The books we love, they love us back. And just as we mark our places in the pages, those pages leave their marks on us. I can see it in you, sure as I see it in me. You’re a daughter of words. A girl with a story to tell.
The book that has been circulating social media for months before its release and has gained the attention of readers and non-readers alike that was set to change the way we read young adult books. The bar was raised when a picture of a tattoo with the now famous words “Never Flinch, Never Fear, Never Forget” was etched onto the inside of somebody’s fingers, a truly beautiful tattoo for a truly beautiful book.
Of course those of you who have read the book know there is nothing beautiful in the events that take place. Blood seeps within its pages as Mia Covere seeks to learn the skills to avenge her family’s demise in the Red Church, a place where the Goddess of the Night is worshipped and each death is an offering to her. The concept of death as a sacrifice to an otherworldly god is not unheard of in today’s literature or T.V shows but, somehow Kristoff has made it seem almost new in his reworking and brought the idea back to life.
Mia is far from the damsel in distress in this novel. A swearing sixteen year old (look at pages 59-60 for a segment that will leave you laughing or reeling) capable of mass murder with the aid of her daemon, Mister Kindly, Mia arrives at the Red Chruch with Tric, another murderous teenager also seeking revenge for his family. Together they work through the trials set before them in a school environment that I’m sure Ofsted would deem as unacceptable. Almost as soon as the schooling begins pupils start to die with most of the teenagers suspecting Jessamine, a girl whom Mia and many others make an enemy of. All of the teenagers while training to kill still go through normal teenage experiences, love, sex and friendship to name but a few. At the beginning Mia is portrayed to be a girl of steel but, as the book progresses we begin to see a more “human” side to her. I have put human in inverted commas as one of the key things is that your audience needs to identify with your protagonist or, if they are unable to identify the author must be able to elicit empathy for them. Like many of its readers I was unable to identify with Mia’s “mass murderer” side however, as she tries to understand who and what she is while dealing with complicated coming of age emotions and experiences I could relate to and empathise with.
Kristoff’s brutal honesty with the audience with how the body acts after death is one of the refreshing things in this novel. Authors have a tendency to skip this part of the process of dying which is understandable when trying to shield younger readers however; doesn’t literature have an obligation to be truthful to its audience as much as possible? With children being exposed earlier Kristoff is quite possibly one of the first in a wave of new authors giving responsibility to the reader to know whether a book is right for them. Being slightly older than its intended audience I saw no problem for myself with the description within the book but I can understand some people’s trepidation. A book like this is not for everyone.
Another refreshing point within the novel was the author’s notes giving insight into the history of the land as well as commenting on the action taking place. This little side step was incredibly useful for me as I wanted to know everything about its time but to someone who wasn’t perhaps interested it was nicely separated from the text so you didn’t have to read it. The comments on the actions and characters were at times hilarious and felt real, like off-hand remarks when discussing a person or gossiping. A technique which I think some authors should develop more.
The ending lived up to the novels expectations and the twist which I was kind of expecting still shocked me; when the world is full of assassins who would slit your throat you can’t trust anyone, especially the author. Jay Kristoff weaves pure magic on the page and while there were typos it didn’t take anything away from the book. The characters, the plot, the narration all worked together to bring about a truly incredible book that will leave you hungry for more.