Sunday, October 30, 2016

Nevernight Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Jay Kristoff
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Nevernight Chronicle Book One
Pages: 448

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The brighter the light, the deeper the shadow

(An advanced copy was provided by the publisher).

Mia Corvere is the daughter of the formerly wealthy but now disgraced Corvere family. Hunted by her father's enemies she slowly learns to fend for herself, and begins to execute her revenge. Her plan is to go to the Red Church, trainers of the deadliest assassins in the Itreyan Empire, and hone the skills she'll need to get the job done ... but that will all depend on whether she can survive.

Nevernight takes a lot of different fantasy plot tropes and smashes them all together, quite successfully I should add. It also makes it hard to classify the story to fans of particular fantasy sub-genres. It's got young romances, school and friendship drama, and lots of cliff hangers, but the novel's adult material goes beyond what's acceptable for a Y.A. book. There's a revenge story at the heart of everything, but Nevernight never settles into being a string of hits, yet it's still important to defining Mia's identity as well as the identities of her colleagues.

My favorite aspect of the genre blending is the "wizard school" aspect, which is really an assassin school that makes up the majority of the book's worldbuilding. At this school students are taught how to steal, how to brew poisons and antidotes, how to fight, and how to seduce. The stakes are high with students being killed regularly within the classroom. And only four graduates will be granted the status of "blade", while the rest will end up being servants of the church thereafter.

Kristoff structures his story by narrating Mia's past, how her family fell to ruin, and how she learned to survive on her own besides Mia's present, which includes her journey to find the Red Church and all the skills she must learn to complete her training. Past and present interweave, but Nevernight creates a memorable introduction to the character by narrating her first kill in the present, and the first time she had sex in the past. The similarity of these experiences paints a surreal image of her.

Mia is also an anomaly in her world because she is a darkin, a person who can essentially manipulate shadows. Darkin are treated as a kind of "boogeyman" in Itreya, and Mia's darkin shape actually talks to her ... he is given the name Mr. Kindly. Kindly grants Mia some magical advantages, and can act independently from her, but his intentions are shrouded in mystery.

As for the other characters a lot of them seem to have Harry Potter counterparts or stereotypical "classroom setting" roles when they're introduced. Lord Cassius runs the Red Church, but is also a darkin, and the most powerful and skilled assassin in the world, fulfills a Dumbledore like role. Jessamine, Mia's rival, fulfills the Malfoy role. Tric fulfills the "romantic interest or friend?" role, and Ashlinn fulfills the adventurous friend role. At first it seems like these characters will be cliches, but the nature of going to an assassin school that is alright with its students being killed and is selective about who graduates really changes the dynamic of these relationships and how they work. The nature of friendships becomes very important to the story at hand, and how important that is really kind of creeps up on you.

There's a fair amount of worldbuilding, where a lot of the naming conventions seem to follow a combination of Roman and Italian influences. Descriptions of the world are pretty cool to visualize. Mia grows up in a city made out of the bones of a dead God. Day's last over two years. Other anecdotes about Itreya and it's history are detailed in footnotes at the end of each chapter.

Basically, if I took Arya Stark's plot from Game of Thrones and sent her to a Hogwarts for assassins, I imagine the book would look a lot like Nevernight. I personally am a big fan of Arya, Harry Potter, and assassin stories, so once this book started to get into the thick of things (about a 100 pages or so), I was completely sucked in. 

Score: 8.5

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