Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow was written by Jessica Townsend and first published in 2017. It is a fantasy middle grade novel about a young girl who must pass four trials to gain membership of an elite organisation. The book forms the first part of the Nevermoor series and its sequel – provisionally titled Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow – is expected to be released later this year.

Morrigan Crow has not had a happy life. As a cursed child, she brings nothing but misery to those around her and knows that she is fated to die on the eve of Eventide, which is due to fall on her twelfth birthday. Unluckily for Morrigan, fate has other ideas. When Eventide unexpectedly falls a year early, she suddenly finds herself face to face with the terrifying Hunt of Smoke and Shadow.

However, Morrigan is rescued by an eccentric gentleman by the name of Jupiter North. Jupiter has selected Morrigan to be his first ever apprentice and he intends to enter her in the trials to become a member of the mysterious Wunder Society – an organisation of talented individuals who reside in the fantastical city of Nevermoor.

While Morrigan is thrilled to have escaped her fate, she soon realises that this may just be a stay of execution. She must compete for one of nice places against hundreds of other young applicants, all whom are more familiar with the oddities of Nevermoor than she is. If she fails at any point, she will be deported back to her home world and have to face the Hunt again. To make matters worse, every applicant must be able to prove that they have a special and useful talent. Unfortunately for Morrigan, she knows that she does not have one…

I don’t think that I’ve ever had to slap this disclaimer on a middle grade novel before, but before I begin I should warn you that Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is surprisingly dark. The books opening chapter takes place at the protagonist’s funeral and it features some scenes that young or sensitive readers may find scary, including the Nazghûl-esque Hunt of Smoke and Shadow and some pretty frank discussions about death. While I’d still say that this book is suitable for younger readers, parents may just want to have a flip through it first.

The Trials of Morrigan Crow is an incredibly creative debut novel. It reads a bit like a cross between Harry Potter, Roald Dahl and The Chronicles of Narnia, gradually introducing the City of Nevermoor through Morrigan’s experiences while living at the Hotel Deucalion. After Morrigan’s escape from the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow and her dreary home in Jackalfax, every chapter provides a new treat for the reader. It introduces many creative new concepts – from living shadow puppetry to a festive battle between Saint Nick and the Yule Queen – and lively characters that range from giant talking cats to dwarf vampires (which are not to be confused with vampire dwarfs). While it only felt as though it scratched the surface of what Nevermoor had to offer, it still made clear that it was a place where absolutely anything could happen.

However, the book did not grab me immediately. Personally, I felt as though the opening chapters really threw the reader in at the deep end. Although Morrigan is immediately established as a cursed child, the book never really explains to the reader what this means, or how she came to be cursed. You just have to pick this up as you go along.

However, the book did really catch my attention from the point where two mysterious benefactors started to show an interest in Morrigan, despite having never met her. The soft-spoken Mr Jones and vibrant Jupiter North both stoked my curiosity, making me want to read on to find out why they were both so interested in a girl who seemed painfully ordinary. Between Morrigan’s trials and mini-adventures, a deeper mystery starts to build that really did make me want to read on. I found myself really interested to discover who the reclusive Ezra Squall really was, if Morrigan would pass all of her trials, and just what her “knack” would turn out to be.

However, there were a few small areas where I felt that the world-building could have been improved. While Nevermoor is fantastic, it lacks a bit of depth. Take for example the concept of Wunder. Wunder is, for want of a better word, magic. However, I can’t really explain it any better than this. Wunder seems to power everything and disasters are caused when it is in short supply. However, it can also be harnessed by rare individuals and used to do both great and terrible things. For me, this felt a little flimsy. While I’m certain that more is going to be made of this in the sequel, it felt odd for such a core concept to be so poorly explained in the first novel.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. While it’s not really a cliff-hanger as it does at least conclude Morrigan’s trials, it still left a lot in the air. There are some pretty massive plot twists in the climax of the story, yet no time is really left for these to sink in. The novel also kind of leaves Morrigan in a spot of bother, as it doesn’t resolve the issue of her impending deportation. Again, hopefully this will be something that is thoroughly addressed by the sequel.

However, the strongest aspect of The Trials of Morrigan Crow was, by far, its characters. I absolutely loved Morrigan. This is where the story felt the most like Harry Potter to me, as Morrigan’s treatment at the hands of her family was nothing short of grim. Not only is she neglected by her father and stepmother, but she is universally hated because every person in Jackalfax blames her for their misfortune. Because of this, Morrigan is a bit of a wreck. She is understandably not the happiest of children and suffers from crippling self-doubt.

Yet, at the same time, Morrigan isn’t broken. Nevermoor has a wonderful effect on her, allowing her to meet people who genuinely care and will go out of their way to support her. Through this, we see Morrigan’s sense of hope and wonder slowly start to grow. Although she has started to believe that she is inherently wicked, its clear to the reader that she is a kind and intelligent eleven-year-old at heart. While she is frequently afraid, she proves to be brave even in situations where she is powerless, and even will put herself in danger to help others in need.

Beyond Morrigan, the novel boasts a wide array of memorable characters. My favourite was Jupiter, who behaves a bit like a male Mary Poppins, but Hawthorne Swift – Morrigan’s dragon-riding fellow contestant – also had his charms. His mischievous and cheery disposition served as a nice counterpoint to the often anxious Morrigan. I’m really curious to see how these characters develop in future instalments, as I feel that Jupiter in particular is hiding a lot of secrets.

So, all in all, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is pretty great. Its fast-paced and creative, boasting an engaging plot and a colourful host of characters. I would certainly recommend it to young fans of Harry Potter and I really can’t wait to find out what will happen to Morrigan next.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: The Sobeks 2018 – Part 1 | Arkham Reviews

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