Young Adult Fantasy With Magic, Murder, And A Badass Female Lead

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff checks all the boxes

Young Adult Fantasy With Magic, Murder, And A Badass Female Lead
Image: Goodreads

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff checks all the boxes

I am not a fan of young adult fiction.

Maybe it’s because I am too old to enjoy angsty love stories of teenagers or I never truly find the emotions relatable enough. Either way, whenever I start books of that genre, I go in expecting to be disappointed.

“But, Anangsha,” you might ask, “why do you read YA books at all?”

I don’t. But then again, some books are hyped up so much over social media, that I am forced to consider picking them up.

I am a highly impulsive reader. I make plans for weeks to start a particular book, and when the time comes to actually start reading, I pick up something completely different.

Anyway, I digress. I started reading Nevernight because it had excellent reviews on Goodreads. But when I delved in, the first few pages had me hooked.

I have seen very few fantasy novels begin with such an exciting premise. There are two scenes to kick off the action — a girl killing a man and a girl bedding a boy. Both these scenes are shown frame-by-frame, simultaneously, using the same words.

I was impressed, thinking Jay Kristoff is a master storyteller — a belief cemented by how the 800+ pages didn’t let my interest waver for even a moment.

I read the next two books in quick succession, and when I was done, I was mesmerised by the sheer power in the narrative. This review is my attempt to provide a balanced take on Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight Trilogy and why you should read it even if YA fantasy is not your preferred genre.

(Note: The links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase these books through these links, it will help me earn a small amount of money — at no extra cost to you. Thanks!)

Intricate World-Building

Let’s face it. The one aspect that makes any work of fantasy fiction stand out is the setting in which the story takes place. Kristoff’s world is one where there are three suns that almost never set, giving rise to the name “Nevernight” (where it is never night, get it?).

The female lead, Mia Corvere is not a sweet, innocent 16-year-old as most heroes in YA fantasy are. She is a seasoned killer with vendetta clouding her vision. With her loyal friend, Mr Kindly, by her side, she becomes an acolyte in the Red Church — the deadliest school of assassins in the entire Republic.

Except, there is one aspect that’s not quite normal about her friend — he is made entirely out of shadows, and no one apart from Mia can see him.

The first book, Nevernight, shows us the dynamics between Mia, her fellow-acolytes, and the Shadiid who teach them skills like poison-brewing, swordfight, seduction, and stealing. It is a cruel world, with more of the teenage acolytes ending up dead than alive by the end. There is fierce competition throughout the year where they try to best each other as only one of them will be inducted as a Blade.

In the second book, Godsgrave, the story takes place in the capital of the Republic. Mia Corvere, once a wealthy heiress, now a ruthless assassin, has received her first assignment. She is to take part in the Grand Games, a result of the gladiatorial collegium, and exact revenge on those who killed her family. I loved Mia’s character development, the sheer grandeur of the battle scenes, the cruelty, the intricate details of the planning, the perfect execution — all leading up to that cinematic, heart-stopping climax. Godsgrave is a perfect sequel to the mind-boggling Nevernight. The stakes are higher; the insanity is more…insane?

The third book, Darkdawn, the culmination to this epic saga takes the story up another notch, with Mia trying to unbalance the power of the three suns themselves. The climax will give you goosebumps.

Photo by Cederic Vandenberghe on Unsplash

The Writing

I have read several reviews criticising the flowery language in the excessive use of metaphors in the narrative. True, this book is not for everyone, but for those who like it, the Nevernight trilogy is a masterpiece. I love the comparisons that brought the story to life, making it seem as if the events were happening right in front of my eyes.

“That’s the power of words; twenty-six little letters can paint a whole universe”

Here are a few samples of Kristoff’s writing to show how he uses metaphors to make the otherwise dry language come alive:

“Our scars are just gifts from our enemies…reminding us they weren’t good enough to kill us.”
“Thus, the greatest monsters get their way, she realized. By looking just like the rest of us.”
“He was the kind of beautiful that dimmed all the world beside him.”
“There is beauty in knowing all things end. The brightest flames burn out the fastest. But in them, there is warmth that can last a lifetime.”

Breaking the fourth wall

Something that took my breath away was how often Kristoff broke the fourth wall and talked directly to the reader. There is a scene where Mia and another character talks about a book that magically appears in the library — a book chronicling Mia’s journey in the Red Church. The events in the book are suspiciously, similar to Nevernight. It is hilarious how Kristoff makes fun of his own writing, making quips like the narrator thinks too highly of themselves, or that the jokes are too absurd to be funny.

This is a refreshing aspect I haven’t seen in many books before. It endeared the book even more deeply to me.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

The Brilliant Characterisation

What I liked the most about Mia is that she isn’t PERFECT like other heroes in fantasy. She has got some dark shades to herself and doesn’t hesitate to cheat or lie to have her way. Also, she isn’t a master of swordsmanship (although she is pretty bloody good), instead, resorting to poison craft and guile to win her battles. Her growth through the story is gripping, made more vivid by her interactions with the side characters, shining brightest are Shadiid Aleya, Tric, and Ashlinn.

Another exciting aspect of Mia is that she has a male lover in the first book. In the second and third, she finds herself falling in love with a woman. Her bisexuality unfolds beautifully, and, as I said in previous articles, we need more fantasy books with queer protagonists.

The other characters are equally driven and motivated as Mia is. Their back-stories are fleshed out brilliantly. As a reader, you feel like a part of you is ripped out of your chest each time something terrible happens to someone.

Final Thoughts

The Nevernight trilogy takes the reader on a wild ride through unforgiving deserts and streets of a dark world, introduces us to some fantastic animals capable of their unique brand of magic and destruction, and shows us the lengths people are willing to go to avenge the ones they love.

It gives us a badass female lead, a cruel, cold assassin with a soft corner for the people she cares for. It gives us Mr Kindly, Mia’s friend made of shadows who has his own ulterior motives that come to brilliant fruition towards the climax.

It gives us some heart-stopping fight scenes and pages filled with magic that will take your breath away. But even more impressive than that is how it ends on a note that leaves you wanting for more of this world and these fantastic characters. In the words of Kristoff himself-

“The art of telling a good story lies in knowing when to stop. Keep talking long enough, you’ll find there’s no such thing as a happy ending.”

Purchase the books here.

(Note: The links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase these books through these links, it will help me earn a small amount of money — at no extra cost to you. Thanks!)

More by Anangsha Alammyan in Books Are Our Superpower:

If You Only Read One Fiction Book in 2020, Read This
The underrated fantasy novel took my breath away
A Powerful Lesson on Feminism, Addiction, and Love
Daisy Jones & The Six is a book you need to read

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