We are talking about Nevernight, the Jay Kristoff fantasy novel that is depopulating and that deserves all its fame. What are its strengths?
In recent times, at least for those who follow Oscar Mondadori Vault, Nevernight has become a regular visitor to the Facebook boards.
But what is it? Is it a good fantasy? Or is it just good marketing?
Let's find out in this article!
Author, awards and arrival in Italy of Nevernight
Nevernight, published in 2016, is the first novel of the trilogy The Nevernight Chronicles, written by the Australian Jay Kristoff. Godsgrave, released in 2017, is the second chapter of the saga, which recently ended with Darkdawn, the third volume in bookstores from September 2019.
In Italy, the trilogy of Nevernight was recently published by Mondadori in the necklace Fantastic Oscar, with the three books all published together, at the same time as the publication of Darkdawn in original language. The three volumes of the series are subtitled, in Italian, Never forget, The great games e Dark dawn. Finally, it is interesting to note that the translator of the Italian edition, Gabriele Giorgi, is the one who also translated all the works of Brandon Sanderson in Italy! His last works, in this sense, have been Skyward e Oath, of which we have spoken Thu.
With the first two books of the trilogy, Jay Kristoff has earned two Aurelias Award for the Best Fantasy Book. In addition, he was nominated for Nevernight, to the prestigious David Gemmell Award (Thu our in memoriam for the late author).
Before attempting The Nevernight ChroniclesJay Kristoff has authored other award-winning fantasy series. His first job is the series The Lotus War, a steampunk story inspired by Japan from the Tokugawa era. At the moment, however, his most famous series is the one that Kristoff wrote with Amie Kaufman, The Illuminae Files, a science fiction work written in the form of emails, secret documents and interviews.
The plot of Nevernight, without spoiler
My Corvere she is the daughter of the noble Corvere family, who fell out of favor when her father conspired to overthrow the Republic, but was captured and executed. With her mother and baby brother thrown into the bowels of the Philosopher's Stone prison, Mia is alone in the world and was found and raised by an old antique dealer.
However, there are three things that push Mia not to lead a normal, secluded life. The first is the understandable desire for revenge against those who destroyed his family, and in particular the Consul Scaeva. The second is the fact that Mia is not alone, but perpetually accompanied by Mister Kindly, a cat made of shadows who feeds on her fear and testifies that Mia is a darkin, a person capable of manipulating shadows. The third reason is that Mercury, the antiquarian who adopted Mia, is an ex Red church, the sect of murderers banned by the Itreyan Church, as dangerous worshipers of Niah, the lady of the night. Lady of the night who, what a coincidence !, is said to have the darkins particularly at heart.
So, Mia wants nothing more than, strong in her powers darkin, join the Red Church, become a killer and kill her father's killers. Sounds like an easy job, right?
Well, not so much. Especially if the darkins are almost omnipotent at night, but the world in which Mia lives has three suns (the three eyes of the god Aa), and therefore the night falls once every three years. And especially if the Red Church trains twenty young people every year to become murderers, but this training is highly deadly and dangerous. And finally, especially if Mia knows very little about the truth about what happened during the conspiracy that destroyed her family.
Will Mia survive the training, figure out what that gentle cat-shaped demon that accompanies her is, and avenge her family?
The writing style of Nevernight
There are many things I liked about Nevernight, but among these the writing style, in my opinion, is one of the strong points of the novel. It should be noted, however, that I read Kristoff's book in Englishso I don't know how it was rendered in Italian, although I have faith in Giorgi's skills.
An omniscient narrator with an opinionTM
In an era in which the points of view of the characters of the books are used a lot, the choice of resorting to an omniscient narrator is conspicuous. Nevernightin fact, it is told by nientepopodimenoche Mister Kindly, Mia's shadow cat demon. The latter retraces the exploits and failures of his mistress, in an account that aims to truthfully tell the life of what we already know to become a legendary murderer. However, where the stories mythologize or demonize it, Mister Kindly wants instead dwell on the humanity of Mia Corvere.
Therefore, his narrative will take Mia's story as the focal point of the story, leaving other small outline issues to other places. Following a tradition dating back to Bartimeus' tetralogy by Jonathan Stroud ea Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Nevernight in fact it has many footnotes.
Nevernight's witty footnotes
Here, we see Mister Kindly making small digressions, focusing on generally minor aspects of the worldbuilding of the world. Now let's discover the origins of a vulgar gesture, now Mister Kindly tells us a curious historical story linked to a certain saying. Other times, however, the cat delights us with small witty comments, often in response to what Mia thinks in the narrative above. For example:
[…] And [Mia] stepped out of the alley, right into a sloppy pile of what she hoped was mud. *
* It was not mud. Alas.
Not reading the notes, therefore, often miss many nice goodies and many opportunities to break the tension by making a heartfelt, and necessary, laugh. However, the notes are not invasive and they know when to let the reader devour pages and pages of excited action or narrative climaxes.
Rhythm and flashback in Nevernight
The use of flashbacks is also very interesting. In fact, a large part of the chapters contains two sections. The first is a flashback ofMia's childhood, where we see directly the tragedy of his family. The second, however, is set in the present of history and follows Mia in her training in the Red Church.
Generally, Kristoff's writing style is simple and smooth. One feels the influence of cinematic times or, more precisely, on television, since the story of Nevernight it could easily be adapted for the small screen. Or for Netflix. But if you can almost hear the flow of episodes of a show, the story works very well even on written media.
In fact, Kristoff is careful to close almost every chapter with the anticipation that something interesting is about to unfold on the next page. There are chapters in which it is simply impossible to detach from the pages, a feeling that personally I had not felt for some time. That is, in my reading times, since I read Skyward by Sanderson a few months ago.
A very human protagonist: discovering Mia Corvere
When any media has a capable and independent female lead, there is always a risk that someone will yell "it's a Mary Sue!" However, it should be reiterated that "Mary Sue", in the jargon of the fanfiction from which the term is born, it applies to the protagonists who are a self-insert of those who write in history. But most importantly, Mary Sue are adored by all the other characters in such a way that their actions never have negative consequences.
Mia Corvere could not be further from Mary Sue's definition above. In fact, our protagonist is an intelligent person, well prepared by years of training with Mercury, endowed with great inventiveness and magical powers. Still, Mia is as successful as it fails, even sensationally, and with long-term negative consequences!
Mia's sixteen is all heard in the fact that he sometimes makes rash choices, in the fact that he often lets himself be guided more by hormones than by the brain and that he makes obvious naivety. But all this only makes Mia more human, enhancing her other qualities.
The worldbuilding of Nevernight, between notes, hints and mysteries
As in many contemporary fantasy, Nevernight it is set on a planet that is profoundly different from ours. Here we have three suns that constantly illuminate the world (or at least the known world?), with the light which becomes a central element of the entire book (a bit like in Midsummer!).
In fact, the presence of the three suns is not particularly explaineda, nor probably has an accurate scientific background, on the contrary! In this sense, therefore, Kristoff follows in the footsteps of George RR Martin, who in turn does not investigate in a scientific way the alternation of the seasons in Westeros. However, we note how Kristoff then carefully develops the concept of the eternal day, building around it a complex, but coherent, theology e adapting lifestyle and culture of populations.
So, just as we will have the nobles who have their underground bedrooms built, in the meantime we will have the poor builders of shutters declared heretics by a Church that venerates the three suns. Which then declares the name of a burning of heretical books heretic, since "the greatest light" can be a name referable only to the great Aa. We will then see the different alternation of working hours and those dedicated to rest, marked by the rising of a colder "evening" wind, and the passing of the months of the year due to how many suns are in the sky at the same time.
As simple as that, this idea is exploited by Kristoff very well, and is particularly interesting when compared to Mia's powers.
What leaves us Nervernight, once finished?
Surely, Nevernight it leaves us with the feeling of having read a well-written, well-designed and well-executed adult fantasy.
A fantasy for adults, but without free violence
In fact, despite the sixteen-year-old protagonist, Nevernight in no way is he a young adult, since we find decidedly adult themes. Apart from the good sex scenes, in fact, the book offers a wide range of delicate but well-treated themes. We go from slavery to mutilation, from incest to torture, with a short detour for violence against animals (and if you are a cat owner, you will get chills, I assure you).
However, all these issues are not never free and they often serve to make Mia think, to deepen the past of the characters or to show us the brutality of the Red Church or the Itreyana one. Nothing is dropped into the cauldron of gratuitous violence, or, worse, subtly titillating (sexual) violence. Violence is there, it is present, it is almost omnipresent, but it is never banal, never present "why yes", never seen as something normal. Except when Mia realizes that she is experiencing the death of others as something normal, and is frightened.
A cast of murderers and non-romance murderers
In fact, the life of the killers here is never fictionalized. It would have been very easy to see romantic grim-dark assassins, cursed anti-heroes who fight against the totalitarian and corrupt power of the Church that venerates the god of light, who chased his wife Niah, the lady of the night, from heaven. But Kristoff is very careful to avoid this drift.
In fact, every killer or killer is well characterized, painted in its human aspects and such that you can have sympathy in peace. However, each hired assassin is explicitly described as a person who does not hesitate too much to kill someone in cold blood, if necessary. Almost every Mia teacher kills or sends one or more pupils to die, and does so without remorse. Mia soon realizes that she can admire these people, as well as she can love other students, but she must always remember to be in the midst of murderers.
The humanity of these people does not detract from the fact that they are monsters. We may like or fascinate them, we can understand them, we can empathize towards them, but we must never forget that no, these are not our special and misunderstood children, secretly good if we overturn bigoted social conventions. Including mine.
A cast in which diversity is wealth
Another thing I really appreciated is Kristoff's attention to the diversity of his cast. Now, I'm sure someone will be very ready to shout at politically correct, but in the case of Nevernight we are very far from the policy of inserting minorities just to have points of inclusiveness. But we don't even have a cast of straight whites only, so I'd say Jay Kristoff proves you can have it easily a well-built multiethnic world. Unlike other people, like Michael J. Sullivan, whose racist fantasy I argued about Thu.
In fact, in the Red Church we have murderers and murderers of absolutely every kind, skin color, ability and sexual orientation. We pass quietly by trick, the handsome black swordsman who has a special place in Mia's heart, her best friend, Ashlinn, openly bisexual (yay!). In the Red Church, one of the most feared assassins is the Reverend Mother Drusilla, an old woman with a maternal and harmless appearance, while the most fearsome warrior is Solis, who is blind. Similarly, one of the best thieves among students turns out to be Hush, a dumb boy, while the teacher of potions and poisons is not Snape (another character all in gray tones!), but Spiderkiller, a beautiful black woman, unscrupulous, but with a certain sympathy for Mia.
This diverse cast has many advantages. First of all, it allows us to have one overview of the different cultures in the worldinfluential in the past of many characters. It is from Carlotta, an ex-slave, that we discover the role of slaves in the Republic. From Tric, however, we discover the meaning behind the tattoos of its people. But this diversity also allows us to see many of the skills useful to an assassin employed in a different and ingenious way.
… Keanu Reeves, is that you?
Finally, to top the cast, keep in mind that Lord Cassius, the leader of the assassins of the Red Church, is basically described as Keanu Reeves. Because you cannot tell me that this is not Keanu or, better said, the Keanu of John Wick (my bold):
The man turned to the Revered Mother with a thin smile. He was tall, muscular, clad in soft dark leather. Long black hair framed piercing eyes and a jaw you could break your fist on. He wore a heavy black cloack and twin blades at his waist. Perfectly plain. Perfectly deadly. He spoke with a voice that made Mia tingle in all the wrong places.
I mean, if you like the idea of a story about an angry and horny girl, who smokes cigarettes and with a cat made of shadows, who goes to Hogwarts for killers to train with crazy people led by Keanu Reeves, Nevernight it is your case.
It's a nice one book, which many aspiring fantasy writers should definitely read.