Author: Jay Kristoff
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Series? Yes, 1 of 3
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Harper Voyager Australia, in exchange for an honest review.
Note: This review will contain spoilers for Nevernight, the prequel of Godsgrave. It will NOT contain any spoilers for Godsgrave itself.
I read Nevernight last year and was quickly taken in by both the book’s darkness and its ever-present sense of self-deprecating humour. Godsgrave contains the same wicked delights that made Nevernight an entertaining read. The latter half of Godsgrave amped up the stakes and imbued the series with a fresh new direction. However, I felt the book’s exploration of slavery was rudimentary, especially considering the significance of the subject matter.
Let’s begin with the positives. With Godsgrave, we can see marked improvements in Jay Kristoff’s technical writing. While I enjoy descriptive and ornate writing, I have previously felt that Kristoff’s writing veered a little close to purple prose. The writing within this novel is more confident, with vivid imageries conjured by concise yet artful sentences. Like Nevernight, Godsgrave also features alternate narrative timelines. The main narration followed Mia as she slowly made her way into the arena of Godsgrave, and the ‘past’ narration documents why she decided to take this bloody and hopeless path.
The diverting and entertaining footnotes also makes a reappearance in Godsgrave. I know some reviewers found them a little info-dumpy, as they’re often used to add world building. However, Godsgrave manages to construct most of its relevant world building within the text itself, and I found the elaborations within the footnote hilarious. It hints at a larger, incredibly rich and diverse world – and I hope we will see more of this land, even beyond the lifetime of this particular trilogy. I would highly recommend reading the book in physical format if possible, so you can read the footnotes as you go along with relative ease.
Mia’s characterisation underwent significant growth within this novel, and I particularly liked the slow transition in her goals and motivations as the book went on. She’s a heroine who keeps the reader constantly engaged due to her unpredictable nature, and she constantly drives the plot forward – even when she begins to question her endgames. I also appreciated the exploration of Mia’s sexuality within this book, and was delighted to find positive representation within an extremely successful fantasy series.
Aside from Mia and her familiars, Mr Kindly and Eclipse, I found the rest of the characters in this book to lack in terms of depth and development. A familiar face returns in this sequel, and while I loved the role that she had to play – I felt she was not as memorable as she had been in Nevernight. I also found the plot lost its direction at times, perhaps owing to Mia’s own internal turmoils causing her to question her own agenda. Thankfully, the final arc of Godsgrave is where Mia finds her footing again, and the book becomes an addictive page-turner within these final pages.
I had mixed feelings regarding how the book dealt with the topic of slavery. As soon as I saw the synopsis which tells us ‘Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium…’, signalling a story centering the experience of someone in a position to chooses to become a slave, I was nervous about how the plot would unfold. Mia had powers and a set of skills which would allow her to escape captivity and enslavement at any point, unlike her fellow gladiators. Fortunately, the book does address her privilege, and a significant part of the final third in Godsgrave is dedicated to Mia finally coming to terms with her privileges. However, Godsgrave also had a tendency to glorify the brutal battles that unfolded within the gladiatorial ring, and glossing over the suffering of Mia’s fellow captives. I wish these issues were examined in more details. The book’s resolution for this particular issue felt incredibly wishful and rang false.
The Bottom Line: I felt Godsgrave was a worthy sequel to Nevernight, although it had issues in terms of pacing. I also hope to see serious topics given more consideration when they are written into these fictional storylines. While Godsgrave excelled in terms of bisexual representation, it missed the mark when it attempted to discuss the topic of slavery.