Review: Nevernight

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff was the January standalone read for The Magic Book Club. It’s a dark, atmospheric YA or NA fantasy (it has some mature content) about a young girl training to become an assassin to avenge her family’s murderers.

Goodreads synopsis: 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?

My rating: 2,5 stars.

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I’ve found that this book is very hit-or-miss. Some people love the writing style, some think it’s too overdone. Some people think the footnotes are fun, others think they’re unnecessary and distracting. It can be difficult to get into because of this, but I didn’t have any problems. Though the writing style felt a little strange, it drew me in. I’m still not sure whether I like it or not – sometimes it’s very poetic and atmospheric, sometimes it just feels like the writer is trying too hard to make things sound pretty. As for the footnotes, I love them. Perhaps because I’m the kind of person who often has trains of thought that I distract me from what I’m actually saying, adding in brackets and hyphens to keep the semblance of order. Footnotes are just a little step further from there. (Plus, I’m a classics student, and classicists love footnotes.)

As I’m still not entirely sure what I think about this book, I’m going to organise my thoughts pro-and-con style.

Pros

  • The story was thrilling and I loved the narrator (including his footnotes).
  • It’s written very cinematically, in a way that you can almost see a scene unfold in your head. This has to do with the way I think, but also with the kind of details given and the way the sentences and paragraphs are built up. A very good example is the following quote, where even the typography adds to the image in your mind (it’s a bit of a spoiler, sorry):

the girl stepped

into the shadow

     at her feet

  out of the shadows behind them

and kept right on running.

— Jay Kristoff, Nevernight p. 387.

  • Mia’s shadow powers are awesome and so is Mister Kindly, the cat made of shadows who drinks her fear.
  • The world of Nevernight is very interesting, especially the religion. I’m interested to see if the mythology becomes more important in the upcoming sequels.
  • The book itself looks beautiful.

Cons

  • As I said before, the writing style isn’t always great and it can feel like Kristoff tried a little too hard.
  • The book has some serious racist issues. As I only picked up on this a little bit and don’t feel like I can address this properly (I’m white), I’ll redirect you to this eye-opening post about it. In short, one of the peoples in this book, the Dweymeri, are depicted in a very problematic way. They are a dark-skinned people with facial tattoos conforming to a lot of racial stereotypes connected to POC and Maori people specifically.
  • I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the explicit sex scenes between two minors (sixteen and seventeen years old). Not that I think sixteen year olds can’t have sex – I just don’t feel comfortable reading about it in such a detailed way, nor do I feel comfortable reading minors described in a sexualised way. The latter didn’t happen often, but there were a few instances that bothered me slightly. That’s probably a personal issue, though. I don’t particularly enjoy sex scenes between adults either.
  • Sort of related to the previous point, is a general problem I have with this kind of fantasy novel, meaning: the kind about a teenager. It’s like authors think that in a fantasy setting it’s normal for children to have a terrible life and encounter problems any adult would struggle with. So, aside from mentioning the main character’s age, they never address the fact that this is a sixteen year old child being in mortal danger and murdering people. I’m not saying ‘don’t write books like these about minors’, I’m just saying, addressing the fact that they’re so young only adds to the drama, so go ahead and do it. Don’t leave me feeling like I’m the only one who noticed.
  • Another thing I wasn’t comfortable with – this is a minor spoiler – was the way altering the main character’s (and other character’s) body and facial features was depicted as nothing more than a minor problem. When it was said that Mia was not beautiful, I was happy – it’s nice to have a protagonist with a realistic appearance. But then an inherent part of the process of becoming an assassin turned out to be altering your appearance to a more beautiful one, because apparently if you’re not beautiful you stand out too much. Though Mia was apprehensive at first, she decided it was a sacrifice she had to make for her training – and then when it was done, she was happy with her new looks and the change was never mentioned again. Though I admire the sentiment that it’s your personality that defines who you really are, I don’t think that means that changing your appearance is just fine. Especially if you have to change your appearance because you’re not beautiful enough, and you end up being happy with ‘beautiful you’. Just to clarify, I’m not talking straightening your teeth, putting on make-up, losing weight – I’m talking changing the appearance of your entire body and face. If that’s something you really want to do, then I have no problem with it, but if you are forced to do it, I cannot believe you’d just be okay with it like that.
  • This is just a minor thing that annoyed me, but now that I’m listing things I’m just going to say it. There were some Latin sounding phrases… except they weren’t Latin. They just didn’t make any sense. If you want to use Latin, use real Latin, and if you want to use a fantasy language, use a fantasy language. Why use fake Latin? But that’s just a pet peeve of mine.

All in all, this is an entertaining book that unfortunately has several problems. These problems didn’t impact the main plot in any way, which is why I could read and enjoy the book while being aware of its problematic nature. I might have given Nevernight 4 stars, for being a fun and at times incredibly gripping read, but after summing up these issues I have to bring my rating down to 2,5. I would recommend it if you like a fantasy that is a little on the darker side, but please do keep its problems in mind.

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