You might remember me gushing about Red Sister. It’s time for me to show you the path to another great grimdark tale: Nevernight, by Jay Kristoff.

While Nevernight’s hero is a young woman, that’s where basic framing between the two tales ends. Nevernight’s Mia Corvere hunts murderers: her mission is to avenge the death of her parents. While this seems at first blush a fairly typical narrative arc, what makes Mia’s journey a little different is her dedication. She’s not content to slip a knife in someone’s ribs: Mia joins the Red Church, to follow our Lady of Blessed Murder.

It’d be easy for this tale to degrade into a charnel house of body parts at this point, but Kristoff never takes his eyes off the prize. Mia’s not a Terminator-style killer; she didn’t chose this life, but was rather run over in the streets by it and left for dead. Her hopes are revenge, certainly, but also to be a saviour. Her mother and younger brother were taken to the Philosopher’s Stone, a kind of horror-show internment dungeon where ‘criminals’ are surrendered to the slavering justice of their fellow inmates. Mia needs to grow her skills, but to harden her soul at the same time. Killing people is bloody business, and her great struggle is to keep her humanity. Our Lady of Blessed Murder doesn’t need waifs and strays. The goddess needs people without morals or compunction to do what must be done, in the service of coin for her red-running coffers.

If it sounds like it’s a grim tale, yes, but don’t be alarmed. Kristoff’s prose holds delightful humour throughout, given in the form of footnotes (audio readers will get this seamlessly within the tale). The book is for all intents and purposes a narration by an unnamed scholar, who intersperses ‘true history’ with their own asides. These must be read, not because you’ll miss out on the story, but because you’ll miss out on so much fun. The world Kistoff’s made is full of horrible things with many teeth, and nasty humans besides, and the delight these footnotes take in bringing us along for the ride, gentle friend, is superb.

A huge part of the journey is Mia’s induction into the Red Church. The best way to describe this: Hogwarts with sex. There’s a lot of teenage hormones on display, but without the constraints of a well-functioning society to keep things in check. Mia forms rivals, and a few friends besides (…can one really have a friend in a school of sociopaths?). She makes the grave misstep of falling in love, but with someone who fell for her first.

The weakness of the two is exploited against both, and while it’s a roller coaster ride toward the end, it all pays off in bloody justice.

Holter Graham narrates the tale for us, and to be honest I want him to take over from Morgan Freeman as lead voice over in movies. His timing is excellent, especially with the comedic aspects of the story. He doesn’t miss a beat when tension’s required. Mia has a shadow cat, Mr. Kindly, as a companion, and the interplay between the two is brought to life by Graham’s sublime rendition of both. I found myself trying to find more audiobooks narrated by him, just to get more.

If you’ve finished the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, and are wondering what else to fill your bookshelf with that’s like Red Sister, pick up Nevernight. It’s the most fun you’ll have with a bloody assassin this year: a well-deserved, triumphant five-stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Buy It | Get the audiobook from Wellington Library

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