Magic school lovers rejoice, we have another book review to feed your ever consuming hunger. Today’s entry is Nevernight, by Jay Kristoff, and is a new take on the assassin school variant of magical learning establishments. An intense deadly curriculum, mysterious and lovable teachers with interesting lessons, and a school so dripping with lore and coolness that it leaps into your imagination with detail – the setting of this book is everything you want in a magical school story. But, do the characters and plot hold up? Read on and see in our review of the first book in The Nevernight Chronicle.
Our protagonist is Mia Corvere, and the narrative is very focused on her. Mia is the daughter of a noble who led a failed revolution against the powers of Godsgrave, and she is on a quest for vengeance. When her father’s coup went south, it ended with his head on a pike and his family thrown into prison to rot. Mia, just a young girl at the time, narrowly escapes this fate and ends up on the street trying to survive. After surreptitiously being pseudo-adopted by an ex-Blade (assassin) of The Red Church (assassin school), Mia begins by training for the application process to The Church. Her goal is to attend The Red Church in order to learn the requisite skills to avenge her family by murdering the people she holds responsible for their fall. So, in short, it’s a good ol’ fashioned vengeance quest.
I was trying to slow roll my praise for this book as long as possible, which turns out to be two paragraphs – but I can not keep up the charade any longer. Pretty much everything about it is excellent. The plot and pacing of the book are fantastic. It is divided into roughly three sections – applying to The Red Church, studying at The Red Church, and life after The Red Church. Each section has is own style and themes, all of which are both distinct and tie nicely into one another. The pacing is also lightning fast, without ever feeling like we are rushing through any section. As the book is about learning subterfuge, there are also a few twists that are delicious. The narrative has this nice balance between powerful worldbuilding/lore, a coming-of-age story, a murder mystery, and an action-adventure. The book is also genuinely funny and uses a nice mix of humor that should appeal to every kind of reader. If you end up reading it after this, make sure to read the footnotes as they are often laugh-out-loud funny. Finally, Mia is an unreliable narrator, with chunks of her memory and story clearly hidden from page one. Over the course of the book, this vault of secrets is slowly unlocked and disseminated in a very well-measured pace.
Speaking of Mia, the characters are phenomenal but uneven. There are about 15 supporting characters, and Mia herself. A few of them are fairly forgettable or inconsistent, but the majority of them are fantastic. The teachers have personalities that are both distinct and magnetic. Mia’s classmates are from all sorts of walks of life that give the cast a diverse set of personalities and flavors to work with while simultaneously having very powerful chemistry. Many of the characters are complex and make interesting and meaningful choices that fit their identities. Additionally, Mia herself is a very interesting character. She has a nice balance of both likable and unlikable qualities that evolve with clear and satisfying growth over the course of the book. The protagonist on the last page is almost unrecognizable from the start of the book, and yet the change felt completely organic. Much of this change is created through Mia’s exploration of the world around her, and what a world it is.
The worldbuilding is both the strongest part of the book and the only place I had notable criticisms. To start off, I should mention that the book is called “Nevernight” because the world has three suns that only collectively set once or twice a year. It’s a cool element that is delightfully worked into the lore and culture of the world that I greatly enjoyed. The world as a whole feels rich, complex, and imaginative – but the real joy is in Mia’s hometown, the city of Godsgrave, and The Red Church. Godsgrave is a giant metropolis built into the bones of a decaying titan. It has a fairly stereotypical fantasy world layout with the usual market, slums, and noble districts – but its morbid origins, distinct culture, and iconic landmarks lend it a lot of flare. Also, I saved the best for last, The Red Church is a school that rivals Hogwarts in its rich lore, entrancing facilities, and cohesive identity. Much smaller than the aforementioned wizard school, The Red Church uses its smaller space to enormous effect. The mannerisms and locations in the school are fun, engrossing, and terrifying all at the same time. I won’t reveal any specifics, but the entire place is awesome.
That being said, some of the worldbuilding felt surprisingly sloppy compared to the extremely buttoned-up nature of the rest of the book. The book pays special attention to logistics, which can add a layer of creative depth that makes the world feel more real. However, it also has some elements that logistically do not make sense – at all. Examples of this include: a travel system that is a lynchpin to the entire existence of the Church but is completely unreliable, blanket enchantments and spells that seem to work in very specific ways for plot purposes, and overly complex tasks and traditions that are meant to feel quirky but just feel archaic. None of them did much to slow the hype-train I was riding, but they did noticeably leap off the page to me.
Nevernight is a bomb of a book and earns top marks in almost every category I use to evaluate books. It’s dripping with lore, has a masterful plot, and contains characters you will find yourself deeply invested in. It’s one of the best magical schools I have visited, which catapults it easily into the “highly recommended” territory. On top of all of this, Nevernight does such a good job setting up the next books in the series that I ordered it the moment I turned the last page. This is a very good book and you should pick it up at your earliest convenience.
Rating: Nevernight – 9.5/10