Uncompromising entertainment. 4.5/5 stars.
Thank you to Harper Voyager and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Nevernight is published in the US today, August 9th, and in the UK on August 11th.
The blurb: 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.
I’ve been quite surprised by how Nevernight appears to be dividing readers into clear “hate it/DNF’d it” vs. “loved it” camps. So, what did I think? Well, I loved it. This book is very, very good. In fact, it’s “stay-awake-past-2-in-the-morning-willing-your-eyes-to-stay-open-so-you-can-finish” good.
So, what else do you need to know? Firstly, we are warned in the prologue that this book is going to be unflinching, uncompromising and unsentimental. And it delivers on all that and then some. Be prepared for graphic everything: language, sex and violence. However, that said, I didn’t feel that any of the swearing, nastiness or sex was gratuitous or an attempt to shock (apart from when a character might have been trying to provoke another), but rather was all in keeping with plot and character development.
It is true that I didn’t feel the story fully got into its stride until Mia gets to the Red Church, although you could hardly call her journey there uneventful. But I’d urge you to stick with the story because if you’re looking for action, the later parts of the book deliver it in spades.
The characterisation is excellent. The main character – Mia – is pleasingly complex; every time you think you have her figured out she does something unexpected to keep us intrigued. The secondary characters are also a varied and interesting bunch.
Although this is a bloody, dark and ruthless story, fantasy fans will notice lots of echoes of more familiar, less X-rated tales, which I think may partly explain why this book never feels like it’s pushing you away. The assassins’ school is basically a far deadlier version of Hogwarts. For example, the potions master, oh I’m sorry, the “Master of Truths”, actually poisons her students and waits to see if any of them are smart enough to figure out the antidote and so not die. I think we all know that Snape would have LOVED to do that! 😉 The final section of the plot reminded me of The Worst Witch (hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone who remembers that one!) and then, of course, a main character who’s a bad-ass female assassin brings to mind the entire Throne of Glass series. Finally, and by no means least, the footnotes reminded me so much of the Discworld series, I think they could have won my goodwill alone.
I’m not saying there’s nothing original here, because the Nevernight world has lots of interesting features which were new to me. These include the three suns which keep the world in an almost perpetual daytime (which, in turn, has very interesting consequences for social and religious order). However, perhaps its the original combination of somewhat familiar elements in a new setting with complex characters and high stakes which makes this a winner.
I dithered a lot more than usual about what rating to give this book. In the end I didn’t think I could quite give it 5 stars because I don’t feel desperate to get my hands on book 2, although I do look forward to reading it when it comes out.
Overall: Highly recommended for fantasy fans, but go in expecting graphic content. Not one for the easily offended!