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?
Where to start with Nevernight?
The blurb for this book is slightly deceptive. It sells it as something of a cliched "teenage assassin seeks revenge for the death of her family", but it's so much more than that! It actually follows through on its talk of death and murder, rather than glossing over it or, worse in my opinion, romanticising assassination. It certainly delivers on the gory goods, and isn't afraid to show the consequences of its violence.
I don't think this book is correctly categorised as YA (although I'm not precious about labels, so call it what you will). There's plenty of gore, no sunshines and rainbows, and a couple of pretty graphic sex scenes with a good few pages devoted to both male and female oral sex - although props to Jay Kristoff for some incredibly well-written heat and a refreshingly healthy and realistic attitude towards sex.
Mia's introduction to the Red Church and the lessons and tests that she and the other acolytes face are suitably cruel and lethal. Think Hogwarts if the Potions teacher actually poisoned the class and whatever Defence Against The Dark Arts professor Harry had that year actually chopped off limbs. The line between bloodlust and the regular kind is blurred, the powerful intimacy of both sex and death intertwined . Many an F-bomb is dropped, and a few C-bombs too (although Mia and Tric's discussion on why she'd rather be called said C-bomb than an insult named for the male anatomy is absolute writing gold!). This book certainly isn't one for the faint-hearted.
Mia was a bit of an odd one as a character. She alternates between ruthless killer and scared little girl (albeit not very often!), a little bit of who she was occasionally bleeding through into who she is. There's a lot left to be explored with her backstory, and I loved her creepy power over shadows (think Ephemera from Bloodrayne 2 for my fellow gaming nerds). I was a little bit disappointed that the author went down the route of having her beautified as part of her indoctrination into the Red Church. It made sense in the grand scheme of the story, but it was a bit of a shame that our unique and badass protagonist veered a little bit towards cookie-cutter. I'm not sure how I felt about her admiring her new boobs either, it had a little bit of a "taking off the bandages after plastic surgery" vibe to it which I wasn't feeling. The supporting characters were brilliant too, so well written that I could read another book just telling their backstories! Mia's father-figure/trainer Mercurio was great, his attacks of conscience over the path he was setting her on betraying how much he cared about his little Crow. The sadistic teachers, from the poison-weilding Spiderkiller to the limb-chopping Solis, were Harry Potter turned up to 11, and the fellow students vying for a place as Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder were wonderful - if a little thinly sketched. Ash was my favourite, her banter with Mia was fantastic and the dialogue crackled with energy whenever they were together!
Oh Tric! My poor, beloved Tric! His peversely sweet relationship with Mia was one of my favourite parts of the book. I'm not entirely sure Mia deserved him, but whether they were cursing each other, slicing each other up, having sex or having a rare but very sweet cute moment, I adored this pair. Although it's pretty obvious there's no future for them, and Jay Kristoff never attempts to hide this for a single second, I kind of hoped they'd get a happily ever after. I mean, come on man! Way to rip out my heart and stomp on it!
I've heard a few people say they couldn't click with the writing style and found the book too hard to get into. It's certainly not a light read, but my god, it's so worth it! The asterisks found on most pages that offer supplementary info on the world and characters can be skipped without harming the story itself, but I urge you to read them! The history lessons and narrator interludes alternate between incredible attention to detail and being incredibly funny. Kristoff's brutal takedowns of the standard teenage assassin tropes had me laughing out loud! My personal favourite was the mentions of a man who went by the name "Pigfiddler" or something similar. The asterisk beside his name led to a note from the narrator to tell me to grow up and stopp giggling.
At the risk of paraphrasing Kanye West, this book is a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy. From the lyrical writing to the lush descriptions and not one, but two gorgeous world maps, Nevernight was a joy to read from start to finish. Jay Kristoff's writing is wonderful and be TBR list now includes everything he's ever written.
Nevernight is easily one of the best books I've read this year. It's a gripping, captivating, ambitious read. It's as dark as it is beautiful, and as brutal as it is heart-wrenching. It's as quotable as a Tarantino film, with world building to die for and a cast of absolutely magnificent bastards. If you're looking for clean-cut "assassins" who don't spill a drop of blood throughout the entire book, happy endings or a light, easy read, then you should probably look elsewhere. But otherwise, for the love of all things bookish, read Nevernight!