Morrigan's night held only one possibility. Like every other child born precisely eleven years ago on the last Eventide, when the clock struck midnight she would die - the eleven short years of her doomed life complete; her curse finally fulfilled.
This is a fairly new fantasy series, aimed at 8-12-year olds. I have a child who is in this age category, and bought this book for her when it first came out, mostly because the cover image appealed to me, but partly because the back cover blurb sounded interesting. She never read it, but now that I have finished it, I can say that it is exactly the type of book that would appeal to her and others her age. I will certainly be encouraging her to start it. Townsend has created an enchanting fantasy world, with a strong and appealing protagonist in Morrigan Crow.
The story starts in the Republic, where Morrigan lives, officially listed on the Cursed Child Register and due to die at midnight on the next Eventide. We first encounter Morrigan writing sarcastic apology notes to people her curse has impacted, such as the old woman who broke her hip after deciding to try ice skating.
The Republic is fairly similar to our own world, but with slight hints of magic, such as the reference to the annual dragon cull in the news broadcast Morrigan listens to. And of course, in the complete belief in cursed children, on whom almost every incident of bad luck can be blamed, with no one else having to ever take any responsibility. The length of each “Age” also hints at a world not quite our own, with the exact length of an Age varying, reminiscent of the uneven seasons in Game of Thrones. At the beginning of the book, the current Age is expected to last for another year, but Eventide unexpectedly arrives a year early.
This early end of the Age is bad luck for Morrigan who is set to die a year earlier than had been thought. But she is saved from her expected death by Jupiter North. He whisks her off to Nevermoor, in the Free State, and offers her a new life and a chance to study at the Wundrous Society. This is where the true fantasy world starts, with Townsend building a whimsical world which I found extremely appealing.
Of course, this series will be compared to Harry Potter. There are many similarities. For starters there is the unwanted child who is different to her horrible family and who is taken from her mundane world and introduced into a wonderfully magic world. There is a Voldemort-like villain who has long been banished from the Free State and whose name is only whispered. And there are similarities to other popular young adult fantasy series, such as the Brolly Rail (hook your umbrella over the rail and hang on) which reminded me of the train the Dauntless ride in Divergent (Veronica Roth) and the series of trials Morrigan has to complete reminded me of The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), especially the Chase Trial. Surprisingly there was one text I couldn’t find any similarities with: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. I thought that with the name Nevermoor and the character names – Morrigan’s father is Corvus Crow, and ‘Morrigan’ is one name of a goddess from Irish mythology who is sometimes depicted as a crow – that there would be obvious references to it. But the comparisons ended just in the names, and I didn’t spot anything else that brought The Raven to mind.
Nevermoor can stand all the comparisons to other fantasy series, with its charm and whimsy and humour. And there is much more to this world than just the magic. The ideal of the Wundrous Society that Jupiter offers Morrigan is something she has never known in her life and has always wanted:
…they will become your brothers and sisters. People who will have your back until the day you die. Who will never turn you away but will care for you as deeply as you care for them. People who would give their life for you.
This is a very appealing ideal for a child who has spent her entire life knowing that she is unwanted and that her family looked to the day when she fulfilled the normal cursed child promise of death by her twelfth birthday. The promise of friendship, loyalty, acceptance and love would be appealing to most people, but for someone as isolated, unloved and unwanted as Morrigan, it wakes up a longing to belong that she had never known. So, although Morrigan worries about what she will do in the last of the trials she has to undertake, the Show Trial – where an outstanding talent has to be displayed to the Elders – she does her best to complete the preliminary trials that demonstrate that she has the personal skills prized by the Wundrous Society, of honesty, bravery and resourcefulness.
The Trials are spaced out over a year, and between them Morrigan lives in Jupiter’s Hotel Deucalian, the best hotel in Nevermoor where she makes friends for the first time in her life and learns about the world in which she now lives. Although the trials are exciting, it is the in-between sections which really builds the magical world. One of my favourite scenes is the Battle of Christmas Eve, where St Nick and the Yule Queen battle to see who will control Christmas for that year. She promises a blanket of snow on Christmas morning and a blessing on every house while he promises presents in every stocking and a fire in every hearth. Each one is appealing, so the battle to see which one has the best Christmas spirit is attended by most citizens of Nevermoor, with supporters wearing the colour of their preferred icon. It’s a magical scene with a satisfying ending. If this series is ever made into a movie, this scene will be the one I’ll be looking forward to seeing.
Overall this a well-paced novel that will appeal to its target audience and be highly readable for an older audience. It’s clever, it’s imaginative, and it’s fun. Highly recommended.
We have danced, we have dined, we have drunk our fill. We have bid a tender and triumphant farewell to the Olden Age, and now we must step boldly into the new. May it be a good and happy one. May it bring unexpected adventures.
Jupiter North from Nevermoor