I haven’t written a book review on this blog for a very long time. Very long. A combination of work and life kept getting in the way but when the author of one of my favourite books so far this year came into my place of work a couple of weeks back to sign books WHEN I WASN’T THERE *cries silent tears*, I thought that I would tell her what I thought on here instead and start the blogging back up to boot. So, Jessica, I’m so sorry that I missed you too, and I’m sure my colleagues have told you how much I rave about your book to whoever will listen, but these are my thoughts about your complete gem of a children’s debut. Also, thanks for my lovely signed copy, I’m not feeling smug about it at all (cough).
Morrigan Crow is cursed. Ever since she can remember, she has been blamed for everything that goes wrong in her town, from less than optimum weather to cardiac episodes. Worse, she knows that she won’t live past her 11th birthday, the age at which all cursed children are fated to die. Except, instead of death, her 11th birthday brings escape in the form of a rather eccentric ginger gentleman named Jupiter North, who saves her from her horrible destiny and spirits her off to a magical city called Nevermoor. Once there, she learns that he plans to enter her into magical trials which, if she is successful, will earn her entry into the prestigious and mysterious Wundrous Society. If not, she will have to leave the safety of Nevermoor behind her forever.
The marketing for so many children’s fantasy books scream that they are the “next Harry Potter”. I would not claim the same of Nevermoor, because to do so would detract from the uniqueness of its storyline and writing style. Yes, there is a young protagonist saved from a rather dour and unpleasant family to be whisked away into a world of new friends and magic. Yes, it uses puns and clever wordplay in its world building and humour. Yes, there is a villain whose name people have come to associate with fear and evil times. It is also delightfully British in its style and use of language (despite the fact that Jessica Townsend is Australian), something that I always appreciate in children’s and YA fantasy. But in much else, Nevermoor is its own story and its magic is quite a delightful combination of the marvellous and the utterly nonsensical.
One of my favourite parts of the book was Jupiter North’s Hotel Deucalion, where Morrigan is taken to live. Just to give you a flavour of how weird and wacky it is, its housekeeper is a giant cat, Morrigan’s room looks different every time she wakes up and randomly grows new pieces of furniture, and it has a smoke room where different flavours of smoke put people in different moods! I loved the way the Hotel became almost a character along with the rest of the cast, and I came to love it and enjoy discovering more about it as much as I did Morrigan herself. I also adored the construction of the city of Nevermoor, which seemed to be inspired by a mishmash of folklore, fairytales and modern London, with its Wunderground transport system complete with the Brolly Line (and yes, that is exactly what it sounds like).
All of this wonderful world building is backed up with a strong, pacy and suspenseful plot. The trials in which Morrigan must compete to become a member of the Wundrous Society require the entrants to have some sort of skill, or “Knack”, to show off to the judges – a skill that Morrigan is convinced she does not possess, despite the fact that her intelligent but very scatty patron Jupiter North is constantly assuring her that she’ll be fine. This is a main thread throughout the plot and really keeps the tension high and the reader wondering. Each trial is a miniature adventure in its own right, keeping the pace high and providing timely breaks from slower, more character-driven sections. There are also a variety of friendships, enmities and a shedload of character development to really keep readers interested and engaged with the story.
The ending to this book is just great, with revelations abound – some of them I had partly guessed, but some of them came as a complete surprise! So much is left open for the next book and yet the book had a solid enough conclusion for me to feel satisfied. I was so impressed by this book and how intelligent and witty it was. I frequently laughed out loud, which I don’t often do when reading. If there was a minor weakness, it was that the “evil villain” part of the story did seem less developed than the other parts and less time was spent on it; however, I suspect that this will be pursued in much more depth in subsequent books. Most of all though, it was a book that really “chimed” with me. It was a book that just felt right when I was reading it, all the friendships and twists and funny little idiosyncracies just coming together to make a perfect, feel-good magical story. I’d recommend it anyone, of any age group. So step boldly, reader, and dive right in.
Star Rating: 5/5