Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books on August 9, 2016
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.
In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.
Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.
Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.
Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?
Not for the faint of heart, Jay Kristoff’s NEVERNIGHT introduces Mia Corvere, a young would-be assassin whose unique abilities and burning desire for revenge make her a formidable foe…
Despite her many flaws, I immediately felt sympathetic towards Mia and found myself rooting for her and the success of her mission. Her need to be accepted into the Red Church, a school of assassins in the service of the Lady of Blessed Murder bordered on an insane desperation that spoke of a seriously dark backstory. And as Kristoff slowly peels back her layers, Mia’s need to avenge her familia and take down the corrupt Consul who had them killed becomes more and more nuanced.
NEVERNIGHT got off to a rocky start, with an opening chapter plagued by purple prose and that ultimately made very little sense. But I persisted in spite of my confusion, and was rewarded by a gripping novel with high stakes and fascinating world building. Stories of teen assassins who do very little actual killing are a dime a dozen, but have no fear: Mia and her classmates at the Red Church are in no way reluctant to kill. The blood flows fast and furious in this story, and as Mia navigates her way through the trials presented by her instructors, you’ll find yourself swept up in this story of vengeance, family, and personal discovery.
While some readers may disagree, I personally really liked the sporadic footnotes throughout the text, which were used to explain various intricacies of the world. Kristoff uses his dry humour to perfection in these footnotes, breaking up the admittedly quite grim narration and expanding upon the ancient Roman-inspired social, cultural, and political structure of the Republic. I needed those moments of calm during which to catch my breath and take stock of what was going on around Mia and her shadow. Sadly, the footnotes often veered into the overly flowery style that I disliked in his steampunk novel STORMDANCER but their interesting content kept me from being too bothered by it.
Yes, this brings me to the fantasy elements of NVERNIGHT, which were a bit too absent for my tastes. Sure, the gods and goddesses are considered real and alchemical practices are well-known, but that does not a fantasy novel make. But as I suggested, Mia is no ordinary initiate of the Red Church: she has a sentient shadow who never leaves her…and whose insatiable hunger she feeds with her own fear. YUP, that’s right: a fearless assassin who can use magic to bend shadows. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, of course.
So you may be wondering why I only gave this one three stars if I have mostly good things to say about it. The answer to that is…I didn’t feel like NEVERNIGHT had a whole lot to offer in terms of originality. Seemingly hardened young protagonist goes through horrible violence and fights at a boarding school of sorts, only to face the ultimate test. We’ve all seen that before.
And now for the big reason why I have problems with NEVERNIGHT. Readers on twitter asked Jay Kristoff about his problematic representation of a racial group inspired by Maori (according to Kristoff) and his response was…sketchy in the extreme. Other people in the bookish community, namely Anjulie Te Pohe, have commented on this much more eloquently and from a much more informed perspective than I ever could. Here is Anjulie’s post. Personally, I would not have read this book had I known about this whole thing before hand, so I thought y’all might like to be forewarned.