Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

nevernightJay Kristoff – yet another author I wasn’t keeping close enough tabs on. I read his The Lotus War series two years ago (fortunately I discovered it just as Endsinger came out and was able to go straight through all three). After that, I neglected to add him to my list and thus, when I stumbled across Nevernight, the first book in a new series by him, I was pleasantly startled and immediately purchased it. Man, am I glad I did.

Nevernight takes place in a world where the suns rarely set and follows the story of a young girl name Mia. Her family murdered/imprisoned, she is tossed out to be killed as a child, but she escapes and begins plotting the downfall of those who wronged her family. To do that, she begins training as an assassin (and also a worshipper of Niah, the goddess of the dark, whom most of the world believes to be an evil goddess). Along the way, she makes both friends and enemies and uncovers a plot to rid the world of the cult of Niah.

Funnily enough, this book started with an argument about vaginas. In his post on John Scalzi’s blog, Kristoff states that he wrote the scene between the main character Mia and her love interest Tric first, where Mia explains to Tric why “cunt” is not actually a bad word. After he wrote the scene, he loved Mia so much that he built an entire world to explore her.

And Kristoff’s love for Mia and the world really shows. Mia is such a wonderfully realized character. She is brutal and yet tender, determined and yet vulnerable. She strikes a lovely balance between the stereotype of Plucky Female Protagonist and something much darker and more nuanced – you get a nice hint of both. The other characters are good and not flat, but they can’t hold a candle to Mia. She really carries the story; if you aren’t interested in her, you aren’t going to enjoy this book. Fortunately, I found her as fascinating as Kristoff and just raced through the novel.

He also built her a kickass world. Worldbuilding is one of my personal Kryptonites – if you build a lovely world, I will read and read and read your books just to learn more about it, characters and plot be damned. (See: why I’m still reading every single Dune book that comes out). This world has such uniqueness for a fantasy, in that its biggest conceit is astronomic in nature: its three suns, the varying “day” lengths of which means that the planet rarely sees “truedark.” Kristoff took this concept and built a religion around it (smart smart man), and that religion permeates everything in the book.

Then he also borrowed liberally from the Romans, and I love Romans. So it’s a nice combination, all told.

He also drops these lovely explanations of the world in his footnotes (THANK YOU for not putting them at the end), many of which are quite humorous. All told, the world has so much influence on the story that it’s almost a character – and that is the mark of excellent fantasy worldbuilding.

I was expecting to see a more refined version of Kristoff’s prose from The Lotus War, but this book is actually written in a very unique voice. We have a distinct narrator who is telling us the story, who clearly knows its beginning and end. For much of the novel, the story is told in both present and flashback to feed us Mia’s history, and DAMN does Kristoff make the past arcs parallel the present. His first chapter is a work of goddamn art in that regard (not going to spoil, just read it). A lot of other reviews I’ve seen found the style immensely distracting, and I can see where they’re coming from. Personally, I did not find it distracting; I found it to be a welcome change from the normal third-person omniscient or first-person standard of the genre. Your mileage, however, may vary.

The plot will grabs you too and never lets you go – it’s one part adventure, one part Hogwarts/Brakebills/insert other magic school here, one part Hunger Games, etc. It’s never boring, and it’s always brutal. Let me be clear: this book is not nice and sunshine and rainbows. There’s a lot of horrible stuff that happens.

The only negative thing I really have to say about the book is that I wanted a more original plot. It’s SO EASY to guess what’s going to happen next. Maybe that’s because I’ve been reading a lot of grimdark in the last few years, and I’m just expecting deaths left and right. Maybe it’s because I figured out who the traitor was about halfway through the book, and was slightly disappointed to be right. I’m not sure. I just felt like I wanted slightly more in this department, and didn’t get it.

On the whole though, and stacked against the other books I’ve read recently, this book was amazing and I highly recommend it. Kristoff has more than earned his place on my authors to watch list, and I won’t make the same mistake of forgetting to keep tabs on him twice! I look forward to the sequel, sir.

Warning: some language in the quote below because I just had to pick this section.

Grade: 4.75/5

Memorable Quote

“Cock is just another word for ‘fool.’ But you call someone a cunt, well…” The girl smiled. “You’re implying a sense of malice there. An intent. Malevolent and self-aware. Don’t think I name Consul Scaeva a cunt to gift him insult. Cunts have brains, Don Tric. Cunts have teeth. Someone calls you a cunt, you take it as a compliment. As a sign that folk believe you’re not to be lightly fucked with.” A shrug. “I think they call that irony.”

— Nevernight, pg. 60

-Regina

Originally posted on Regina’s blog

Advertisements

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

the-last-days-of-new-parisReaders, there’s something you should know about me: I love weird books. Which means that China Mieville rocketed to the top of my favorite authors list after reading only one of his books, and he’s now on my list of authors-whose-books-I-buy-without-reading-plot-synopses.

I about died when I saw he was releasing two this year, then I got sad because both of them were very very very short. That being said, The Last Days of New Paris is still a very enjoyable, if quick, read.

The plot sort of defies easy explanation, but here’s a stab. Thibaut is all that’s left of his group, struggling to survive WWII in New Paris where the inventions of surrealists have come to horrible, dangerous life after the “S-bomb” detonated. He meets up with the enigmatic Sam, a woman who claims to be here to document the city’s new denizens and topography, but she’s more than she seems. There are Nazis and the demons they’ve summoned chasing them as they attempt to escape the city, and periodically the story shifts back to before the bomb to explore the circumstances leading up to it.

I love Mieville’s prose, and this book is no exception. The man could describe paint drying and I’d still probably want to read it because I’m sure he’d use such beautiful, clever words. He has such a gift for it, and the subject matter of this novel provides him with plenty of fodder, with wolf-tables and exquisite corpses and more littering the landscape.

And the writing style is a clever conceit – the book is written as a “true account” of sorts, which the author relays from the man who told it to him and then disappeared – the implication being that this is some alternate universe that really existed (this being covered in the afterword). It’s also apparent in the lengthy and at times overbearing notes in the back, which detail in excruciating detail each of the various “manifs” and their provenance. The number of references weighs the book down in places; short of a specialist in that particular style of art, no one will recognize more than a few of the surrealist references offhand, and resorting to the notes constantly breaks the flow of the novel considerably. That’s not to say it’s wholly bad, but I almost wish Mieville had footnoted them instead of putting them at the end – it would have made this display of the book’s detail much less unwieldy.

The demons and the role Hell plays were an interesting stretch and certainly not what I was expecting. However, I felt like these sections of the book were vastly underplayed and could have used more exploration. That actually felt like an issue with much of the book – it was so condensed, so distilled, that there wasn’t time to truly explore some of the fantastical elements in the novel in anything more than a cursory way.

That also applies to more than the fantastical elements too. I mentioned earlier that the story bounces between now New Paris and past Paris, pre S-bomb. Yet the past sections are all too brief, a hurried mad dash to explain the bomb. It leaves no real time for characterization. I wanted to know more about Jack Parsons, the man who created the bomb, and how the bomb worked, yet all of that was glossed over.

There was opportunity too to see more of the outside world looking in. It comes up occasionally in passing, that the rest of the world is terrified that the manifs will escape, that whatever Surrealist disease infects Paris will slip its bounds to encompass the world. Yet this, and many of the wider ramifications of WWII, are largely ignored here in favor of focusing very narrowly on Thibaut and, to some extent, Sam. While I respect the choice, I can’t say I’m not disappointed by the lost opportunity to see more of this alternate universe.

For all that it’s so short and narrow and yes, somewhat pretentious in its detailed references, it’s a good book and a good story. It’s not his best (for me, that’s still a tie between The City & The City and Embassytown, both of which I dearly love), but still good. And now that I’ve finished it, I’ll settle back into waiting for the full-length novel from him I so dearly want.

Grade: 3.75/5

Memorable Quote

“The Siren of Keyholes becomes. Between Thibaut and the soldiers and the staggering Nazi manif is a wide-eyed woman, in smart and dated clothes. She is not like a person. The lines of her are not lines of matter.
She gabbles. Thibaut is staring at a dream of Helene Smith, the psychic, dead twenty years and commemorated in card, glossolalic channeler of a strange imagined Mars. The inaugurated thought of her, her avatar invoking a spirit in a new suit in a new deck. Keyholes for knowledge. She writes in the air with her finger. Glowing script appears in no earth alphabet.”

— The Last Days of New Paris, pg. 108-109

-Regina

Originally appeared on Regina’s blog