I have the weird and unbreakable habit that I just cannot NOT finish a book once I’ve started it which is often quite annoying because it makes me spend way too much precious reading time on bad or just average books. But there are also a very few cases where this quirk comes in handy, for example when it comes to Jay Kristoff’s novel „Nevernight“ which is the beginning of a fantasy series that focusses on a 16-year-old girl that trains to become an assassin in order to avenge herself on the people that destroyed her family. I’m going to be completely honest: If I didn’t have such difficulties DNFing books, „Nevernight“ would not have survived the first 100 pages in my hands and might even have ended up being thrown against the wall – I genuinely can’t remember the last time I was THAT annoyed by the first chapters of a book.
Footnotes from hell
Usually I’m quite tolerant when it comes to rather „experimental“ writing styles but Jay Kristoff really gave me the hardest time getting into this story. I’ve been warned by other reviews that the beginning of the book would be quite slow so I expected a bit of a rough start, but I didn’t mind the rather slow pace of the story at all. What bothered me A LOT, on the other hand, were the footnotes that could be found on what felt like 80% of the first 150 pages. There are several reasons why that narrative style didn’t work for me: 1. The footnotes were WAY too long and often took up almost half of the page. 2. The footnotes were always interrupting the story because my eyes had to switch from the text to the footnote, read the footnote and then search the place in the text again where I had stopped reading – over and over again and on almost every page. 3. The footnotes contributed nothing valuable to the story and often felt completely pointless. Yes, a few of them might have been amusing at times but most of the time they were just a pain. I also had the impression that Jay Kristoff hadn’t been able to do a proper worldbuilding in the text itself so that he always needed to add lots of trivia about the locations or the history at the end of the page.
A story of vengeance and murder
Fortunately those footnotes became significantly less after the first third of the book so that it was actually possible for me to focus on the plot and this was the point where I began liking this book. First of all I was hooked by the setting because HELLO, THIS IS A STORY SET IN A SCHOOL FOR ASSASSINS. As I mentioned above the protagonist of this book is a 16-year-old girl called Mia who lost her family after her father took part in a revolt against the regime and got hanged for treason in front of her eyes when she was still a child. Her mother and brother were sent to prison while Mia herself was supposed to get killed too but eventually managed to escape at the last moment. Now she’s seeking for vengeance and therefore joins the Red Church of the Lady of Blessed Murder where she’s one of 30 acolytes that get trained to become a „Blade“ – a fully trained assassin and deadly weapon with all the skills that Mia needs to bring down the people who destroyed her family.
Hogwarts for assassins?
I usually hate comparing books from different series but when even the official blurb comes with the sentence „The Red Church is no Hogwarts, but Mia is no ordinary student“ then it seems only natural to compare „Nevernight“ to the Harry Potter series and the setting indeed reminded me a little bit of the famous School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – but it’s not magic that is taught by the Red Church, it’s the art of murder, thievery and seduction. Only four out of 30 students (one for each „school subject“) will be initiated as Blades at the end of the apprenticeship and while the focus lies on becoming top of the class it obviously can’t hurt if not all rivals get to live through the end of the training. I’ve always been a fan of boarding school stories but a school full of assassins can definitely compete for best setting ever.
Violence, vulgarity and very graphic sex scenes
„Nevernight“ seems to be largely categorized as „young adult“ but somehow I doubt that parents would be happy with their kids reading this book. Mia might be 16 years old but one of her very first scenes already shows us that she is definitely not the typical young adult character: before she sets out to join the Red Church, she pays a hustler to deflower her in case she’s not going to survive her journey and never going to experience what sex feels like. And this is only the first of many scenes that show that the book was probably not written for younger readers: there’s lots of violence, lots of vulgarity and also lots of sex that finds its climax in two very graphic sex scenes that would make even George R.R. Martin blush. On the other hand „Nevernight“ doesn’t really feel like an adult novel either which is probably mostly because such a high percentage of characters are teenagers. Now that shouldn’t be the criterion for the book’s classification but it’s still hard not to get influenced by it – so I guess the truth lies somewhere in between.
Good start to the series – despite the torturous beginning
In the end I can only say that it was that dark side that made me enjoy the second half of „Nevernight“ quite a lot. It’s just fun to see all these young killers fighting to become the best and also how there seem to be no rules to win the competition – well, almost, because there are some few rules you really shouldn’t break in the Red Church. Sometimes I thought that some things are a bit too easy for Mia but then Jay Kristoff surprised me with a really shocking ending that definitely made me overthink my previous impression. If it hadn’t been for the painfully dragging first 150 pages that almost killed me with all the needless interruptions and redundant trivia I would have given this book an even better rating but I just can’t forget how much I hated all these footnotes and what a hard time they gave me. However, I’m glad that they didn’t break me and that I kept on reading because I had a great time with the rest of the book and I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel!