by Jay Kristoff
Publication: August 9, 2016
My rating: 3/5 stars
Nevernight is an adult (emphasis on 'adult') fantasy set in a world that, according to the author, is "a collision between ancient Rome and merchant prince Venice." It's dark and incredibly gory, which is unsurprising for a book about teens training to become assassins. There's as much backstabbing as you'd expect (often literally), plus a massive dose of hormone-induced drama.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I'd originally rated it four stars, but lowered the rating to three when I actually analyzed the aspects I disliked to write my review and found they were affected more of the story than I'd previously realized. Normally, I wouldn't feature a book that I'd rated lower than four stars, but I developed the recipe before writing the review. Besides, the worldbuilding deserved a food-based nod, even if other parts of the novel didn't.
Something to get out of the way regarding prose: it's flowery, guys. Whether that comes across as artistic or abrasive is likely to vary between readers. For me, it dovetailed with the detailed worldbuilding in a way reminiscent of (but not on the same skill level as) Tolkien; that is, if you've created a cool enough world, you're allowed to describe it in semi-obnoxious detail.
That brings me to the subject of the footnotes. Intended as a sometimes-humorous way to relay more information about the politics, religion, and culture of the setting than would've been possible following only the main character, the footnotes were more of a frustration than an asset to the story. They yanked me out of the limited third-person perspective, essentially throwing away beautifully close psychic distance in favor of history lessons. From a physical standpoint, they were clunky -- in print editions, they sometimes took up half a page; in electronic ones, they were formatted as endnotes that had to be navigated using links.
While the setting was incredible and the prose's quirks were often effective, this felt like it was meant to be a character-driven story. On that level, I think it failed. The main character is Mia Corvere, the disenfranchised remnant of a ruined noble family. Her character voice is strong and her backstory and motive are compelling, but she's very obviously a teenage girl written by an adult man. (For other places where the author's demographic makes things weird, see: the extremely explicit sex scenes and the recurring fixation on breasts.) Although I appreciated that the depth of development that went into Mia's character was also applied to side and minor characters, I still felt that plot was this book's real driving factor.
Final verdict? I'd recommend Nevernight to readers who enjoy dark, high-concept fantasy. I'll read the sequel, but in a 'wait until my library obtains a digital copy' way, not a 'rush out and buy it' way.
Recipe Mia describes Fat Daniio's chili as "surprisingly spicy"; I aimed for maximum spiciness while retaining edibility, but you can adjust the number of chiles up or down to taste. Obviously, the number of canned ingredients makes this closer to authentic American cuisine than something from high fantasy, but I also doubt Daniio would've used any kind of meat I'd want to eat, so...we're trying to get the experience of the dish, not an exact copy.
4 ancho chiles
4 cloves garlic
1 yellow onion
1 serrano chile
1 jalapeño chile
3 tbsp olive oil
1 can diced green chiles (mild)
4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
29-oz can tomato puree
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin
2 tbsp chili powder
2 cups broth of choice (match the meat or use vegetable broth)
16-oz can kidney beans in chili sauce
30-oz can chili beans in chili sauce
1 lb lean ground meat (optional)
Soak the ancho chiles in 1 1/2 cups hot water for half an hour to soften.
Meanwhile, dice the onion and mince the garlic and the seeded serrano and jalapeño chiles. Saute the chopped vegetables in the olive oil in a large soup pot. When the onions are translucent, add the diced green chiles. Remove the chipotle chiles from their sauce and remove the seeds; slice into thin strips and add to pot, along with 2-4 tablespoons of adobo sauce. Reduce heat to low.
Squeeze the liquid from the softened ancho chiles and remove the seeds, rinsing if necessary. Do not discard the soaking water! Strain it into a food processor or blender to remove any stray seeds and add the ancho chiles. Blend until a smooth sauce has formed; add sauce to the soup pot.
To the pot, add the tomato puree, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, black pepper, cumin, chili powder, and broth; stir to combine and simmer, covered, for at least an hour, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary.
After an hour, add both cans of beans. If using unseasoned beans, drain and rinse. If using meat, brown in a skillet and drain, then add to pot. Cook another hour, stirring and adding liquid as needed. Serve hot, preferably with crusty bread!