into the story, somehow forgetting that they’ve been poisoned and tortured and thrown to the enemy since day 1.
These characters act like they’re in a boarding school and like they’re playacting as assassin trainees. Which would be fine if at any point the apprentices or the instructors address this by saying, hey, maybe they’re too soft to be here. Maybe they’re not cut out for this. But they don’t.
The lack of seriousness given to their situation (exacerbated by Kristoff’s upbeat, over-the-top writing style) combined with the fact that no major side character dies during these lessons/trials takes all the tension out of the story.
The characters are interesting enough but I didn’t feel like I got to know any of them very well. And while I like Mia’s attitude, she’s a combination of “over-powered hero” and “plot-convenient obliviousness” that frustrates me. Also, Cassius? The Black Prince? The Lord of Blades? The most powerful and feared assassin of the realm? He ended up being the biggest disappointment of the book. (spoiler: you either live long enough to become a villain or die unceremoniously in a random inn, skewered with a sword)
Other than that, there’s a myriad of plot points and character actions that don’t make a whole lot of sense. Like the convenient series of events leading up to the ending (spoiler: how is it that the greatest–and probably only–assassin’s guild in the world gets so easily infiltrated via the actions of two teenagers?) There’s also a criminal “investigation” at one point that ends with the church’s higher-ups accepting circumstantial evidence as concrete proof which I found fairly ridiculous. You’d think that as criminals they’d have seen their fair share of unfair judgments handed down by the Luminatii. So you’d think their justice system would be a little more robust. A little more on the just side. But nope.
I absolutely get why so many people love the book. I mean, firstly, it’s a fantasy in a school setting which is the literary equivalent of crack. There’s also a certain addictiveness to Kristoff’s writing that I can’t deny–a combination of flowery imagery and dry humour (the latter comes out really well in the footnotes). I just expected less plot holes and more of…well, everything.