I attended the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) in London over the weekend which was fantastic. There were some wonderful panels discussing a wide variety of topics and being surrounded by fellow book lovers meant there was a great feeling of inclusion and unity! My bank account hates me a little afterwards though because there were so many fantastic books available to buy and my self-control slipped a little. Oops.
One of the books I bought was the upcoming release from Jay Kristoff, Nevernight. I adored Kristoff’s The Lotus War series, whilst simultaneously cursing him for causing me so much pain. Seriously though, that series was a combination of badassery, exquisite world-building and utter heartbreak and I highly recommend you read it. So as you can I guess I’ve been really looking forward to a new book from him especially when I saw the breathtakingly gorgeous cover. And the tagline ‘Never Flinch. Never Fear. Never Forget’ is pretty awesome too! However I’m sure you’ve sensed the ‘but’ floating around behind my words and here it is; but, having finally read the book I find myself a little disappointed. The premise of the book is fantastic but gets bogged down in overly convoluted explanations and writing. The book also contains a serious pet peeve of mine, footnotes. Baring a very few exceptions, footnotes do absolutely nothing for the text of a book other than break the flow of the reader and encourage the author to included extraneous detail and Nevernight is not one of the exceptions.
The plot follows Mia Corvere, who sees her whole family destroyed in one day as a young child and escapes, vowing to gain revenge on those responsible. She is raised, and trained for her vengeance by a man she meets on the cold, unforgiving streets of Godsgrave. When she reaches sixteen her mentor sends her to find the Red Church, a legendary school of assassins in order to gain all the skills needed to avenge her family. Mia is accompanied, as she has been since the terrible day her world was turned upside down, by Mister Kindly a creature made from the shadows Mia has control over. With Mister Kindly at her side Mia has to navigate deadly lessons, equally deadly fellow students and figure out exactly how to control her power. But she never forgets her vengence. Which sounds like an awesome plot right? And the potential was there for this to be a epically fast-paced adventure, but instead the reader is bogged down in unnecessary detail! The political landscape of Godsgrave is that of a Roman-style senate and Kristoff cannot resist giving the reader too much irrelevant history of this government and city in the footnotes. It removes the dark, forbidding atmosphere that the blurb, cover and tagline give to the book and makes you feel like you’re reading an academic history book. There was also a tendency to use overly complicated language and metaphors, in an attempt to make the atmosphere grave and epic, but unfortunately had the same effect as the footnotes; forced the reader to slow or stop in order to untangle the meaning in their mind. There was also a discord in the behaviour of the characters. Kristoff obviously meant his school to be deadly and without remorse – students are regularly set potentially fatal tests and the teachers don’t seem to care if they fail. Yet there was still too much kindness and camaraderie for a reader to truly believe these children will be deadly killers. I mean the book tells you they are, and shows you they are, but it doesn’t really ring true.
I don’t think this is a terrible book, in fact there were parts that I really enjoyed such as the Mister Kindly character. He definitely seems like a multi-faceted invention and I definitely think there is much more beneath the surface than Mia, or the reader, realises. I also enjoyed the flashback scenes and Kristoff did succeed in making me hate those who have wronged Mia and want her to gain her revenge. I just think if a lot of elements had been stripped back (ESPECIALLY THE FOOTNOTES) everything would have been better – it’s a very strong plot and could have held the reader’s attention on its own.