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Nevermoor: The Trails of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

It’s funny how readers are often contrary people. When a book is really hyped by various marketing forces and reviewers, we so often resist reading it. I sometimes wonder, why? Is because we don’t want to be told what we should enjoy and rave about? Or is that a small part of us fears we’ll be duped and have our high expectations dashed, resent the time and money spent, and bear witness to the poor author being made a bit of a commercial scapegoat? Maybe it’s a bit of both.

I think a little bit of me felt that way with this book, Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend, yet another part of me longed to read it and celebrate in this young woman’s success as her work is likened to Harry Potter and picked up by a major film company. But another part of me thought, what if they’re wrong? I don’t want to be one of those thinking, “yep, I shouldn’t have listened and trusted my cynical instincts…”

Well, now I’ve read it, I understand both the comparisons to Harry Potter (and other children’s classics) and the hype. This is a simply delightful tale that will capture both children’s and adults’ imaginations and succour those who’ve been clamouring for something creatively nourishing in a new Potter story’s absence (despite there being so many magnificent children’s works out there!).

Nevermoor tells the tale of eleven-year-old (and yes, savvy readers will point out the many similarities between the tropes and characters in Townsend’s book and other writers (Pullman, Rowling, Dahl; etc etc.) I have no problem with familiar metaphors and devices being used – after all, they’re staples of kids’ literature and have thrilled generations. It’s how they’re used that’s important and Townsend doesn’t disappoint) Morrigan Crow who, as a “cursed child” is doomed to die upon her next birthday.

The first few chapters give the reader insight into Morrigan’s life, why she’s “cursed” and how she’s very much an outcast, not only in the city in which she lives, but within her own remote family. Blamed for everything from weather events to illness and even deaths, Morrigan is avoided, treated with suspicion and contempt and the reality of her looming death discussed with an unhealthy enthusiasm by everyone around her.

When she’s whisked away by the magnificently bearded and named, Jupiter North to the chaotic and marvellous city of Nevermoor, it looks as though Morrigan’s fortunes have taken a turn for the better. Only, this state of joy is short-lived as in order to remain in the relative safety of Nevermoor, Morrigan has to undergo a series of dreadful trials so she, as an “illegal”, can be admitted to the Wundrous Society – a group that function like the family she’s never had and, deep down, always wanted.

But in order to have that membership she craves, Morrigan needs to demonstrate not only some important personal qualities, but a special talent and, as she well knows, she doesn’t possess one. Even so, there are those who will do everything in their power to stop talentless Morrigan not only succeeding, but even competing for they know something about Morrigan she is yet to learn and which can alter the fate of not just this young girl, but countries.

There’s no doubt, Townsend has an engaging and warm style and it’s easy to not only enter the world she creates, but thoroughly enjoy the lighter and darker aspects of it. I was reminded of Enid Blyton’s books, Mary Poppins, Philip Pullman’s works, as well as the Harry Potter series, for her ability to draw us in and create scenes you could see, smell, touch and taste. Conjuring wonderful images of magic and mayhem, the city of Nevermoor, and those who people it, are indeed, “wundrous” as are the many inventive trials, modes of transport, the organic, sentient buildings and celebrations the citizens enjoy.

From giant cats to zombies, witches, umbrella-transport systems, the “gossamer line”, and vampire dwarves, Nevermoor and Morrigan’s time there is never dull. Viewing this strange world through her eyes, we too come to embrace this charming place and all the strange beings with their stringent rules who inhabit it. While some of the villains are drawn diametrically to the heroes, this is not a bad thing in a series designed for kids (or adults for that matter), and there are still those who confound expectations.

In this case, the book certainly lived up to my initially hesitant expectations and I am already thinking of some young people who would be as enchanted as I was by this really wundrous tale – I cannot wait to introduce them to Nevermoor.

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