Title: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (2017)
Author: Jessica Townsend
Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group
Imprint: Orion Children’s Books
Read: 5th – 11th June 2019
Genre: children’s; fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks – and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor. It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organisation: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart – an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests – or she’ll have to leave the city and confront her deadly fate once and for all. “(Synopsis from publisher)
All her life thus far, Morrigan Crow has been the source of blame – blamed for bad luck of all forms, from a rainy day to people dying, a lot of blame is placed at her door and she’s never known anything than to expect to be treated as such by all the people around her. It’s not exactly the ideal life for a young child. She’s also cursed, bound to die on her eleventh birthday, which is enough to make any child dread their birthday. Instead, she is whisked off to adventure by a larger-than-life character called Jupiter North who sets her on a path to join one of the most prestigious organisations – the Wundrous Society – after surviving various trials to prove her worth and her talent. The one problem? Morrigan, the girl who has always been told she is good for nothing and brings bad luck wherever she goes, doesn’t believe she has a talent worthy of the Society. What starts as a whimsical journey into a colourful, fantastical world actually ends up being an incredibly heartwarming story full of wonderful messages to take away from the story.
“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.”
Morrigan was a wonderful protagonist for the story – she was strong and sarcastic and also silly at times. She never felt like she was written to be older than she was, yet she also had a certain amount of maturity to her, probably due to the fact she’d had to grow up being told everything bad that was happening in the town was entirely her fault. Throughout the book Morrigan worries about the trials she is taking part in as Jupiter’s protégé, primarily because Jupiter always keeps her in the dark and doesn’t seem to assist her much in preparing for the trials ahead of her. As someone entirely new to this world she has been whisked away to, it’s enough to make anyone (let alone a child) worry – Morrigan’s strength of character as she faces the unknown is admirable and a great quality to have in the protagonist of a story aimed at children. Jessica Townsend also isn’t afraid of showing that Morrigan is worried and that she is scared for her life, but thrives despite being faced with adversity. As for Jupiter, predictably, I loved his character – enigmatic and unknowable, he frequently absents himself from the hotel as he is called away to assist with Wunder-related issues and it all lends to this sort of swashbuckling explorer archetype. The book, however, makes a point of calling him out on this via Morrigan, something which I think the story really benefited from.
“Ginger was an understatement, Morrigan thought, trying to hide her astonishment as the hat came off. Ginger of the Year or King Ginger or Big Gingery President of the Ginger Foundation for the Incurably Ginger would have been more accurate. His mane of bright copper waves could probably have won awards.”
As for the setting, I adored the idea of Jupiter’s hotel. I’m something of a sucker for side characters in stories and the hotel setting allowed for many of these to be introduced as Morrigan explored her new life in Nevermoor. The idea of having a bedroom that changed to suit your need was also extremely cool and I wish that existed, obviously. Somehow, through her descriptions of the setting, I felt Nevermoor burst off the page, larger than life, and in technicolour – I’m not sure how Jessica Townsend managed to do that, but she did. For some reason, the atmosphere I imagined for Nevermoor was the aesthetic of the TV shows The Good Place and Pushing Daisies, all bright colours and fanciful buildings but with a darker underbelly lurking just under the surface. The humour was perfectly matched to this tone, as it was often whimsical and silly in a self-aware manner, against the backdrop of potential peril for its characters.
“They took a carriage home, and there was silence for most of the journey. Finally, as they turned onto Humdinger Avenue, Jupiter spoke. ‘You made a friend.’
‘I think so.’
‘Anything else of interest?’
Morrigan thought for a moment. ‘I think I made an enemy too.’
‘I didn’t make my first proper enemy until I was twelve.’ He sounded impressed.“
In conclusion, this book is often comped to Harry Potter and His Dark Materials but I think doing so does this book a disservice as, especially thanks to the former, it makes people expect a magical school and that’s not what Nevermoor offers at all. One element they do all share – the complete escapism into a book offered by a wonderfully created fantastical world with compelling characters, humour, and an adventuring spirit to the underlying story. If it reminded me of anything, it reminded me of the middle-grade that Neil Gaiman writes – books that drag you along into weird and wonderful scenarios and ask you, in opening the first page, to just go along with whatever you find in its pages, and you find you do because it’s so masterfully told. Regardless of the age of the reader, I am sure that Nevermoor will enchant and delight all.
“The night was uncommon and crowded with possibility.”