“Conquer your fear, and you can conquer the world” – Jay Kristoff, Godsgrave (p.144).
Godsgrave is the second thrilling installment of the award-winning Nevernight Chronicle, from New York Times bestselling author Jay Kristoff. Released in North America on September 5th, 2017, Godsgrave has already received a plethora of stellar reviews, with editorial reviewers raving about this original piece of literature, calling it “sexier, grittier, bloodier and fiercer” than its predecessor. And I have to agree – fans of Nevernight will adore this second installment, even as Kristoff effectively rips their hearts to pieces.
In a land where three suns almost never set, a ruthless assassin continues her quest for vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family. Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church hierarchy think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending the men who destroyed her familia; in fact, she’s told directly that Consul Scaeva is off limits. But after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia’s suspicions about the Red Church’s true motives begin to grow. When it’s announced that Scaeva will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end him. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between love and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.
“In every breath, hope abides” – Jay Kristoff, Godsgrave, p.181.
As with Nevernight Jay Kristoff blew me away with the sheer complexity of the plot, the depth of the characters and the scope of world-building in Godsgrave. And, of course, as with Nevernight, Godsgrave is filled to the brim with sassy characters, violence, death, sex, swearing and general savagery – so be warned, this certainly is not a series for the faint of heart (or anyone under the age of about 16, generally speaking).
Godsgrave picks up some time after the conclusion of Nevernight, and, as with its predecessor, Godsgrave begins with two timelines – one detailing the events leading up to Mia’s current position as a slave to a gladiatorial collegium, and Mia’s current predicament (aka her struggles as a gladiatorii). In the prior, Mia is serving as a Blade (aka an assassin) for the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, despite the fact that many in the Red Church hierarchy think she’s far from earned it. Yet they can’t complain, due to the amount of requests for Mia’s services from an “anonymous” client. This timeline progresses in tandem with the latter, with Kristoff never revealing too much (in order to maintain the mystique of Mia’s goals as a gladiatorii). While this type of storytelling can be complex and confusing, Kristoff really makes it work (again). And, on the flip side, this type of storytelling allows readers to get into the action right away, with Kristoff providing the necessary background information through timely flashbacks and footnotes.
Yes, you read that right – footnotes. For those who have already read Nevernight, you’ll be familiar with this relatively unique method of storytelling. And while I’ve heard complaints about telling a story this way, I actually really like it. It’s a great way to provide the reader with lots of historical and background information for a plethora of things (locations, character background, random tidbits of seemingly useless information) without making the readers suffer through non-stop info dumping.
Now – on to the actual story. As mentioned above, Godsgrave is once again filled to the brim with sassy characters, violence, death, sex, swearing and general savagery – but for fans of Nevernight, this is hardly unexpected (to be honest, it was more anticipated than anything else!). The actual story itself was superb – though in the interest of keeping this review as spoiler-free as possible, I won’t delve too deeply into details. Anyways, as I said, Kristoff seamlessly wove the past and present to craft a wonderfully convoluted and complex story. From Mia’s experience as a slave, to her search for information about her past and her powers, to her crusade for truth and revenge, Kristoff weaves multiple quests into a cohesive tale of love, loss and redemption.
On love – Kristoff once again challenges the limits of sexuality within the typical confines of the Fantasy genre, including a female/female relationship and LGBTQ2+ characters. While this type of diversity is becoming more common in the Fantasy genre, it is still far from common, and it is great to see representation of a group that has historically been absent from this genre. Most importantly though, Mia and her romantic interests are not side-plot points or throw-away attempts at diversity – this representation is very much at the center of this plot, with Mia’s relationship and the exploration of her sexuality a key element to the plot on several occasions.
About Mia – she’s really the only primary character in Godsgrave, though her plight/plan is assisted by her shadowy partners (Mister Kindly and Eclipse), the other slaves/gladiatorii that serve at her gladiatorial collegium, and some unlikely partners, including her former mentor Mercurio, and a dangerous partner from her past. But at its core, this is once again a story about Mia’s journey of discovery. As Mia seeks revenge for her murdered familia, she finds more than she bargained for as secrets about her past, her parents’ lives and the identity of her brother (who she once thought dead) are slowly revealed, culminating with the most earth-shattering truth of all. Mia’s journey is about more than just self-discovery though – it is also about rediscovering her humanity, which she lost along the way in pursuit of her revenge. But serving alongside men and women who have no hope for a future beyond that of being a slave, Mia begins to realize that she has the ability to do more than just find justice for the wrongs done to her familia.
Overall, this was an outstanding novel. From Mia’s character development, to the complex and flawlessly woven story, to the sheer scale of world-building that Kristoff undertook, Godsgrave not only lives up to the hype of its predecessor, it perhaps shines even a little bit brighter (5/5).