Morrigan Crow is cursed, destined to die on her eleventh birthday. But, as the clock strikes midnight, she’s whisked away by a remarkable man called Jupiter North and taken to the secret city of Nevermoor.
There she’s invited to join the Wundrous Society. Mystery, magic and protection are hers – if only she can pass four impossible trials, using an exceptional talent. Which she doesn’t have…
A fantastic romp with a vibrant protagonist who possesses real heart through a charming world, complete with portals, magical knacks, umbrellas, a sentient hotel and a genuinely sinister antagonist.
What I Liked
- Morrigan Crow as our protagonist, thrown into a magical other world and finding her feet and a family there
- The friendship between Jack and Morrigan was wonderful
- The Christmas Eve battle was just charming!
- The world of Nevermoor itself – wonderful world building
- Hotel Deucalion
What Could Have Been Different
- The opening chapters before we reached Nevermoor were perhaps a little slow
- The antagonist, the Wundersmith, was introduced a little late perhaps
- The trials themselves – especially the Fright trial – could have been dwelt on a little more
This is one of those books that have hung about on my reading radar for an age and, as my daughter’s reading grows – and becomes very similar to my own, perhaps a case of genetic predisposition, perhaps of careful nurturing – I thought I’d dip into to see whether it was suitable and whether it would keep her interest.
And the book was a delight!
Morrigan Crow is a cursed child in the opening chapters, doomed to die at Eventide – which is itself a rather moveable feast – and believed to be the cause of every piece of ill fortune around her. In chapter one, her curse is blamed for a range of domestic tribulations and tallied by the cook
She watched Cook take a piece of chalk and write KICHIN CAT—DEAD on the blackboard, at the end of a long list that most recently included SPOYLED FISH, OLD TOM’S HEART ATACK, FLOODS IN NORTH PROSPER, and GRAVY STAYNES ON BEST TABELCLOTH.
This is ill fortune that her father was required to recompense people for and his tallying of accounts and apologies is both grim and humorous. Her family in the grimly Gothic Crow Manor are self-absorbed and grotesque – except for her grandmother, perhaps – and Morrigan is understandably miserable awaiting the inevitable arrival of The Hunt of Smoke and Shadows which will kill her. It is all a bit… gloomy and monochrome but the world building is wonderful: the world built on or powered by something called Wunder with shortages and scarcity reaching the news.
I do love the playfulness with the language even in these gloomy chapters: Morrigan Crow, named after the three-formed Irish Goddess of war who takes the form of a crow, and her father is Corvus Crow, corvus being Latin for well crow!
But it is on Bid Day – a mysterious process by which higher education is offered to students – that the plot cranks up: Morrigan receives four bids, one from Jupiter North who arrives at her home on Eventide in a mechanical all-terrain spider vehicle – the arachnopod – and rescues her from the Hunt of Smoke and Shadows, whisking her away to the magical and mysterious Nevermoor through portals and byways hidden in a clock face.
This is Alice going through the rabbit hole to wonderland, Wendy going to Neverland, Dorothy reaching Oz, Coraline going through the door…. And Nevermoor is wonderful: Jupiter North runs the Hotel Deucalion which is a wonderful creation, organic, sentient and playful, stretching out rooms when Morrigan paces to lengthen her walking, growing chandeliers, changing beds during the night to reflect the sleepers’ moods, a hotel whose rooms include a smoking room which creates smoke of different scents to enhance visitors’ moods or a hall of shadows that make shadow creatures come to life. The hotel is inhabited by Fenestra the Magnificat, a monstrous feline housekeeper, and a range of quirky guests and staff including a vampire dwarf named Frank and Jack, Jupiter’s nephew who stays during holidays. And these larger-than-life characters become Morrigan’s found family – vibrant, frustrating, vivid. And outside the hotel, Morrigan makes friends, makes enemies, floats with an umbrella, rides the brolly rail, and witnesses a genuinely charming Christmastime set piece.
In terms of the plot, Morrigan is in Nevermoor to enter the trials for the Wundrous Society – four trials that would allow her to become a member of the society and receive training and the right to stay in Nevermoor; being a somewhat illegal asylum seeker, failing the tasks would lead to her being sent home and the assumption that death in the Hunt of Smoke and Shadows would follow. The trials themselves should be the great set pieces of the novel and are built up in anticipation but for me felt a little bit underwhelming – the Chase Trial was great fun and wonderfully cinematic but felt rather brief; the Fright Trial could have been more, well, frightening and intense, but I suppose Townsend has an eye on her audience here. The Show Trial seemed like an episode of Britain’s Got Talent with magical knacks thrown in – because you need a knack to be part of the Wundrous Society – and it was fun to see the different knacks on display.
There is of course a twist and a revelation about Morrigan’s knack, and a big-bad is introduced about half way through the novel – Ezra Squall the Wundersmith or the evilest man who ever lived, responsible for massacres and horrors. He is a genuinely disturbing character, and presumably a series-wide antagonist which explains his somewhat late entrance into this book. Primarily, The Trials… seems to be about world building and character introductions – and both the world of Nevermoor and the characters introduced are so charming and vibrant that it really doesn’t matter. Jupiter North was eccentric, frustrating, immensely kind – a rather Doctor Who-ish character perhaps who always has everyone’s best interests at heart even if he sometimes plays fast and loose with the rules and explanations…