NEVERNIGHT (The Nevernight Chronicle #1), by Jay Kristoff



Jay Kristoff is one half of the writing team that brought us The Illuminae Files, a science fiction series that went a long way toward curing me of my distrust for YA characters, so that I did not think twice about tackling this solo work by Kristoff once I learned that the protagonist is a teenager – and my leap of faith was more than rewarded, indeed…

Young Mia Corvere lost everything when she was just ten years old: her father, one of the most prominent figures in the Itreyan Republic, was hanged after his failed coup against the Republic’s ruling body; her mother and baby brother imprisoned in the foulest place imaginable; and Mia herself destined to be drowned on the order of the consul her father was unable to unseat.  In the worst moment of her life, however, Mia discovered an ally she never knew she had: a feline-shaped creature made of shadows, that helped her escape her captors and showed her how she could manipulate darkness herself.

Landing by chance in the shop of old Mercurio, who is affiliated to the Red Church (what you might call a school for assassins), Mia starts to learn the skills she will need to exact her vengeance against all those who destroyed her family: six years later, she is ready to be enrolled in the Red Church, where her abilities will be honed to perfection – provided she survives, of course.  Yes, because this… academy for killers is no picnic: imagine a teaching body who does not care if their pupils die in training, or who choose to impart stern lessons by actually maiming the students!

The challenges Mia faces at the Red Church are not just about physical prowess, the ability to use poisons or her ninja skills, but also – and more importantly – about how she relates to other people and the rest of the world, and the way she sees herself in light of her ultimate goal.  Not to mention the deadly perils and the slowly brewing conspiracy that she will have to face…

Nevernight turned out to be a deeply fascinating book on many levels: first, the background, a world where three suns always burn in the sky so that true night falls only once every two years or thereabouts, having therefore given birth to a belief system in which Light won its long battle against Darkness, so that everything connected to the latter is viewed with fear and distrust (and, not surprisingly, the Red Church adepts who worship the Goddess of Night, are marked as heretics).  Then there is the city of Godsgrave, built over the very bones of a fallen god: the overall feel is something of a cross between imperial Rome and ancient Venice, a place where broad plazas and shadowed alleys compete in an allegory of the light and darkness at the basis of the whole civilization. Last, but not least, the Red Church, a fortified keep that can be reached either by crossing an unforgiving desert, filled with hungry monsters that look like a cross between the hydra and Dune’s sandworms, or through a blood-filled portal: the most fascinating detail about this school for killers is that it dwells in perpetual night, as if it were not on the same planet – or plane of existence – as the rest of the world. Another mystery that begs for answers…

Besides this amazing world-building, there is the story itself: I simply love a good vengeance theme, and Mia’s journey toward the fulfillment of her oath had my undivided attention, especially since the author revealed his cards very, very slowly, adding the hints with the painstaking precision of someone building a mosaic tile by tile.  More than once my mind went to another favorite character, that of Arya Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire: both young girls are torn from their families at a very early age, and both of them need to learn first the art of survival and then that of skilled murder, being forced to give up their innocence and the gentler side of their souls along the way.  Given the similarity, it was impossible for me not to root for Mia, especially when she had to face harrowing choices, aware of the price to be paid for them, but faithful to her mantra: “Never flinch. Never fear. And never, ever forget.”

And here we come to the major strength of this novel, the characters: Mia herself is a well-crafted anti-heroine, one who has embraced darkness (and not just metaphorically) and made it her best weapon – her association with Mr. Kindly, the catlike being hiding in her shadow, is a symbiotic relationship based both in mutual need and humorous affection.  The barbed repartees the two exchange, often in what look like the least auspicious circumstances for humor, help break the tension and at the same time show us the strength of the bond that the years of coexistence have built between them.

Then there are the teachers and the other pupils at the Red Church: the former are a very weird group (and I mean truly weird…) of instructors who must believe quite firmly in the maxim that goes “what does not kill us makes us stronger”, but are quite fascinating at the same time; while the latter follow the range of personalities one might expect from a group of people in training – and in competition with each other – but fortunately don’t fall into any of the trope-laden traps I might have feared.

Nevernight, for all that I greatly enjoyed it, is however not a perfect book: the main annoyance comes from the footnotes that help shore up the world-building, a fact I was aware of from other reviews I read.  They would probably not have proven so distracting if I had been reading a physical book, but in my electronic copy they were placed at the end, therefore requiring a sort of back-and-forth every time a signpost appeared: after a while I gave up on them, fully conscious that I was missing some useful detail, but also aware that they were breaking my concentration and the story flow, and once I was enthralled by Mia’s journey I wanted no distractions whatsoever.  In the end, I hope I did not miss anything vital, although some of the curiosity remains…

I don’t believe I will wait too long to start Nevernight‘s sequel, Godsgrave, that is already out, and learn of Mia’s continued journey toward her vengeance.

My Rating: 

8 thoughts on “NEVERNIGHT (The Nevernight Chronicle #1), by Jay Kristoff

  1. So glad you enjoyed this one and want to read on. Fortunately the footnotes are much improved in No.2 – for me it was more a formatting issue really reading the e-book version. I liked the footnotes and the extra detail they provided but it was simply annoying trying to flip back and forth and it broke the story up for me quite a bit, particularly at the start of the story when they were more plentiful (and imho the worst time to distract you).
    Still, I really ended up enjoying this one and No.2 even more.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great news about Godsgrave being even better than its predecessor! I can understand how the footnotes would enhance the worldbuilding without weighing it down with exposition or info-dumps, but still I think I will keep ignoring them, or read them after the book: I will treat them as the long historical notes at the end of LOTR probably… 😉


  2. I was tempted to skip the footnotes too, but with my OCD personality, of course I ended up reading all of them. I guess I didn’t regret it in the end, since they were amusing in their own way, but given the choice, I would have advised the author to nix them. They were distracting, and they also felt gimmicky. When it comes to the book itself though, I loved this one! Kristoff might rely heavily on tropes, but he always makes them interesting and exciting to read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What I read, afterwards, were some complaints about not only the use of tropes, but the author’s “flowery” style, and in both cases I think he managed to get away with both thanks to a subtle veneer of humor that seemed to make fun of those elements he was accused of 🙂
      No matter, I’m firmly on board with this story and I intend to see it through!


  3. So glad to see that you enjoyed Nevernight! I am just loving the trilogy so far. I read the first book as an eARC so the footnotes were a bit of a hassle as well (although I still really enjoyed them), but I was able to really get the most out of them more in Godsgrave with the physical book. Mia is such an incredible character! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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