Author: Jessica Townsend (twitter)
UK Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
Genre: Fantasy, children’s fiction
See Also: Nevermoor
Imagination, discovery and friendship await Morrigan Crow when she escapes her deadly curse and joins the Wundrous Society. It promises her protection and belonging for life – but then Morrigan doesn’t receive the welcome she hoped for…
Morrigan is a much-feared Wundersmith. So, instead of the Society helping Morrigan to embrace her power, she is only taught that all Wundersmiths are evil and she must suppress her mysterious ability at all costs.
To make things worse, Nevermoor is quickly turning from a place of safety into one of danger. Society members are going missing, someone is blackmailing Morrigan’s new friends, turning them against her. And Ezra Squall, the evillest man who ever lived, is determined to lure Morrigan from the Society by promising to reveal the true nature of the Wunder that calls to her, which is becoming ever harder to resist…
Has Morrigan’s dream of escaping her cursed life ended before it truly began?
Much like Nevermoor, this book took me longer to read than it should have done. I also actually now have two copies – I initially decided to wait for the paperback release because my copy of book one is a paperback proof, but as I adored this so much, I ordered the hardback copy of book three, and that’s when I discovered the hardbacks for this series are works of ART. Beautiful bright endpapers, printed and foiled cover under the dustjacket… So I will be keeping the hardbacks in future.
This continues pretty shortly after the end of book one, with Morrigan feeling more firmly at home in Nevermoor, but though she thought she would be safe now she has passed the tests to join the Wundrous Society, instead she finds herself facing a lot of prejudice from her new instructors and classmates who know her identity as a Wundersmith, while simultaneously having to keep the truth a secret from anyone outside that immediate circle under the threat of expulsion.
I noticed, in this book perhaps more than the first, that Townsend’s writing manages to make the frustration, sadness and anger that Morrigan feels about being treated unfairly but having no recourse to fix it feel so visceral. I felt her impotent, powerless anger and felt it built inside me, alongside the bitterness and sadness of having her hopes of belonging seemingly snatched away again and again. Townsend deftly managed to portray the sort of cruelty that comes from prejudice, but that is entirely supported by the existing system. It isn’t hard for these people to be unkind to Morrigan, they don’t have to work hard to be so, and that almost makes it worse because each tiny action for them has a huge impact on her. It’s emotional and impactful, and would be a great way to introduce the ideas of systemic prejudice and microagressions to young readers if you were so inclined.
This also means that the moments of kindness in the book are all the more poignant, tender and meaningful because Morrigan has been left powerless. A string of magical creatures and people disappearing has taken North away on a missing persons’ hunt combined with a mystery-solving mission. He’s preoccupied and barely home, and although he knows what Morrigan is going through, his priority has to be saving lives even if he knows her treatment is patently unfair. He doesn’t have the time or resources to address it because he’s home for five minutes before having to leave again. It’s understandable, but you can see how it builds the frustration. It’s a similar story to many in children’s literature – if only the person who really cared could be around to see this, then things would be okay! It’s similar to A Series of Unfortunate Events in that respect, but admittedly less unendingly awful.
I don’t like to compare this book to the other notable magical child book of our times, but there was another element of the story that was handled in a way which I really appreciated. Where That Story forgave all actions in the light of a single heroic deed, Townsend doesn’t do that. She allows that things are not that simple, and just because someone does one grand, good gesture, it doesn’t cancel out all the hate and unkindness they may have been responsible for earlier. In the same way, she acknowledges the same is true in reverse. If you have been close to someone, and they have been kind to you and impacted your life in a positive way, it can be difficult to let those feelings go when they do things that are unquestionably wicked. Even if you cannot forgive them, even if you know they’re bad, your heart and brain don’t let those original feelings go so easily. I appreciated this nuance and was pleased to see it explained so well and so gently. This also seems to be foreshadowing for later in the series, with seeds being dropped that nothing is as clear cut and black and white as you expect. The fact that there are two separate enemies present in this novel – and neither of them as cruel to Morrigan as her own allies – demonstrates a growing world and plot that I can’t wait to follow further.
The Nevermoor books have a level of emotional maturity and nuance which really caught me by surprise to begin with, and this is all wrapped up in a world that is beautifully built and wonderfully whimsical. It’s a delight on both the surface level and delving deeper. I’m really looking forward to reading the next in the series and seeing where it all goes.
- A wonderful continuation of book one in the series, it expands the whimsical world building of Nevermoor, but also introduces darker themes and examines the greyness of morality and humanity rather than making everything clear cut, black and white.
- It’s emotively written, I could feel Morrigan’s frustrations and anger bunching up inside me as I read, my own sense of justice thoroughly poked for reactions. This makes the resolution all the sweeter.
- Alongside Morrigan’s personal issues – which are high-stakes enough, with her potentially having the power to basically end the world should she so wish – there’s a backdrop of magical people-trafficking. Morrigan attempts to investigate this herself, but at no point are we led to believe that the adults involved aren’t capable of handling it, Morrigan only ends up involved through chance. It’s refreshing to read a book where there’s a competent child hero, who is surrounded by adults who are in denial or outright inept. I find it makes the story more satisfying when the issues that arise aren’t the result of ignorance but are instead tightly plotted around that.
I have a few books to clear off my TBR before I can crack on with book 3, but this was definitely a highlight of my reading last year!