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Another month, another fantasy book, these things keep coming thick and fast and its getting more difficult to find that edge which makes any particular book stand out. Jay Kristoff has tried in a number of ways in the first book of a new series, Nevernight (2016. 430 pages).
The book tells the story of Mia who, we are reliably informed, would eventually become a renowned assassin, but when we first meet her in the book she is sixteen and running for her life. The book's structure plays a little with time, often jumping back into the past to further enhance and explain the present. So, we have the contemporary Mia heading off to join a church of assassins, juxtaposed with the story of how her father was murdered for treason.
The book's world is a combination of Roman political systems mixed with a renaissance Venice vibe. And, as it’s a fantasy book, there is more than a touch of magic and god-like beings.
At sixteen, Mia is the daughter of a disgraced senator, her father having been killed after being accused of trying to take over the state. She witnesses her father’s death and swears to take vengeance on all the people who had conspired to harm her family, not a million miles away from Game of Thrones's Arya Stark. In order to fulfil this ambition she enlists with The Red Church, a kind of Hogwarts for assassins, where we follow her as she works her way through the curriculum, learning various ways to kill or otherwise harm other people.
As it stands, so far, so good, however the book has a number of problems. Each chapter is liberally strewn with footnotes, expanding on things which are happening in the chapter; they usually come as one of two flavours. The first presents added witticisms, many genuinely funny, or they consist of further factual/historical information which could just as well have been incorporated into the main text. After a while I stopped reading these, not because I had an issue with their quality, rather I had an issue with their quantity. There are so many that you're constantly being pulled out of the chapter and away from any connection you might have with the character. For that reason, apart for a couple, I found most of the characters eminently forgettable.
The world building is fine, but you do get the feeling that you're reading places and people you have seen before but changed by having their combinations fiddled with. This is not some pseudo medieval Earth, for a start the planet has three suns and although there are occasions when night does fall these are far enough apart for them to take on spiritual meaning. Also, given the sort of school she is attending, sex and violence abounds in large quantities, but I didn’t really have a problem with this as it served to forward the story than merely titillate the reader.
One thing that will likely divide readers is Kristoff’s rather flowery way of writing, with much of the text over endowed with similes and mixed metaphors.
"Mia sighed. Took her temper by the earlobe and pulled it to heel."
I’m on safe ground to say that the sentence makes little sense, in a traditional fashion, but there is something whimsical and playful with the way Kristoff writes that it continually placed a smile on my lips.
Overall, ignore the footnotes on your first read through and you should get a lot of fun out of the story.