A review of Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Trials of Morrigan Crow
By Jessica Townsend
Oct 10, 2017, ISBN: 9780734418074, RRP A$16.99

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow has become something of a first novel sensation with a publisher bidding war, foreign language rights, and the sale of film rights to 20th Century Fox. I imagine that this was partly due to the resemblance to a certain wizard.  Like Harry, Morrigan Crow is treated badly by her family because of her unusual nature, spirited away to a magical place and mentored to realising that her oddness isn’t a liability but a gift. This is not a bad plotline for any young adult book, and a message which continues to be vital to both children and adults. However, behind all the hype is a well-written, fast-paced book full of rich characters, wonderful world setting, and a fast moving plot that will appeal to a very wide age range – from very young readers to adults.

Eleven year old Morrigan is a pariah – a “cursed child” —  blamed for every negative event in the town of Jackalfax, from storms to ruined batches of marmalade, animal deaths and broken hips. Like all cursed children, she is due to die at Eventide, which is approaching much faster than expected. Luckily for Morrigan (and readers), Morrigan escapes from the terrifying Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, and finds herself under the patronage of Jupiter North of the Wundrous Society, spirited away from home at the last minute to the free state of Nevermoor, where she has to compete for a place in the prestigious Wundrous Society. The only problem is that all candidate are required to have a gift, and Morrigan doesn’t know what hers is, or even if she has one. er position in Nevermoor is becoming increasingly precarious and the alternative is certain death. Morrigan is an empathetic character with just the right combination of pluck and humility, and her increasing awareness of the importance of friendship, and of her growing sense of self-discovery is a subplot that drives the narrative forward, along with the competition trials and Morrigan’s desperation to find her gift.

Nevermoor is a delightful world – full of whimsy. The Hotel Deucalion, where Morrigan lives is a almost a character. It remakes itself every day in new décor to suit the needs of its patrons, grows its own chandelier, and puffs soothing herbaceous fragrances from its walls:

Morrigan awoke one chilly morning at the beginning of winter to find that her new home had transformed int a Christmas wonderland overnight. The halls were decked with ribbons and evergreen boughs, the foyer lit up by shining, shimmering fir trees dotted with silvery bauble. The Smoking Parlour rolled out emerald-green waves of pine-scented smoke in the morning, red-and-white-striped candy cane smoke in the afternoon and warm, spicy gingerbread smoke at night (311).

There are all sorts of fun details like the secret Gossamer Line, umbrella keys, a Hall of Shadows, mysterious witches, unicorns, friendly dwarf vampires, talking cats and fabulous fountains. Townsend has created an environment that seems to take the best elements from fantasies like Harry Potter, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series and yet still present a world that feels fresh. At the heart of the book is the story of a friendship between Morrigan and dragon rider Hawthorne Swift. It’s a friendship that develops immediately, and emphasises the non-judgemental support that the two provide for one another; a support that is made all the more important for the prejudice Morrigan encounters.

The plotline is consistently engaging, with a good mix of warm supportive characters and nasty ones. Christmas is absolutely enchanting, as is Halloween (or Hallowmass as it is known in Nevermoor), with all sorts of warm traditional details. The reader is encouraged to take Morrigan’s point of view and see all of the lushness of her new home and its exuberant traditions through her eyes and as a contrast to the paucity of love she grew up with. Morrigan’s growing sense of belonging and the quirky avuncular care that Jupiter provides is balanced by her fear of losing it all through her own incapability. Morrigan’s need to find a gift and justify her existence in Nevermoor makes for an engaging story, and though the book has a satisfying ending, there are clearly lots of questions still in need of answers – most especially about the magical Wunder. Readers will be eager to get hold of next book and find out what Morrigan’s next trial will be as she grows up in her new home.