Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff

(9.2/10) A brilliant, devastating, and worthy conclusion filled with big moments and bigger surprises.

Book of the Year 2019 (see all)

“See my shadow changing,
Stretching up and over me.
Soften this old armor.
Hoping I can clear the way
By stepping through my shadow,
Coming out the other side.
Step into the shadow.
Forty-six and two just ahead of me.”

- Maynard James Keenan

Gather round, O gentlefriends, for it is time to learn the final fate of our beloved assassin/lover/gladiator/shadowmaster/murderqueen Mia Corvere, the Girl with a Story to Tell. Jay Kristoff has penned his most massive and massively rewarding volume to date for the final entry to his Nevernight Chronicle. Darkdawn is a brilliant, devastating, and worthy conclusion filled with big moments and bigger surprises. Add me to Mia’s kill list because this book hath done slain me.

Don’t mention the word “hero” around Mia unless you wish to see what your tongue would look like pinned to the ceiling. Mia would have none of it, as she cares not for the political climate of the world at large. If her actions change the ruling class for the better, so be it. If (as told in the prologue of Nevernight) it leaves the entire city of Godsgrave as a riddled mass of ruin at the bottom of the ocean, well… she told you not to mess with her family. This is the heart of Mia’s story, and everything that drives her forward: there is nothing she won’t do for her family. It’s all she has. When all is blood, blood is all. Over the years, her family has expanded outside her bloodline into those who care for her, love her, and wish to serve and protect her. Mia struggles to decide if this is a strength or a weakness, as love can be used against her…

“She wasn’t a hero, driven by the cruelty and injustice of the Republic. She was a killer, driven by the pure and burning desire for revenge.”

Love plays a central role in this book, with much higher stakes than in previous entries. The shocking reveal from the final word of Godsgrave combined with what Mia faces after the stunt at the end of the Venatus Magni sets up a dramatic series of decisions for Mia to reckon with. Not to mention the fact that she’s now the John Wick of Itreya, with every assassin in the country trying to kill her and everyone she loves. Things get messy, but never predictable. Kristoff always seems to zag when you think the story is going to zig, and the final third of the story takes so many sharp turns, it’s best just to stop thinking and hold on. (And bring some tissues.)

But not all is doom and gloom, gentlefriends. This wouldn’t be a Nevernight Chronicle if the ultraviolence wasn’t once again offset by cutting and self-deprecating humor. In addition to the oft-hilarious, encyclopedic footnotes, Kristoff ventures into new territory as the book goes meta, breaking the fourth wall in a clever and unforeseen way. To say any more would ruin one of the bigger surprises of the story, but the manner in which this is utilized is a powerful statement on the strength of words over weapons.

If I may share one minor complaint: there are certain metaphors that were hit a bit too early and often. “His eyes were black as centuries. The silence was deep as centuries. Her eyes were endless pools of blackness. His eyes were endless black pools, deep as centuries.” I’m not quoting word for word in every case, but it’s close. After a while, the impact of the imagery’s effect lessened with each usage.

There are several differences in this book that stood out from the previous two entries that I quite enjoyed. First, Darkdawn has more changing POVs than the other two combined. Mia is still the centerpiece of the story, but we do venture away from her on a handful of occasions. Although brief, these viewpoints offered new perspectives and important revelations that we wouldn’t have learned from Mia’s path alone.

Kristoff also continues to play with the formatting of the text on the page, and new tricks are being used once again. It’s a bit reminiscent of e e cummings – if cummings had a penchant for smut and evisceration – and it adds yet another layer of gloss to the story’s package.

Even the chapter titles are mysterious until its poignancy is revealed in the narrative. I was often surprised at how much power a one-word chapter title could have, yet Kristoff achieved this feat time and again. It proved to me how much effort the author worked into constructing every facet of this story, from the intricate planning of the plot across three volumes, to the powerful chapter titles, to the way the text looks the first time Mia
discovers
she
can
do
something
amazing.

“I am a daughter of the dark between the stars. I am the thought that wakes the bastards of this world sweating in the nevernight. I am the vengeance of every orphaned daughter, every murdered mother, every bastard son. I am the war you cannot win.”

Conclusions are hard to do. How can you satisfy an audience after such a thrilling buildup? If you’re seeking Big Moments, this book is just lousy with them. Whether you’re pumping your fist or definitely-in-no-way-crying-nope-not-me, Kristoff has saved his best for last, delivering powerful, emotional, game-changing reveals meant to shock, stun, and grind you to a pulp. As Mia’s prestige rises, all her wins feels earned and it is immensely satisfying. Every victory, however small, is clawed for with every ounce of effort available. You feel with Mia. You hurt with Mia. And you certainly lose with Mia. If you’ve read this far, you don’t need my recommendation, you’ll be buying this book no matter what. Be assured that Darkdawn solidifies the Nevernight Chronicles as one of fantasy’s all-time greats.

ARC via Edelweiss.

Darkdawn will be released September 3, 2019.
Adam Weller, 9.7/10

Darkdawn finally proves that the pen is mightier than the sword and delivers pure, electrifying escapism.

“I am a daughter of the dark between the stars.” “I am the thought that wakes the bastards of this world sweating in the nevernight. I am the vengeance of every orphaned daughter, every murdered mother, every bastard son.” “I am the war you cannot win.”

I have had quite a few highly anticipated reads arrive this year, but I can honestly say that Darkdawn was in the top three. It had its place upon that mantle because of the tour de force that is the first two books in the series, Nevernight & Godsgrave, and I was over the moon to finally get the chance to read it and see if it could earn it’s place among its siblings as a fantasy legend. The wait had me in mind of a key feature of the series though, which seems apt. Two and a half years of sunshine, followed by a couple of weeks of nighttime. Night hath arrived, O Gentlefriends, and it’s time to join Mia in her final quest for vengeance.

The events at the end of Godsgrave left most of us open-mouthed with astonishment and most likely in a state of shock. So much changed in the blink of a few pages. And yet, so much stayed the same too. Darkdawn hits the ground running, submerging us back in the moment mere seconds after that conclusion. Everything is balanced on a knife’s edge and there is no telling which way it will go. As you well know by now though, Mia won’t blink. She never flinches, never fears, and never forgets. That is the full extent to which I will discuss the plot though, in order to avoid spoiling anything, even more so in a final book of a series.

“He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves” Old oriental proverb of unknown provenance

Character development has been top notch throughout the series and it has been  a joy to see the growth of Mia and all the other cast members as they progressed through the trilogy. While Mia is the star of the show, and fittingly has the best scenes, there were a number of moments in Darkdawn where the supporting cast were allowed to shine. This is never more evident than with Mr Kristoff’s inspired decision to incorporate multiple POV’s and specifically, Mercurio’s viewpoint. I liked him throughout the series, but getting to know him and his true feelings through his POV in Darkdawn added layers to this character that heretofore were sorely missed, giving the curmudgeonly old man a chance to shine and revealing the complex feelings that raising Mia instilled in him. As a bonus it seamlessly complements some of the themes evident throughout the series of family, friends and the people we choose to fill those roles. Speaking of friendship I was overjoyed that characters that appeared previously were also given more page time to further develop and that they were not just once-off friends Mia made, consigned to a specific book in this trilogy. It rounded out the cast nicely, with characters such as Cloud Corleone proving immensely enjoyable additions to the story. (I was tempted to quote one of his favourite sayings here, but will abstain so that Darkdawn readers may experience it firsthand.)

The world that the author created in the first two books is expanded tenfold in Darkdawn. The machinations afoot necessitate lots of travel throughout the book and much more of the world is introduced and explored. This expansion is not restricted to physical locations though and the mysteries around darkin and the overarching plot are at last dragged out of the shadows and exposed. Revelation upon revelation, and it was O, so fascinating! It is a pity that we won't be returning to Itreya as I feel the future of this world is brimming with exciting new stories, but I can't complain too much as I am a supporter of ending a story before it out stays its welcome.

The action brought with it every ounce of thrilling shadow-werking I hoped for, with many a nerve-wracking moment (I may or may not have scared a cat with my savage, elated fistpump once or twice) and enough splatters of gory action to satisfy the bloodthirstiest of us.

“You know what they say. What doesn’t kill me had better fucking run.”

The epic final battle is a nail-biting dark-fest of sheer power and will and is one that will be burned into your mind for awhile. All-encompassing, brutal and thrilling, it is one that has far reaching consequences, changing this world forever. My personal favourite scene though took place aboard a ship in the middle of a storm of unimaginable fury, with Mia beset on all sides by enemies, some desperately foolish and some vastly, terrifyingly, spine chillingly beyond her. I kid you not friends. You can mostly be confident in the course of your reading adventures that your main character will survive somehow. Well, at least to the grand finale. Usually. 

MUHAHAHAHAHA (Yeah, that’s Mr Kristoff with his black & twisted heart, just laughing away)

Naah, don’t stress. You just know this book is filled with unicorns and fluffiness and you should cast aside those comforts, O Gentlefriends. The Maw’s hunger runs deep. Book by book, the prose has grown stronger and a special mention must go to the clever use of text format throughout the series and also the page format. The way words are printed on the page to convey certain actions, or the way a whole page can be formatted slightly differently to impart a specific feeling - sheer genius. Even the chapter titles were a joy. And then there was the fourth wall breaking… Just... WOAH. What a brilliantly delightful moment, resulting in my favourite version of this narrative technique EVER. I have a feeling I am going to buy more Jay Kristoff books, including different versions of some I already own. Somewhere out there Jay Kristoff is slowly spinning around in his chair, slowly stroking that little black grimalkin, and getting ready to monologue, all with a wicked grin on his face. Well played sir, well played.

And thus the sun sets on the Nevernight Chronicles. The Girl with a Story to Tell, has told it. And this reader has loved it.*

Thank you, Mr Kristoff.

*Footnote / Caveat lector
Loved it, but no higher than 8 out of 10? Yes, I hear you. I have not been entirely forthcoming, gentlefriends. Oh, I could have LOVED (Yes, all capitals) Darkdawn. It would have gotten ALL THE STABBY STARS IN THE WORLD. 10/10... But... the non spoiler reason for this is that there is a romance in the story that is a major part of the plot and I hated it with every part of my being, because one of the characters did an unforgivable thing in my opinion. As Mr Darcy said: “My good opinion once lost is lost forever.”

THE END

Ok, wait. Just to clarify - The rest of the book is pretty damn awesome though.

THE END.

AGAIN.
Eon Van Aswegen, 8/10

“I am a daughter of the dark between the stars. I am the thought that wakes the bastards of this world sweating in the nevernight. I am the vengeance of every orphaned daughter, every murdered mother, every bastard son. I am the war you cannot win.”

Revenge is a dish best served with death, copious amounts of it dealt out by a merciless hand. And we all knew this would end in blood. It had to. Mia has been working towards her bloody goals for a long time and for the first time they are within her reach.

She has become a total bad-ass. Well, she was one from the beginning except now her skills match her arrogant attitude. She knew what she had inside of her; she knew what she could become: she just had to get there. I had no doubts that she would get everything she desired because of her raw passion and anger. It’s unrelenting and totally unstoppable. And that’s her greatest strength and she knows exactly how to use it.

“My name is Mia Corvere. Blade of the Red Church. Champion of the Venatus Magni. Chosen of the Dark Mother and Queen of Scoundrels. Never call me girl again.”

Her enemies were once held in reverence by herself. She once looked up to them and was impressed by their power and talents. Now she has more than them. She is stronger. She is smarter. And she is going to kill them all like a master slaying an apprentice. And for the first time her opponents truly started to take her seriously. Her achievements speak for themselves and have earnt her a huge amount of begrudgingly potent respect.

So when death comes knocking they will be ready for it. And what transpires are some of the most well written actions scenes I've ever had the pleasure to read. They are raw and they are real. And I think Kristoff has truly honed his craft as a writer here. The blade he wields has a very sharp edge and he uses it to deadly effect to bring this series to a close with a bloody flourish. Nothing is left unanswered. And all blood is spilt.

I have no complaints. This book was everything it needed to be to bring this trilogy to a close. And what a trilogy it is. One of the best in the genre. It’s pretty much action layered on top of fantastic storytelling with complex characters from the get-go. And that may sound like a very generic and basic thing to say about a book, but how often do authors truly get this formula right? There’s almost always something wrong, some small way in which a writer could up their game or a major way if the book is trash.

So I will end by simply stating this: there is no way this book could have been any better
Sean Barrs, 10/10

Reviews by and Eon Van Aswegen and Sean Barrs

Our interview with Jay Kristoff

Alice Wybrew interviews Jay Kristoff, author of the recently published Japanese-inspired steampunk fantasy, Stormdancer.Congratulations on publishing your first book! Tell us a bit about Stormdancer (is it true you got the id [...]

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Darkdawn reader reviews

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All reviews for Jay Kristoff's The Nevernight Chronicle series

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