Nevertell

Nevertell was written by Katharine Orton and first published in 2019. It is a historical fantasy story set in Stalin’s Russia, focusing on a young girl’s escape from a terrible labour camp. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Lina has never known anything beyond the fences of the camp. Although her mother has told her wonderful stories about her Grandmother – a fierce woman who lives in distant Moscow – Lina knows that she is unlikely to ever meet her. However, things change when Lina learns that three dangerous convicts have decided to make an escape. They have agreed to take Lina with them, so long as she can use her job in the camp greenhouse to secure them food for their long journey.

While the escape largely goes to plan, Lina soon realises that she is in big trouble. Not only would her companions kill her without a thought, but the wilds of Siberia are filled with danger. Lack of food and biting cold threatens their every step, and ghostly wolves haunt the darkness. Once these creatures find their scent, Lina soon finds herself separated from the others and imprisoned by a mysterious sorceress who calls herself the Man Hunter.

Lina knows that she needs to find a way to escape, as the only way that she can possibly rescue her mother from the camp is by reaching her Grandmother. She soon manages to befriend Natalya – one of the many once-human “shadows” that the Sorceress keeps as servants. With the help of this mysterious spirit and a little magic of her own, Lina soon discovers that she has the power to achieve the impossible. But will it be enough to get all the way to Moscow?

Nevertell is a unique middle grade novel, set against the bleak backdrop of the Great Purge. While there are many children’s books that focus on the Holocaust, I immediately found this setting to be rather interesting as the Purges are something that is far less well known to young readers. At least, I didn’t learn about them until I was doing my A-Levels.

Orton does a fantastic job of illustrating the horror of Stalin’s regime in a way that still felt wholly appropriate for the target audience. She details what life was like living under such tyranny, clearly showing how everyday folks lived in constant feat of attracting the tension of the secret police. This was made all the more frightening as Lina revealed the innocent reasons why people of all ages could be arrested, the fact that children were encouraged to report on dissenting parents, and the brutality of life in the gulags.

The first third of Nevertell is particularly grim, focusing on Lina and her friend Bogdan as they escape from the camp and are forced to survive in the Siberian wilds. However, it’s not long before the story becomes more fantastical. As Lina’s journey continues, it rapidly takes on the feel of a faerie tale and is filled with ghostly wolves and a sorceress who felt heavily inspired by the legends of Baba Yaga. The magic system in Nevertell was only lightly touched upon but was utterly fascinating. I loved the subtle distinction between warm and cold magic – two very different schools that a sorceress could draw upon depending on her emotional state.

My only real issue with Nevertell were the inconsistencies in its tone. While the opening of the novel was rather bleak and full of tension, it lost a lot of this in the chapters that followed Svetlana the sorceress’s introduction. After this point, the plot largely focused itself on Lina’s family and her gradual discovery of her powers. While it could still be a little dark in places, it could not maintain its early intensity and so I must admit that my attention began to waiver towards the middle of the tale.

Still, Nevertell did build to an incredibly strong climax. While its ultimate conclusion was, perhaps, a little bit cheesy, it did end on a satisfying and hopeful note. It also did a fantastic job of tying up all loose ends, which included finally explaining what ‘Nevertell’ – the only word spoken by Natalya – actually means. While I would certainly like to read more stories about Lina in the future, this did leave the novel feeling very solid and complete in its own right.

In terms of character, Nevertell was also very strong. Lina is brilliantly fleshed out as a character, and I certainly found myself empathising with her as the story progressed. Her complex feelings towards the gulag (the only life that she has ever known) and the man that was likely to have been her father were incredibly moving, and I enjoyed following her voyage of discovery as she learned more about the source of her mysterious powers.

While the other characters in Nevertell did not get quite so much development, they were still beautifully rounded and really added a lot to the tale. Bogdan was a great friend to Lina and also had a strong motivation for wanting to escape the camp, but I was disappointed that his story lacked resolution.

Svetlana was also a very powerful character whose motivation became clear as the reader slowly learned why she had chosen to become the fabled Man Hunter. While I did feel that the twist concerning her true identity was a little too obvious, it was still very satisfying. I also loved the way that her attitude towards Lina shifted as she started to accept that not all humans were monsters.

Apologies for the short review, but I think I’ve covered everything that I wanted to say. All in all, Nevertell was a strong debut novel. The plot is beautiful and memorable, containing some powerful imagery and a well-rounded cast. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and really will be keeping an eye out for more of Orton’s work in the future.

Nevertell can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook or Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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