Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
I was approved for an ARC of this book on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. A huge thanks to the publisher and the website for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book.
EDIT – 12/22/2016 – for the past few weeks, conversations have struck up about Nevernight’s rather problematic portrayal of the Dwyemeri. In a Twitter conversation, Jay Kristoff said that the Dwyemeri – which is referred to as “savages” in the book – are an analogue of the Maori people. “Savage” is a racial slur that was used to dehumanize and stigmatize indigenous populations. For an in-depth discussion about the deep problems with this depiction, I urge you to read Anjulie’s blog post.
Mia Corvere was a mere child when her father was hanged for a traitor, and her mother and younger brother dragged away to be prisoners of a ruthless government. Mia escaped with her life, but just barely. Now she’s a teenager and she’s hungry for revenge, but Mia knows that she can’t possibly face her enemies and exact vengeance without proper training. And so she sets out in search of the Red Church- an academy of sorts, who teach murder and theft instead of history and mathematics. Under the tutelage of ruthless men and women, Mia must learn the subtle arts of weaponry, seduction, pick-pocketing and poisons; she must be the best there is to avenge her father’s death.
I’ve always held the belief that no story is ever completely original, simply because there is so much content out there that it’s virtually impossible to come up with an entirely new idea. Which is why I hate comparing two stories, but Mia Corvere’s story was too close for comfort to Arya Stark’s (A Song of Ice and Fire). How? Arya’s family is largely destroyed and she travels to a faraway land to train so she can hurt everyone who took away her happiness. Mia’s father is executed, her family taken captive. She travels to the Red Church to train and get revenge. In Braavos, Arya learns to become a Faceless Person – or assassin – she trains under an instructor who is teaching her to put aside her past self, become essentially No One so she can do what is required of her. Behold, a quote from Nevernight:
“Nothing is where you start. Own nothing. Know nothing. Be nothing.”
“Why would I want to do that?” …
“Because then you can do anything.”
Arya’s instructor serves “The Many-Faced God,” and believes that this god commands the Faceless Men to take lives as offerings. Nevernight:
“Each death we bring is a prayer. Each kill, an offering to She Who is All and Nothing. Our Lady of Blessed Murder. Mother, Maid and Matriarch … you are Her servant. Her disciple…”
Now, I am by no means implying that Mr. Kristoff has plagiarized Arya’s storyline. Yes, there are many similarities, but there are also things that make it different; I am simply stating that I had already read (and seen) – in much detail, I might add, considering George R. R. Martin’s books number 1000+ each – something very similar, which is why the storyline did not blow me away.
For someone who set out on a mission to learn, Mia Corvere is ridiculously arrogant. From the first page of the narrative, it becomes glaringly obvious that Mia has the level of self-confidence that many of us only dream of having. And this self-confidence is not misplaced; our protagonist is actually good at everything. She is attractive, though not beautiful in the conventional way. She’s alright with a weapon but learns how to be the best in an incredibly short amount of time. She has studied poisons, thus having the upper hand in the class notorious for being the toughest. And she’s a darkin– she has the ability to influence shadows, though she doesn’t have this fully under her control, and she is largely oblivious of what it means to be a darkin. Sometimes I felt as if she was invincible, and that is not something I like feeling towards a character. I want my characters to be vulnerable, to have weaknesses and obvious flaws. I want them to make mistakes and fail, and I want them to get back up taller. Mia was already tall. Kristoff only gave her feeble pokes that did little for her development.
The other characters weren’t much better. I didn’t feel invested in them, though some of them did have a tremendous amount of potential. Hush is a mute, mysterious student at the Red Church and Kristoff doesn’t fully reveal his intentions throughout the course of the novel. The result is a character that drew me in, that I wanted to know more about. But for the most part, I didn’t really care about them. I can tell you right now that if Mia were to die, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash.
As for world-building – and this may be contentious to several people – I ended up skipping large chunks of it. Bear with me: I can explain. I didn’t skip the actual narrative, but rather the footnotes. Personally, footnotes in fantasy novels seem like a cop-out to me. The hardest part of fantasy is the world-building, how it’s incorporated without seeming info-dumpy, how it’s revealed in steady bursts throughout the narrative etcetera. Alas, Kristoff would advance the plot with little to no explanation of the world, leaving all the history and development of his universe to the footnotes. Consequently, they read a lot like encyclopedia entries rather than world-building in a novel, and I gave up on reading them soon after the second or third chapter.
But perhaps my greatest problem with this novel lay in the writing. I know tastes in style of prose vary greatly- some like simple and succinct, others like winding and full of figurative language. I am one of the former. Descriptive prose is good, but if it’s done in moderation. Nevernight was a bit… much. Sentences that made me pause and make a face because they felt so out-of-place and overdone made it hard for me to focus on the story. Observe:
“The little girl knew the water tumbling from the charcoal-colored smudge above was called rain…” Translation: it was raining.
“She introduced her boot to his partner’s groin, kicking him hard enough to cripple his unborn children.” Translation: she kicked him in the balls.
“It was a bucktoothed little shithole, and no mistake. Not the most miserable building in all creation. But if the inn were a man and you stumbled on him in a bar, you’d be forgiven for assuming he had – after agreeing enthusiastically to his wife’s request to bring another woman into their marriage bed- discovered his bride making up a pallet for him in the guest room.” Translation: er, sorry, I have no idea what this means and why it exists.
“Tric gave another half-hearted stab, but the beast had forgotten its quarry entirely, great eyes rolling as it flipped over and over, dragging its bulk back below the sand, howling like a dog who’s just returned home from a hard turn’s work to find another hound in his kennel, smoking his cigarillos and in bed with his wife.” ……….. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!
I will, however, say that this problem improved significantly as the book progressed. Almost like the writer settled into the story, immersed himself into it and wrote fluidly, effortlessly. Towards the beginning, it just wasn’t working- and had the entire thing been written like that, I’d probably have DNF’d it.
So there it is. My rather long and, may I say, disappointed review of Nevernight. I had high hopes for this book, but unfortunately they were not met. Having said all of this, I am aware that I am in the small, small minority of readers who disliked this so I would still urge people to give it a go. Especially if you are fans of Tahereh Mafi and Sarah J. Maas.
This book releases on August 9th in the US, and August 11th in the UK