Nevernight takes place in a world where three suns rarely set and full dark only happens every several years. When Mia was young her father was hanged for treason and her mother was imprisoned. While on the run from those who hurt her family, Mia discovered that she had strange powers over the shadows. She was taken under an assassin’s wing and eventually seeks initiation from the Red Church, a school for would-be assassins, in order to get vengeance for her family.
Admittedly, I picked this book up because it seemed like everyone who read it either loved it or did not finish it. With such a staggering difference of opinions I had to pick it up. (Plus, I found it used for cheap– yay!) I’ll start by saying that I’m in between those two widely varying opinions. I finished the book and liked it, but I did not fall head over heels for it either.
To begin with, the plot and world were by far my favorite parts. The plot has a lot of action and surprises. As I hinted at in the synopsis, a lot of the book takes place within a school for assassins. So, as you would expect, there’s a lot of killing and subterfuge. The students take classes for combat, poisons, thievery, and seduction (yes, there’s some sex), and the stakes are very high for those who fail. There are a few twists, and some even caught me by surprise.
The world building had an interesting foundation, but since most of this first book takes place at the Red Church, we don’t get to see too much else from the world yet. I should also mention that the book has many footnotes which serve to expand the world a bit more. Most of the footnotes could be skipped if they bother or distract you since most do not pertain to the main plot. They usually add to the world building by mentioning a person from the world’s history or by explaining the meaning behind a phrase a character said. The author has described the world as “a collision between ancient Rome and merchant prince Venice.” He goes on to say “The world really started as a thought experiment – what would’ve happened if Julius Caesar’s bid to overthrow the Roman republic failed and the Republic itself survived to the middle ages?” (Quotes taken from Jay Kristoff’s answer to a question on Goodreads.) You can certainly see this influence in book one of the series, but I’m sure that the subsequent books will open up the world a bit more for the reader.
If you’ve read any other reviews for this series, you’ve probably seen a few people talking about the writing style. I agree with several reviewers that it is a bit pretentious at times. The metaphors and similes are overwritten to the point that the meaning becomes clouded, or it begins to sound a little cringe-inducing… Here’s one of the strangest examples:
“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.”
Honestly, after the first half of the book I either started ignoring most of the flowery writing or it toned itself down a bit the farther I got into the novel. It wasn’t that bad, but your mileage may vary.
I also liked several of the characters, and many were well developed and interesting to read about. Mia was a little hard to get a feel for in the beginning, but I warmed up to her by the end. She’s a little cold but understandably so. And, as time goes on, it is clear that she isn’t even that cold-hearted compared to many other characters. I liked Mia’s friend Tric as well as a few other assassins in training. I also enjoyed the teachers and would have liked to see even more of them and their talents. I’ve seen the book advertised as being witty and filled with humor. I didn’t laugh out loud, but again, you may feel differently– it’s humor and it’s subjective after all.
All in all, I found the book to be an entertaining read. It didn’t blow me away, but I think it would be a great series for readers of young adult fantasy who want something a bit darker and more serious or “adult.” Especially if the flowery writing and footnotes don’t bother you, I’d say give the series a try. Personally, I am not sure if I will be continuing the series yet. I’m a bit notorious for leaving series unfinished (I saw that I had at least eight unfinished series just on my book shelves…), but that’s something I would like to work on this year! We will see what happens! I would give Nevernight three and a half out of five stars.