Grimdark Harry Potter. It’s hard not to compare Jay Kristoff‘s Nevernight (review copy from Harper Voyager) to that iconic series of books about a boy at wizard school. Except that Mia Corvere’s time at the Red Church training to be an assassin is tougher, bloodier, swearier and sexier. And utterly glorious.
As a child, Mia was forced to watch her high-ranking father executed for treason and her mother and brother imprisoned. She narrowly escapes being murdered by her father’s enemies, and hides on the streets before being taken in by an antiquarian and assassin. Mia wants revenge, and chooses to train as an assassin herself. Without that training she won’t have the skills to get close to the three men responsible for her father’s downfall.
Mia’s time at assassin school is no cakewalk. Getting there requires a trip across a monster-infested desert rather than a sweet-fuelled train ride. Lessons have a high mortality rate, with teachers actively trying to kill their students. Instead of Potions, it’s Poisons, and students are taught the finer arts of charm and seduction as well as how to kill. With only a tiny number of students from each cohort passing the course to become fully-fledged assassins, competition between students is fierce and often fatal.
Mia herself is a delightfully refreshing break from traditional female leads. She is small, dark, angry and not particularly pretty. She swears like a trooper, smokes and has a healthy sexual appetite. She is also a darkin: with the ability to call and shape shadows, and a familiar in the shape of a shadow cat called Mr Kindly. But her talent for shadow is not much use in a planet with three suns that only experiences true night every few years. But her underpinning morality and sense of fairness, combined with her primary motivation of revenge may not make her the best candidate to be an assassin. The training she is undergoing is designed to create those ruthless enough to carry out a contract, regardless of how unethical or immoral it may be.
Nevernight is glossy, high-concept fantasy, with a compelling plot of conspiracy and corruption. It’s the perfect antidote to all those hooded rogues, Buffy clones and farmboys with secret destinies. I look forward to its sequels.
Goodreads rating: 5*