Jessica Townsend, Nevermoor: the Trials of Morrigan Crow, Hachette Australia, 10 Oct 2017, 400pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9780734418074
This much anticipated debut novel from a young Queensland author doesn’t disappoint. It is an engaging and original fantasy that will delight fans of the Harry Potter stories.
The central character is Morrigan Crow, a child who is considered cursed by her society because she was born on an unlucky day and is doomed to die at midnight at Eventide. She is blamed by everyone for all sorts of misfortunes, including the dead kitchen cat, spoiled fish, floods in the north, old Tom’s heart attack and the gravy stains on the best tablecloth. Morrigan, living with her shallow stepmother and an ambitious father is resigned to her fate. But everything changes when the magnificent, if slightly odd, Jupiter North offers to be her patron and whisks her away from the jaws of death to the safety of a magical city called Nevermoor.
There Morrigan has to compete in four trials for a place in the prestigious Wondrous Society. Each competitor has a special talent, the only problem is that Morrigan has no idea what her talent is, and if she fails the trials she has to go back to her own miserable world. She makes a friend, one of the competitors, Hawthorne, and even grudgingly gets on good terms with North’s acerbic nephew, Jack. Morrigan herself is a self-reliant, sturdy little soul who has learnt to be independent but her need to belong somewhere, to have a family of sorts and a few real friends is palpable, and a potent driving force for the action.
Nevermoor is the centre of a wonderfully inventive fantastical world, peopled with strange creatures some taken from traditional fantasy stories such as dragons and unicorns and others new creations such as the Magnificat who is also the housekeeper at the hotel where Morrigan is staying, a vampiric dwarf and evil smoke hounds and shadow hunters. It is a complex world and Morrigan is constantly discovering bizarre ways of doing and thinking about ordinary everyday things.
As this is the first in a proposed trilogy, Townsend spends considerable effort setting up this new world but she never overwhelms the characters or the action. Her writing is brisk and energetic and full of a deliciously dark humour mainly manifested through Morrigan’s inner monologues. Here one can discover themes of belonging, family, friendship, and survival. There are also deft allusions to aspects of modern life, such as refugees and bureaucracy. These give weight and meaning to what, on the surface, is a delightful adventure fantasy, but is actually so much more. I am sure that many readers will look forward eagerly to the further adventures of Morrigan Crow.
Reviewed by Mia Macrossan