When Nevermoor was first published in October 2017, I was just a baby bookseller still learning the ropes, trying to juggle a new career with a Masters degree (fun times!). I'd started reading Nevermoor and was instantly spellbound, but with book clubs to organise and a dissertation deadline looming, I sadly never got round to finishing it. Fast-forward three years and with Hollowpox (Book #3!) just released, I knew I needed to revisit the wonderful world of Nevermoor and catch up on the trials and tribulations of its unlikely heroine, Morrigan Crow.
And reader, I am so glad I did.
What's it about?
Nevermoor tells the story of Morrigan Crow, an unfortunate girl born on the cursed day of Eventide, destined to die on her eleventh birthday. Morrigan bravely accepts her fate, but when a an eccentric man called Jupiter North appears on her doorstep and offers her the chance to cheat death by escaping with him to the secret city of Nevermoor, she thinks her luck might finally be changing. There's just one catch: For Morrigan to stay in Nevermoor, she must pass four magical trials and secure a place in the Wundrous Society - one of the most elite institutions in the whole of the Free State. Jupiter insists she has the talent to succeed, but Morrigan is unconvinced she possesses any magical abilities. Can Jupiter teach Morrigan to harness the hidden gift that only he can see, or will she be sent back to the Wintersea Republic to face her cruel family and certain death?
Move Over, Harry Potter.
Re-reading Nevermoor reminded me just how special this series is and returning to the Hotel Deucalion felt like coming home. As someone who has read a lot of children's books, I don't say this lightly: Nevermoor is without question one of the greatest literary triumphs of children's publishing in a generation. As a kid I was never interested in Harry Potter and I couldn't understand the hype around it. But immersing myself in this world as Jessica Townsend continues to expand it (and before 20th Century Fox gets their hands on it - which is happening btw! 😱)... I finally get it. I feel like I've been let in on a secret; like I'm part of something momentous.
Nevermoor has drawn a lot of comparisons to Harry Potter and while there are certain themes and characters that pop up in both worlds (found family, cursed child, bonkers but loveable guardian), it would be a disservice to Jessica Townsend to reduce Nevermoor to simply a Harry Potter copy-cat. It is, without question, the only book that has come close to capturing my imagination and obsession in the way Rowling's wizarding world has, but make no mistake: Nevermoor is entirely its own story. And while I'm always skeptical of any book that gets majorly hyped by publishers and the media, I'll put my credibility on the line and say that this book absolutely lives up to the hype. The series has already established a dedicated fan-base among children and adults alike, and with subsequent novels lined up and a film adaptation in the works, I have a feeling we're going to see an explosion not unlike the Pottermania of the 2000s. I just hope the publishing world is ready for it!
If you've read Nevermoor I'm sure you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. But if you haven't... well... indulge me a little and allow me to present:
1. "Mog. Moggers. The Mogster." 👩🏻
It wouldn't be an epic middle grade series without a protagonist with a tragic backstory, and Miss Morrigan Crow - the cursed child destined to die on Eventide night - has just about the most devastating childhood you can imagine. Right from the start, the novel addresses Morrigan's limited lifespan, with funeral arrangements a popular topic of conversation in the Crow household. Hardly the cheeriest of openings, but forgivable, I suppose, given Morrigan's tragic circumstances. Except, that is, she isn't even dead yet. Yep, that's right. Her family are discussing her funeral arrangements over dinner while Morrigan sits at the table. Yikes. It's morbid but absolutely brilliant. I can't think of a more memorable opening to a children's book and I knew straight away that Nevermoor was going to have me hooked.
Morrigan Crow is perhaps my all-time favourite heroine of children's literature. She's kind-hearted, quick-witted and intelligent - not to mention hot-headed and brilliantly sarcastic. And while we may not all be cursed children under the relentless pursuit of The Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, there's something incredibly relatable about Morrigan Crow; we've all been blamed for something that's not our fault, and we've all - at some point or another - been the new kid in a place we feel we don't belong. Morrigan's circumstances are... unusual, sure, but younger readers will empathise with her all the same and it's her unrelenting resilience in the face of adversity that makes her such a brilliant role model to aspire to.
One of my favourite things about Morrigan is her character development and I applaud Jessica Townsend for the transformation we see in Morrigan over the course of the first three novels. Morrigan's character arc is paced perfectly and she really is the poster child for found family, proving that anyone can thrive if they're surrounded by people who love and support them unconditionally.
2. A Wunder-ful Magic System ✨
Nevermoor is a city literally alive with magic and I love that Townsend took such a fun, whimsical approach to her magic system. I always find it a little ironic how seriously adult fantasy takes itself as a genre; as soon as magic systems come into play, everything becomes about rules: who can wield magic and under what conditions, the origins and history of magical powers and the lore that accompanies it. And while I have no objections to that sort of stuff (after all, we all know how much a fantasy novel can suffer when it skips over the world-building), what I love about Nevermoor is that it takes fantasy and pokes fun at it, acknowledging that the whole thing is just a bit absurd. This book is full of whimsy and eccentricity and you can see that while Townsend has put a lot of thought and consideration into Wunder (the magic system that powers Nevermoor, the Free State, and the rest of the world), she never loses sight of the one thing every children's fantasy author needs to remember: magic should be fun.
From local transport like the super-efficient Wunderground to the Smoking Parlour of the Hotel Deucalion which emits therapeutic scented and flavoured smoke for its guests (honeysuckle in the evening for romance, lavender at night for the restless), Nevermoor oozes magic and it's always done in such a playful and inventive way that you can't help but fall in love with it. My highlights are definitely Morrigan's ever-changing hotel room that transforms according to Morrigan's tastes or the mood of the Hotel Deucalion itself (it's been known to sulk!), and the lobby's chandelier which causes all sorts of drama when it smashes to the floor as a new chandelier grows in its place like a new tooth coming through. Genius!!
"Room 85 on the fourth floor was slowly becoming Morrigan's bedroom. Every few days she noticed something new and brilliant, something she loved instantly. Like the mermaid bookends that showed up on her shelf one day, or the black leather armchair shaped like an octopus that curled its tentacles around her while she read. One night several weeks earlier, the bed had changed from a plain white headboard to an ornate wrought iron frame while she slept in it. The Deucalion obviously thought it had made a mistake, though, because two days later she woke up swinging in a hammock.
With each instalment, new magical delights are revealed and I love that Townsend is fleshing out this world piece-by-piece rather than bombarding the reader with all of the rules and world-building in Book #1. Some of my favourite wundrous marvels appear in Wundersmith and Hollowpox and I'm doing my best not to mention them in this post! Just know that as the series progresses, the magic gets bigger and better and you'll get more out of the books if you go in blind and simply enjoy the ride.
3. "The Great and Honourable Captain Sir Jupiter Amantius North, Esquire" ☂️
If the Hotel Deucalion is the Chocolate Factory of hotels, then its proprietor Jupiter North is its Willy Wonka. Though I'd say "Boris Johnson wielding a sonic screwdriver" is perhaps a more accurate comparison (sorry Jupiter!).
Jupiter is one of the most important characters in Nevermoor - not only to Morrigan, but to the entire Free State (which is, quite frankly, concerning given his slightly bonkers attitude and blatant disregard for rules). What makes Jupiter so important is his powers as a witness: someone who can see things that others cannot.
"He crossed the room in four enormous, lanky-legged strides and picked up the still-warm teapot from the breakfast tray. [...] 'There are... events and moments in the past that attach themselves to people and things, and cling to them through time simply because they have nowhere else to go. [...] This teapot has soaked in some good memories. The old lady who owned it made tea every afternoon when her sister came to visit. They loved each other very much, the lady and her sister. That sort of thing rarely fades away completely.'"
It's Jupiter's "sight" that leads him to Morrigan and it's his ability to see things that other can't that makes him such an intriguing character from a reader's perspective. In many ways, Jupiter is a bit like Gandalf in The Hobbit - he knows things that others don't and he spends a great deal of time "off-stage" negotiating and forming alliances with others based on information that he alone has access to. It's easy to see why Morrigan gets so frustrated with her patron, given his tendency to speak in riddles and avoid answering her (and our!) questions, but his enigmatic personality is magnetic and he's definitely the character whose scenes I enjoyed reading the most.
4. The Battle of Christmas Eve 🌬️
One of my favourite chapters in Nevermoor is The Battle of Christmas Eve: a public showdown between jolly old Saint Nick and the Yule Queen in a grand display of festivity where each mascot attempts to out-Christmas the other:
"'They battle each other on Christmas Eve to see who has the best Christmas spirit. If the Yule Queen wins, her promise is a blanket of snow on Christmas morning and a blessing on every house.'
'And if Saint Nick wins?'
'Presents in every stocking and a fire in every hearth.'"
This is one of those scenes that just fills you with warmth and it reminds you just how comforting children's books can be. I found the political undertones really funny and I particuarly enjoyed how everyone in Nevermoor wears either red or green to show their support to the competing Christmas figureheads. And despite the intense rivalry between the Saint Nicholas and Snow Queen supporters, The Battle of Christmas Eve is fundamentally about community spirit and coming together. It's a great example of political compromise and good sportsmanship, and I loved the way this chapter really cemented the idea that Morrigan now has a family of her own who care about her and who she cares for in return. It may lack the drama and adventure of some of the other scenes in the book, but the magic and warmth at the heart of this chapter really put a smile on my face. And if ever there's a time to read this book, it's during the holiday season. Nevermoor is brimming with festive cheer, and I can't think of anything better than curling up on the sofa with a blanket, a mug of hot chocolate and a copy of Nevermoor against the backdrop of a crackling fire and twinkling Christmas lights.
5. The Twists 😱
I'm not really going to expand on this one for obvious reasons, but I will say that the twists in this book caught me completely off-guard (and I'm usually pretty good at guessing where a narrative is going!). With nine novels outlined in the Nevermoor series, it's clear that Townsend has a clear idea of the story she wants to tell and she is in it for the long game. And reading this book, you can tell she knows exactly what she's doing, setting up all the pieces like an expert chess-player who's ten steps ahead of her readers. The result is a story that is not only wholly imaginative and creative, but also incredibly captivating and nuanced. Having just finished reading Hollowpox (the third book in the Nevermoor series) I'm only just starting to see how these pieces of the puzzle fit together and I can't overstate how excited I am to read Book #4 and unravel more of the mystery as I follow Morrigan into the next stage of her journey.
Nevermoor is a kaleidoscope of magic, mystery and mayhem and one of the most exhilarating children's books I've read in years. Jessica Townsend has struck gold with this series and I can't wait to return for the fourth instalment. I've given you five reasons to read Nevermoor and hopefully I've presented a compelling argument, but in truth I've barely scratched the surface. I haven't mentioned Fenestra the Magnificat (aka my spirit animal), Morrigan's best friend and #1 Troublemaker, Hawthorne Swift, or the Wundrous Trials which form the foundation of Nevermoor's storyline!
In short, this is a book that everyone needs to read and I just know that children and adults alike are going to fall in love with Morrigan Crow.
Welcome to your new obsession. You're welcome 😉.
Have you read Nevermoor? Do you have a favourite character or scene?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!