Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Nevernight” by Jay Kristoff

I picked this up while looking for a steampunk book, a genre that I’m trying to get more into recently. I bought a steampunk novel, got a chapter in, and I hated it. Upon returning it, I picked up Nevernight.

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“Mia Corvere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Destined to destroy empires, the child raised in shadows made a promise on the day she lost everything: to avenge herself on those that shattered her world.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, and Mia must become a weapon without equal. Before she seeks vengeance, she must seek training among the infamous assassins of the Red Church of Itreya.

Inside the Church’s halls, Mia must prove herself against the deadliest of opponents and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Church is no ordinary school. But Mia is no ordinary student.

The Red Church is no ordinary school, but Mia is no ordinary student.

We see Mia Corvere’s life from ten years old to sixteen, seeing the contrast between her life as a noble and her working hard to join a deadly cult of assassins. There are flashbacks in the first few chapters, easily distinguishable as the past is written in italics. It was useful and more interesting than if it was written in chronological order, and set the scene for a very well-developed character.

The prose was great; rich and sophisticated without going too much into detail. Quite often, especially in the first half of the book, there were a lot of footnotes explaining in detail certain buildings, bridges, weapons, etc. I wasn’t sure if I liked this or not. Having it as a footnote meant it didn’t disturb the action too much and made the world deeper. However, I felt like I had to look at them to read the full thing, and some notes, such as a tavern mentioned in passing, weren’t so interesting to me and interrupted the action in some parts. It was a bold move, though, because as far as I’m aware this isn’t done very often in books, and for that I respect it.

I felt the book got much more interesting in the second half. There were many twists, suspicious and enthralling characters, and exciting action in every scene where that I was hooked! An invisible killer, merciless teachers, the sense of not being able to trust anyone, danger lurking around every corner… Kristoff did an excellent job of keeping me constantly on edge, not knowing who was going to die or get hurt next.

One thing I wasn’t keen on was the sex scenes. Mia is sixteen years old, referred to by various characters as “child” and “little girl,” yet love scenes involving her were way too detailed. I felt borderline uncomfortable imagining a sixteen-year-old doing those things. This is probably personal preference, though; I don’t have much patience for sex scenes at the best of times. And this book was the best of times, in terms of reading material.

I loved how things mentioned at the beginning became relevant again in the end. Things you’d forgotten about suddenly became important, without seeming too convenient to be plausible. I couldn’t wait to get on my usual train to and from work so I could get lost in Mia’s trials at the church, her complicated relationship with Tric, the hackle-raising twists that made me gasp and giggle aloud.

Speaking of giggling, there were some great quotes in this story. I’ll share a few with you.

“A traitor’s just a patriot on the wrong side of winning.”

“Yes, cats speak… if you own more than one and can’t see them at this particular moment, chances are they’re off in a corner somewhere lamenting the fact that their owner seems to spend all their time reading silly books rather than paying them the attention they so richly deserve.”

“Too many books. Too few centuries.”

“‘Apologies,’ Mia frowned, searching the floor as if looking for something. ‘I appear to have misplaced the f***s I give for what you think…’”

“It’s best to be polite when dealing with lunatics.”

Nevernight is easily one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in a while. It has all the ingredients for an awesome tale: a dangerous and vivid world, a solid, likeable main character, and a ton of twists and turns that keep you constantly on your toes. If I had a dollar for the amount of times I gasped or even jiggled my knees in shock and enjoyment at this book on the train, I’d be able to buy a ticket to Australia to shake the writer, Jay Kristoff’s, hand.

4.5 stars for Nevernight!

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Get Nevernight on Amazon UK
Get Nevernight on Amazon US

 

Book Review: “Kingdom of Souls” by Rena Barron

Kingdom of Souls has been hyped all year by HarperCollins and was released a couple of weeks ago. I liked the snake designs in the early promotional art (perhaps a silly reason to buy a book) and pre-ordered it. Did it live up to the hype?

*Please be aware this review contains some spoilers.

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“Magic has a price—if you’re willing to pay.

Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.”

The first thing I noticed was this book was written in the present tense. The damn present tense! If I’d known, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Even though other books written in this style such as Divergent and Girls With Sharp Sticks turned out to be great, I don’t voluntarily buy books written in this style as I find it annoying. No matter, I thought, you’ll get used to it.

Things I Liked

  • There were many good points to Kingdom of Souls. The culture was written beautifully; Barron used inspiration from West Africa, and the use of a desert environment, tribes, and witchdoctors was a welcome change to the usual fantasy settings we see.
  • Though Arrah wasn’t the most interesting character I’ve ever come across, she did have self-doubt and fear that made her real. I’ve come across too many female main characters who are forever fearless and witty even in dire situations, so it was nice to see Arrah reacting to her environment in a realistic way.

Things I Didn’t Like

  • Unfortunately, this list is longer. There were many things in this debut novel that didn’t make sense. Apparently, Arrah gives up ten years of her life to perform magic. Nobody seems to notice that she jumped from 16 years old up to 26 years old overnight, not even her sort-of boyfriend, servants, or her own father.
  • The shoddy writing style. Some descriptions were written with flair while others fell flat. Forgivable for a first novel, but this was represented by the same agent who got one of my favourite books of all time, The Queen’s Rising, on the shelves, so I’m wondering what kept the agent hooked.
  • A white person is referred to as being “cursed with pale skin that is sensitive to sunlight.” Umm, OK? Racism is bad, guys, no matter who it’s against.
  • The unneeded romance. Many people seem to think a teenage character NEEDS a romantic interest. With everything going on and the despair all around, it felt silly at times to suddenly drop everything for heart-pounding near-kisses from her cardboard cut-out character boyfriend.
  • The choppy pacing. Some scenes happened lightning-fast whereas other times there were pages and pages where nothing of interest happened.
  • There were too many characters to keep track of. I often had to stop and remember who was who. They didn’t have their own voices or personalities, with the exception, perhaps, of Arrah’s grandmother. For this reason, I didn’t feel affected when characters died or were in mortal peril.
  • The double standard on victim-blaming. A male character is raped (tricked by a demon into thinking it’s someone else) and is constantly blamed for it. Rape is rape, and if the same thing had happened to a female character, no doubt the writer would have handled it very differently.
  • The overall dark tone of the book. I’m a lover of dark fantasy, but there is often a tone of despair and no hope at all in this novel that made me unmotivated to keep reading.

All in all, I wasn’t a fan of this one. I’ve come across a couple of debut books now where I’ve just thought “meh.” Maybe it’s my own fault for falling for the hype that these big companies push. Two stars for Kingdom of Souls, which was a real slog to get through towards the end.

2stars