Dina Recommends: Nevermoor

Hello and welcome back to Dina Recommends, the occasional blog post where Dina (that’s me) presents books, movies, podcasts and other entertainment that I think deserves more attention and more fans!

So, we all know Harry Potter, right? Yes, I know… silly question… For years now, any kid’s or YA book or movie with even the slightest hint of magic or whimsy have been billed as “the next Harry Potter” or “if you liked Harry Potter, you’ll love this.” Usually, this claim is… not strictly true. I’ve started on more than one of those “in the style of Harry Potter” books and found that it wasn’t in that style at all… there might be a few aspects that kindasortamaybe reminded me of Harry Potter, but they were generally rather superficial… but the main problem was that most of these books were rather dull and unremarkable. Usually they were the sort of books I’d read and then forget about. And, I mean, there are a lot of criticisms you could aim at Harry Potter (lots of people do!) but “forgettable” is not one of them.

But, this brings us to the recently started Nevermoor series, by Jessica Townsend.

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Because this Nevermoor is the first book series I’ve read where I personally DID find it in the style of Harry Potter. When I read the first Nevermoor series, it recaptured the feeling of those first Harry Potter books for me. The same feeling of whimsy and magic, and a new and exciting world with colourful and memorable characters… and the same feeling of a light and comedic surface hiding darker and more sinister things under the surface. There’s also, especially in the early chapters, a hint of the Series of Unfortunate Events books… but THANKFULLY without the constant annoying harping on what a bleak and gruesome story this is.  

The Nevermoor books follow a young girl named Morrigan Crow, who lives in a city called Jackalfax, in the Great Wolfacre state in the Wintersea Republic… a place that’s a little like our world but has some clear differences. For example, there are creatures like dragons, centaurs and Magnificats (giant talking cats) around, even if most people never see them… power and electricity comes from a magical source known as “wunder”… and there are a few children born who are “cursed children,” which essentially means that they are magnets for misfortune, and are doomed to die young. Morrigan is such a cursed child, and she knows she’s going to die on her eleventh birthday. Which comes around at the beginning of the book, and the mysterious Hunt of Smoke and Shadow have shown up to kill her…

But there wouldn’t have been much of a story if she died only a couple of chapters in, so she’s rescued at the last moment by a man named Jupiter North, Captain of the Wundrous Society, who takes her to safety in the secret magical state of Nevermoor. Where, conveniently, the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow can’t go, so Morrigan is safe from them. She’s set up to stay at the magical Hotel Deucalion, which Jupiter owns, where rooms change depending on the inhabitant’s moods, the housekeeper is a sarcastic Magnificat and the event planner is a vampire dwarf named Frank.

Problem is just that in order to get Morrigan to Nevermoor, Jupiter kiiiind of had to smuggle her in illegally. And if the Nevermoor police force, especially the pesky and suspicious Inspector Flintlock, discovers that Morrigan is an illegal immigrant, she’ll be deported back to Jackalfax where the Hunt will probably be waiting for her. So her one chance to stay in Nevermoor is to join the Wundrous Society herself, because members of the Society can’t be prosecuted. But in order to join the Society, she’ll have to compete in the Four Trials for a place in the Society… and she’ll compete against hundreds of other children, who all have some sort of exceptional or supernatural talent. And as far as Morrigan knows, she doesn’t HAVE any talents like that, unless you count being cursed.

Luckily she has the help of Jupiter and the staff of Hotel Deucalion, and even another participant of the Trials… a boy named Hawthorne, whose exceptional talent is that he’s great at taming and riding dragons. But can she really get through all the trials without a special talent? Can she keep dodging Inspector Flintlock? And… who exactly is this mysterious “Wundersmith” that everyone in Nevermoor is so scared of?

Like I said, the tone and feel of Nevermoor books definitely reminded me of the early Harry Potter books, especially with the many colourful characters and the feeling that there is a huge magical world out there… but also with the lively and imaginative dialogue and quirky turns of phrase, and not least with the abundance of little mysteries and “whodunnit/what’s going on” side plots that all have their twists and turns. It even mirrors the HP series in that while a couple of the plot twists are a little predictable, there were a number of twists that genuinely surprised me. 

But Nevermoor surpasses Harry Potter on a couple of important points. Morrigan, for example, is a more complex and interesting character than Harry ever was. There is also a lot more going on around her, and her main villain is also (so far) more complex than the somewhat shallow Voldemort…

…and Jupiter North, one of the coolest supporting adults in a kid’s book ever, is kind of like a mix of Arthur Weasley and Willy Wonka, with perhaps a hint of Mary Poppins somewhere in there. 

But thankfully, while inspirations are clear, Nevermoor never feels like it’s trying to outright copy other works. It uses a lot of familiar tropes and storytelling tricks, but puts its own spin on them.

Whether or not the Nevermoor series will turn out to be as big as the HP series… well, probably not, but it remains to be seen. At the time of writing there are two books out (Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, and Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow), with a third one (Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow) slated to be published next year. I think there’s talk of a series of nine books in the end, so I’m definitely following the developments with great interest. 

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