In books you have this very specific genre called ‘middle school’, and I’m never really that fond of it. It’s often very, as the name suggests, ‘in between’: it’s either too childish or simply trying to hard to be exciting. Or so I thought. This book changed my mind. It’s an absolute rollercoaster of events and emotions washed over me as I read this, flipping through the pages as quickly as I possibly could. And I can now proudly say: This is a fantastic book, for middle school-ers and university students alike!
Morrigan Crow was born on Eventide, which means she will die when she is twelve years old. It also means she is a ‘cursed child’ and she’s constantly having to apologise for everything that goes wrong in the dreary town she is born in. Her family doesn’t provide much comfort either, because they simply dislike her and ignore her most of the time. Everyone seems to be looking forward to the day she dies and Morrigan doesn’t know any differently. But when it’s bid-day, a day where adults can bid on children to further finance their education, Morrigan receives four bids. Don’t they know that she won’t live another year?
Her father says it’s all just a cruel joke and the glimmer of hope Morrigan had for a second is crushed. But when a mysterious ginger man called Jupiter North appears, with the promise to take her away from her old life, she doesn’t hesitate. As they climb through the clock on the old bell tower, they cheat death through the time difference and Morrigan gets a second chance at life in the wonderful city of Nevermoor. Nevermoor lies in the Free State and is either a magical city where the unexpected is ordinary or the most dangerous and ridiculous city, depending on who you ask. Jupiter North runs a hotel there and he fits right into that crazy and impulsive world. His choice in Morrigan seems everything but impulsive though, but because of his erratic temper and hectic lifestyle he tells her very little of what is going on and what will happen next.
He does tell her of the ‘Wundrous society’: a secret organisation that he would like for Morrigan to join, just like him, and that’s why he did bid on her. Except you have to get through four trials in order to enter: one to test your honesty, one to test your determination, one to test your bravery and the last one, the Show Trial, where you will be presenting your ‘knack’ for the judges. Morrigan is sceptical at first, to say the least, because the only knack she can think of is being cursed. But when she hears the promise of life-long friends and a family to all who succeed in joining the society, she is determined to get in. The problem is, Jupiter refuses to tell her what her knack is, up to the very last minute. And then there’s the mystery of Ezra Squall, who has also bid on Morrigan, and the fear people seem to have for his mere name. Morrigan no longer has a choice though, because she is in Nevermoor illegaly, so she has to pass all the trials, or face her death in her old world.
As I mentioned before, this book is very much like a whirlwind that takes you along for the ride. You might have many questions after reading the summary, but so did I when reading the book and many are still left unanswered. But this style of writing serves a wonderful purpose: we feel like Morrigan feels. She’s constantly overwhelmed, scared of having to go back and face her death, unsure of her future and incredibly annoyed by all the adults refusing to answer her questions. Strangely enough, the not knowing didn’t annoy me much. There are so many things that happen in this book that make you think ‘that’s insane!’ at first, but it doesn’t feel like a plot hole, just as part of the world Townsend has created. For example: Morrigan escapes her death at midnight through a time difference? What? But it works, and on the next page there are even stranger things happening, so as a reader you just go with the flow, as Morrigan must. This was probably my favourite aspect of the writing: it is constantly fast-paced, exciting, a little scary and changing all the time. There’s something similar to the London Underground in Nevermoor, where you have to jump on and off trains by literally jumping with an umbrella into nothing, hooking your umbrella onto a rail and being swept on by the train with insane speed. That’s what this book feels like.
Quite often, the characters really make the book and it’s the same here. Jupiter North is erratic, but loving. Fenestra is a Magnificat, (yes, a cat) who works at the hotel and comforts Morrigan on the rare occasion, but mostly scolds her. Hawthorne is a mischievous dragon-rider and the first of Morrigan’s life-long friends, after they drop a pudding on a snobby girl’s head together. The characters, so many more than I just mentioned, are lovely, but Morrigan is my favourite. Morrigan Crow is a wonderful character, because she is just so life-like. One of the main characteristics that make her so, is the fact that she is almost always annoyed and scowling. Admirably, she battles on and tries to do what is best in her eyes, but the uncertainty of it all makes her grumpy most of the time. I would be grumpy too if I were taken away and no one really bothered to explain to me what is going on. But, Morrigan is a true warrior: she shows honesty, vulnerability, determination, inventiveness and daring, in the trials for the Wundrous Society and in life in general. Maybe it’s because she’s always known she is going to die, maybe it’s just who she is, but she has no problems with staring fear straight in the face. I really admired that in her.
There’s also the theme of making friends and of what is truly important in a person. At first, Morrigan is extremely self-conscious, because all she’s ever known in that she is cursed. Being neglected by her family didn’t help either. And meeting the other candidates of the prestigious Wundrous Society only makes it worse, because many are beautiful girls, witty and outgoing, and talented in their own special way. They bully her from the start and Morrigan doesn’t even know if she has a knack at all! But then Jupiter explains how the Show Trial is given the most attention, but it is also the last trial for a reason. The society isn’t interested in children who are just talented, that’s why they test your honesty, determination and bravery first. So, it’s great being pretty and a great singer, but when you don’t have a strong character, you will never even get the chance to showcase your amazing talent. Many of those snobby girls don’t make it that far, and those that do turn out to have unexpected sides to them. This is great message: be a good person first, talent comes second.
One of the main questions that remains unanswered is that of the Wundrous Society. We know this world runs on energy called ‘Wunder’ and the society probably has something to do with it. Jupiter North is a member, as are all the great and strange people of Nevermoor. Their talents range from opera-singing to dragon-riding, with the talents of mesmerising and invisibility in between. Then there’s the monster called the ‘Wundersmith’, the stuff of nightmares. I’m not willing to give away too much, but in the end we do know that Morrigan has some kind of gift involving ‘Wunder’, Ezra Squall and the dreaded ‘Wundersmith’. But that’s all we really know of all things ‘Wunder’. Long story short, I can’t wait to read the next book, because Morrigan needs answers!
And so do I.
Expect the unexpected Award: in genre of books, in little cursed girls and in every world you end up in!
Jessica Townsend, Nevermoor: the trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #1) (New York City, 2017)