Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.
But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.
It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart–an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests–or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.

I found this first instalment of a new series by Jessica Townsend absolutely delightful. It’s been compared to Harry Potter, but actually there are few similarities. This first book has none of the clunky learner-prose of The Philosopher’s Stone – the writing is confident and accomplished throughout, peppered with sumptuous description, well-rounded characters and lovely dialogue that put me more in mind of a Studio Ghibli film.

Even more astonishingly, this great story doesn’t feel at all derivative. While Rowling as clearly drawn from The Worst Witch and The Lord of the Rings, Townsend’s story is gloriously free from tired character tropes and clich├ęs. Yes, there is an air of witch hunt in the way that Morrigan is treated, but she faces this with dry humour, and even takes in her stride the extraordinary revelations about the Wundrous Society. She tries hard – she certainly doesn’t want to be beaten by cheaters – but she’s not a princess, a victim of her unfortunately upbringing or typical heroine. In this, she’s more like Pullman’s Lyra than the gifted but long-suffering genius Hermione or troubled hero Harry.

I don’t want to give too much away about the trials Morrigan faces, or the extraordinary people she meets – that would spoil the magic for you – and I highly recommend you give this lovely book a try. It’s ideal for younger (10+) – and older – people who have enjoyed Harry Potter, the books of Garth Nix, Northern Lights, and other magical stories.

The Trials of Morrigan Crow is out now – thank you to Orion Children’s books for the proof.

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