Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
The first in a new fantasy series from the New York Times bestselling author.
In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.
Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.
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?
Dramatic, gritty, and blood tinged, Nevernight by Jay Kristoff is the story of how far one young woman will go to achieve revenge.
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff is the story of young Mia Corvere, daughter of an executed traitor, who finds herself an apprenticed-assassin, inducted into the infamous Red Church, where weapons, poisons, and combat are all in a days training while dark magic and deadly intrigue threaten as the war between the God of Light and Goddess of Night escalates with Mia at its center.
"Never flinch. Never fear. And never, ever forget"
Kristoff cleverly unwinds the story by alternating between a very young and innocent Mia, who witnesses the horrible death of her father and the destruction of her family, with an older, hell-bent-on-revenge, Mia. Giving the reader the opportunity to get to know Mia and what motivates her revenge, to sympathize and even like this failable, anti-heroine. I loved her fierce drive and determination, yet, I was always on edge wondering just how much she would loose of herself, her empathy-humanity, once she crossed the threshold of the Red Church.
"Listen, girl. The books we love, they love us back. And just as we mark our places in the pages, those pages leave their marks on us. I can see it in you, sure as I see it in me. You're a daughter of words. A girl with a story tell."
Mia is also Darken, one able to call the shadows to do her bidding. She has no idea where she inherited this ability, and while training at the Red Church, she hopes to discover more within its secret archives. Her shadow companion, Mr. Kindly, the-cat-that-is-not-a-cat, has some rather unusual abilities as well. One can't help but wonder about the very nature of Mr. Kindly, and Mia - so there's much more to the story than a tale of revenge, as it first seems.
The world building is well done with a setting and mythology that lend a perfect backdrop for assassins, sorcery, and intrigue. The story opens in the City of Godsgrave, also know as The City of Bridges and Bones, for good reason. It is actually built on the gravesite of a dead god. A titan slew in an epic battle for dominance - which one, remains a mystery. I could easily envision the structures being carved into the very bones left behind as the giant's ribs curl up to the sky.
Kristoff has given this fascinating world its own creation story of gods and goddesses, battles and jealousies. It even has a unique star system of three sister suns, with night only falling once every two and a half years. Its political system is reminiscent of ancient Rome, complete with a senate, legionaries, poets and church officials. Of course, there's the nobility and the peasants, but like the book mentions:
"Blood is blood. Pigs. Paupers. Cattle. Kings. It makes no difference to Our Lady. It all stains alike. And it all washes out the same."
Once Mia arrives at the Red Church, it becomes clear that this school for assassins is really a pre-battle ground for its initiates. Where only the most cunning and dangerous survive. Where the deadly arts are taught and the teachers look away while its students fight to eliminate the competition. A few comrades are made, enemies abound, and the teachers are truly frightening in their devotion.
"This places gives much. But it takes much more. They may make her beautiful on the outside, but inside, they aim to shape a horror. So if there is some part of herself that truly matters, hold it close. Mia Corvere"
Kristoff writes in a way that makes you feel the grit and blood, every strike and blow. Danger and tension are interspersed between moments of friendship and even a touch of romance. I did not want to put the book down.
"They will never see the knife in your hand if they are lost in your eyes. They will never taste the poison in their wine when they are drunk on the sight of you"
Though our protagonist is young, it needs to be mentioned that besides the violence, Nevernight does not put a filter on its sex scenes. No behind the curtains or fading to black. So mature readers only, please! It feels realistic and real, and Mia is a curious woman - so, yes, Kristoff goes there and it's pretty hot.
"Vengeance wasn't a good enough reason to become the monster she hunted."
Overall, I really enjoyed Nevernight. It is my first read of Kristoff and I breezed through it in a weekend. I would say the writing is sometimes layered, with deeper meanings for those who like to search. It is also dark, very dark at times and bloody. Yet, Mia gives me hope - I need a heroine who is redeemable even if failable, and that is exactly what I think Mr. Kristoff achieved in this series opener. I need more of Mia's story and will be anxious to read the next installment.
On a side note: There're footnotes included which builds upon the feel, setting and overall world building that's just an added bonus for readers who like a little more details to dig into.