Book Review: Nevernight
Jay Kristoff - yet another author I wasn't keeping close enough tabs on. I read his The Lotus War series two years ago (fortunately I discovered it just as Endsinger came out and was able to go straight through all three). After that, I neglected to add him to my list and thus, when I stumbled across Nevernight, the first book in a new series by him, I was pleasantly startled and immediately purchased it. Man, am I glad I did.
Nevernight takes place in a world where the suns rarely set and follows the story of a young girl name Mia. Her family murdered/imprisoned, she is tossed out to be killed as a child, but she escapes and begins plotting the downfall of those who wronged her family. To do that, she begins training as an assassin (and also a worshipper of Niah, the goddess of the dark, whom most of the world believes to be an evil goddess). Along the way, she makes both friends and enemies and uncovers a plot to rid the world of the cult of Niah.
Funnily enough, this book started with an argument about vaginas. In his post on John Scalzi's blog, Kristoff states that he wrote the scene between the main character Mia and her love interest Tric first, where Mia explains to Tric why "cunt" is not actually a bad word. After he wrote the scene, he loved Mia so much that he built an entire world to explore her.
And Kristoff's love for Mia and the world really shows. Mia is such a wonderfully realized character. She is brutal and yet tender, determined and yet vulnerable. She strikes a lovely balance between the stereotype of Plucky Female Protagonist and something much darker and more nuanced - you get a nice hint of both. The other characters are good and not flat, but they can't hold a candle to Mia. She really carries the story; if you aren't interested in her, you aren't going to enjoy this book. Fortunately, I found her as fascinating as Kristoff and just raced through the novel.
He also built her a kickass world. Worldbuilding is one of my personal Kryptonites - if you build a lovely world, I will read and read and read your books just to learn more about it, characters and plot be damned. (See: why I'm still reading every single Dune book that comes out). This world has such uniqueness for a fantasy, in that its biggest conceit is astronomic in nature: its three suns, the varying "day" lengths of which means that the planet rarely sees "truedark." Kristoff took this concept and built a religion around it (smart smart man), and that religion permeates everything in the book.
Then he also borrowed liberally from the Romans, and I love Romans. So it's a nice combination, all told.
He also drops these lovely explanations of the world in his footnotes (THANK YOU for not putting them at the end), many of which are quite humorous. All told, the world has so much influence on the story that it's almost a character - and that is the mark of excellent fantasy worldbuilding.
I was expecting to see a more refined version of Kristoff's prose from The Lotus War, but this book is actually written in a very unique voice. We have a distinct narrator who is telling us the story, who clearly knows its beginning and end. For much of the novel, the story is told in both present and flashback to feed us Mia's history, and DAMN does Kristoff make the past arcs parallel the present. His first chapter is a work of goddamn art in that regard (not going to spoil, just read it). A lot of other reviews I've seen found the style immensely distracting, and I can see where they're coming from. Personally, I did not find it distracting; I found it to be a welcome change from the normal third-person omniscient or first-person standard of the genre. Your mileage, however, may vary.
The plot will grabs you too and never lets you go - it's one part adventure, one part Hogwarts/Brakebills/insert other magic school here, one part Hunger Games, etc. It's never boring, and it's always brutal. Let me be clear: this book is not nice and sunshine and rainbows. There's a lot of horrible stuff that happens.
The only negative thing I really have to say about the book is that I wanted a more original plot. It's SO EASY to guess what's going to happen next. Maybe that's because I've been reading a lot of grimdark in the last few years, and I'm just expecting deaths left and right. Maybe it's because I figured out who the traitor was about halfway through the book, and was slightly disappointed to be right. I'm not sure. I just felt like I wanted slightly more in this department, and didn't get it.
On the whole though, and stacked against the other books I've read recently, this book was amazing and I highly recommend it. Kristoff has more than earned his place on my authors to watch list, and I won't make the same mistake of forgetting to keep tabs on him twice! I look forward to the sequel, sir.
Warning: some language in the quote below because I just had to pick this section.