Author: Jessica Townsend (twitter)
UK Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
Genre: Fantasy, children’s fiction
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…
I was given the proof of this book way back in 2017 while I was interning at Gollancz. Everyone in Hachette got a copy, along with a little chocolate umbrella and a letter from the head of publishing saying that Nevermoor was going to be the next great children’s phenomenon, that it had the makings of the next Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia. These were big claims, but although the chocolate umbrella was delicious I was deep in busy things – splitting my time between my internship, my paying job, and writing my dissertation. So I didn’t read it then. And it just kept slipping further down my list, and after a small flutter for the release of book 2, I didn’t really hear anything else. Earlier this year, however, I went to an event at Kenilworth Books, where I was met with the most effusive, excited, and enthusiastic recommendations for it. They caught me by surprise, but immediately bumped the book back up my to-read list.
I’d say I wish I had read it sooner, but actually it was the perfect thing to read this last week, a week which was full of anxiety and stress and heartbreak over the state of the country. Being able to retreat into this book which is warm and kind and funny was exactly what I needed to take the stress off during a very difficult period. It’s a delightful book, Morrigan is a wonderful character, and the concept is magical and innocent without being too childish. I almost think the final covers for the books actually do them a disservice, because the illustrations make them appear to skew younger than they actually are. Yes, Morrigan is 11 when the book begins, but this doesn’t read as an MG book. It’s a book that could be read and enjoyed by 11 year olds, but it’s also a book which I enjoyed entirely as an adult, and not from the perspective of “how could this play to kids?”
It’s set in a sort of steampunk-style fantasy land. There are photographic cameras and radios and trains and lights run on “wunder”, but people dress in eclectic style. It feels almost Victorian in its styling. Morrigan, the daughter of a politician, is a “cursed child”, one of a group of children born at the changing of the Age (sort of like New Year’s Day, but the ages aren’t based on years) and due to die at the change of the next age – on their 11th birthdays. Cursed children are the bane of society, causing all sorts of ills and trials for the people around them. They curdle milk, they ruin the weather, they cause pets to drop down dead – allegedly.
When children reach the age of 11, schools and professions can ‘bid’ for them to take them on as trainees. Morrigan doesn’t expect to receive any bids, as a cursed child doomed to death, but unexpectedly finds herself the recipient of four. Two are fakes, one comes from the most powerful man in the country, and one comes from the mysterious Wundrous Society. Believing them all to be hopeless, Morrigan returns home to brace for the end of her life – only for Captain Julian North of the Wundrous Society to appear at her house and whisk her away from the jaws of literal death to the fantastical city of Nevermoor, part of the Free State – a country that Morrigan has never even heard of. There she stays with him at a fantastical hotel while learning about this new world and completing the trials set to find the next members of the Wundrous Society.
There was a little about this book which reminded me of The Rook by Daniel O’Malley – a society of people who train together, who all are possessed of a slightly magical talent, or ‘knack’, much like the Checquy. What their end goals are is a little less clear, but I imagine that will become more apparent as the books progress and the world becomes bigger. Because it’s already clearly a very big world, with a wonderful mix of traditional magic (witches, sorcerers, unicorns, dragons) and magic-driven technology. Whimsy and whimsical science. The plot is straightforward and relatively light, mostly based on Morrigan trying to get through the trials and work out what her own knack is.
Perhaps the one flaw in this book is that it falls into the general trap of the adults not divulging all the information to the children in their care from the very beginning. Where this differs from other books which play into this (*coughHarryPottercough*), is that Julian North feels less manipulative than Dumbledore. He doesn’t lie, and his faith in Morrigan is clear and unshakeable. It’s clear that the reason he’s not telling her things is because he wants her to succeed entirely on her own merits. And he does eventually tell her everything, while her lack of knowledge doesn’t impede or put her in danger.
I immediately have made plans to buy the next one, although I think it only right an fair that I do so at Kenilworth Books, since they were the ones who finally made me get my act together and read it. The third book is due out next year, and three more are scheduled, a further three planned after that, which seems magical in and of itself. Three threes. I’m just so utterly taken with this whimsical, gentle world, with its bizarre people, magical creatures, and buckets of love. In particular, I’m quite fond of this pragmatic little girl who is slightly gothic, and full of hope and wonder.
- A magical children’s book which can be read and enjoyed entirely as an adult. It doesn’t talk down to readers and it presents a great, wide, whimsical world to explore without stress or strain. Don’t let the cover art mislead you, this book can be enjoyed whatever age you are.
- I was honestly dubious about the comparisons to Harry Potter and perhaps that has done the book a disservice. It’s a big claim and seems like a hard on to believe. But it’s got the same sense of world building and wonder, even if the rules and setting are completely different. I think perhaps The Rook is a better comparison, and if you enjoyed that you will love this.
- It’s hard to pick a favourite character, or part, I just wanted to luxuriate in the whole thing, but perhaps one of the bits I enjoyed the most early on was our introduction to Hawthorne’s sense of humour through his commitment to and delightful enjoyment of hideously ugly jumpers. I feel like I would get on well with him.
Rating: 5/5 – I was so charmed by this, and I think the letter I got with my proof copy was right. This series is going to be a big thing. It should be a big thing, and I’m certainly going to be passing it on to all the children I know.