Jay Kristoff, Nevernight (2016)

Nevernight

Author: Jay Kristoff

Title: Nevernight

Format: Paperback

Pages: 464

Nevernight went through various blogs with a force of natural calamity, garnering a lot of praise for originality and vividness of the story despite what seemed like a very clichéd plot. When I saw Aaron’s glowing review at Swords and Spectres I decided to finally forgo my misgivings and give the book, constituting – not surprisingly – the first installment in Kristoff’s new series, a chance.

Boy, I wish I didn’t.

I was close to DNFing this book thrice. The first time happened on the first page, when the contrivance of the interlapping opening  scenes hit me like a hammer between the eyes. The second time happened within the first few chapters, when I was so fed up with the narrator’s dubious personality charm that I didn’t think I could take any more of his/her blathering. You undoubtedly know what I’m talking about, O, gentlefriend, if you’ve read the book. Third time should be the charm, alas, I powered through by sheer effort of will just to write a vitriolic review later on.

That is not to say Kristoff cannot construct a compelling fantasy world – on the contrary, the best parts of the book where those in which the careful worldbuilding had a chance to shine. The book has not one, but three very nice, detailed maps, an interesting – if fuzzy – magic system, and a nice Mediterranean vibe, strongly inspired by Venetian renaissance and Roman Empire. The concept of darkin as a type of people wielding power over shadows and darkness, and, subsequently, over a hidden dimension allowing for instant travel between its manifestations, was intriguing and full of potential. Also the enmity between light and darkness, with their apparent long and convoluted history of relationship and the meddlesome addition of religious faith right in the middle, was something I would be happy to read more about. The whole mystery surrounding darkin was pretty cool – the old trope of knowing thyself has always held charm to me – but only to a point. When the one character that could shed some light on the shadowy issue was offed before he could actually peep a word, I just rolled my eyes. An epic eye-roll, I might add, but at that time I was close enough to finish and used enough to Kristoff’s narrative choices that didn’t even consider DNFing it for the fourth time 😉

Nevernight allyn_godsgrave

For all the book’s strengths, however, I could not shake the feeling I was far from its target audience. First, Nevernight had a very strong YA feel for me, and while I read books advertised as YA from time to time, the sheer amount of teenage angst and drama in this one was much too much for me. Now is a good time to write about my third almost-DNF, which came about during a description of a magical esthetic surgery of the teen protagonist, who till that moment had been rather boyish in appearance, but thanks to an Igor-inspired flesh witch was quickly (if not exactly painlessly) gifted with a big pair of boobs and a face do-up, and both changes had been repeatedly commented upon for the next several chapters. Gaaah! “Girly”, in a rather obnoxiously wish-fulfilling way. I do get that body consciousness is a thing, especially among teenage girls these days, but for the life of me I can’t see a positive effect of such magical enhancement, especially that here it was simplified to: “before, you had to pay for sex; now, you can have whomever you want – for free!”

At the same time, the amount of gore and blood was surprisingly high for a YA novel – and while most of the abuse was reversible, adding to the youth feel of invulnerability, the death toll – within and without school walls – was pretty high overall, and some scenes seemed created only for their shock value.

Secondly, while I appreciated some of the secondary characters, such as Mister Kindly the shadow-cat or Mercurio, the kind foster-father/guardian, or the un-dead librarian Aurelius, the main characters I couldn’t care less about. Mia Corvere felt to me as alive as a shop mannequin, built up from requisite prefabricated elements: orphan, check; childhood trauma, check; quest for vengeance, check; and the most obvious one, the Chosen One with a peculiar, dangerous and mysterious gift, check. Her peers were for the most part cast from the same mold: a ghost from the past driving them to become the avenging hand of Darkness, a very teenage-y lust for revenge mixed with anger and a whole lot of insecurities, and a very simple view of the world, with oneself at its very center. All in all, the characters felt flat and… not precisely lifeless, as there was enough Sturm und Drang to share with a several more books’ casts, but overly simplified in their psychological makeup and needs. They felt more like puppets employed in the narrative for the sake of Mia’s arc development and while there was a bit of growth for a chosen few of them, it wasn’t enough for me. That said, it may well be the case of a first book in a series, where the author needs to choose between developing the characters and the new world setting – acquiring balance is indeed a very difficult feat to achieve.

Thirdly, while the Nevernight’s world at large seemed like a great place to explore, the school setting itself felt created in the same prefab vein as the characters. A mix of other magic/unusual schools lifted from Harry Potter, Kvothe and Deadly Class, it was made exclusively of well-known and rather worn out ingredients: peer rivalry, stern and unforgiving teachers, deadly tasks and lurking danger, first sexual experiences, friendships, death and drama… I could go on and on, but would be hard pressed to find anything new or original. All the building blocks have been rehashed so many times already, and seemed to be not even remotely refreshed by Kristoff.

Narrative-wise, there were two rather nicely set twists, and one of them was quite pleasantly surprising. The second one was detectable a mile off, after a particularly in-your-face scene of Mia’s moral supremacy over her peers, but still, its explanation was neatly done and tied up the subplots in a way that was at once efficient and elegant. Once again, I could appreciate Kristoff’s storytelling skills while at the same time chafing under the heavy burden of his overreliance on all the overused and abused tropes. In short, I could comprehend the appeal of the book, in theory, yet I absolutely could not feel it.

I will not be reading the further installments. Kristoff is undoubtedly a skilled writer, but judging by Nevernight and fellow bloggers’ reviews of his other books, what he offers is simply not for me.

Score: 5/10

40 thoughts on “Jay Kristoff, Nevernight (2016)

  1. Oh gosh, you actually made it through! And it confirms my opinion that this book is pretentious & annoying. I only got about 40(?) pages in, my gentlefriend^^ Until I had to get rid of this book forever.

    Absolutely not my cup of tea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! I’m glad I’m not the only one as most people seem to love it, and I was really hard pressed to make it through. Pretentious is a perfect descriptive for this one! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As a rule, I do not trust modern books marketed as YA. The few I read felt like deliberately dumbed down and angsted up, with way too much questionable humor.

    There are exceptions, but I need multiple recommendations from trustworthy sources to risk it…

    Liked by 3 people

    • What surprised me was that it was actually marketed for mature readers. The amount of gore was definitely appropriate for mature audience, it was the rest that seemed incongruously YA…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My first intro of Kristoff was seeing him paired up with some floozy ya author so I knew without having to read him that he was a pansy writing for the lowest common denominator without any depth or originality.

    Sad you had to suffer through the whole thing. This was a wonderful post though, even if I do wish you’d thrown in a little more vitriol and raging. Name calling in a review is a benchmark of maturity that I hold up as the gold standard 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. While I usually run as fast as I can from any YA-oriented story and trope, something kept me immersed in this story and compelled me to read the second book as well (and of course I will read the third and final one too). That something must be the author’s ability to draw me in – despite my bias – and keep me there: one might say he put a spell on me… 😀 But it’s clear he did not succeed with you: I’m sorry this story did not work for you, but with some many great books out there, you will soon forget this negative experience 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I got it out of my system. What really irked me though was that I wanted it to work; it’s not like Kristoff cannot write well, to me it felt as if he intentionally chose the easy way, populating the pages with paper-thin, worn out tropes. I’m glad it did work for you, though! 🙂

      Like

  5. Welp. This didn’t turn out as good as it has for most people. I’ve been hesitant about his books mostly because of his poetic writing style that could probably get on my nerves if not dosed properly. But then the story intrigues me, but enough to dive into a YA? I’m too sure. Wonderful review though. I’ll stay clear of it for now. Plenty of other books to read anyways!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks!
      I’m cool with poetic, but here I felt it was more pretentious than poetic 😉 And you nailed the “getting on my nerves” part 😀
      Yea, you’re right. There’s plenty of better books around, and this one felt to me like a waste of time, but on the other hand I won’t be wasting it any more on that particular author, so maybe it’s a gain 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sad to see you didn’t enjoy this as much as me. Although, to be fair, I did not read it (I went for the audio book version). I found the narrator really brought it to life. Currently about halfway through the sequel and loving it just as much 🙈

    Fingers crossed next time you crack open a book it is more enjoyable.

    I really didn’t get the YA vibe from this. It was dark enough and bloody enough for me not to feel it. Much in the same way that I refuse to believe Six of Crows is YA.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh well, I’m definitely cured from Kristoff 😉 I found it pretentious and redundant, but I think it may be caused by other books I’ve read which actually “walk the walk” – such as Cook or even Erikson, or certain Abercrombies (though not all ;)). Had I read Nevernight a decade ago, I might have liked it more.

      As for the next book, it’s Martin’s Fire and Blood, and I’m actually quite enjoying it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I refuse to read anything by Martin or Rothfuss until they pull their fingers out and finish/progress with their respective series 😂

        I am re-reading The Blade Itself by Abercrombie and I absolutely love the informal writing style in Kristoff’s work. I get the feel from the audio that it suits audio better, especially with the narrator adding life to it like he is.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m not a fan of Rothfuss, so he can write nothing at all till the end of his life if he likes, as far as I’m concerned 😛
          As for Martin, I’m past the point of caring – if he writes ASoIaF I will read it, if not – well, pity. But the history of Westeros is quite pleasant, and might have more in common with the conclusion to ASoIaF than people credit it for 😉
          Heh, definitely the book format of Nevernight did not work for me – though I can see how a good narrator could work wonders for the audio version 🙂
          I got tired of Abercrombie at some point, tbh, and did not finish his YA trilogy, despite the good intentions on both sides ;). My favorite of his was definitely Heroes, and I felt none other of his books reached that level. You have any Abercrombie’s favorites?

          Liked by 1 person

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