“Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow” by Jessica Townsend is a middle grade fantasy about Morrigan Crow who, at the start of the novel, is fated to die before her eleventh birthday. She is a “cursed” child, whose very presence brings bad luck to those around her.
Her mother is dead, and she lives with her extremely horrible father, her emotionally distant stepmother, and her grandmother. Only her grandmother even marginally appears to feel affection for Morrigan. In one terribly sad scene, Morrigan hears her father talking about how it would make more sense to educate his hunting dogs because Morrigan will not live much longer.
But Morrigan’s life changes when she is allowed to attend a kind of graduation ceremony at which children are given bids by different entities to enable them to continue their education. To everyone’s surprise, include Morrigan’s most of all, she gets four bids. She ends up with Jupiter North, and they make a daring escape from the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, who are set to kill Morrigan, and go to Nevermoor.
The story is filled with lovely fantastic ideas. Morrigan lives in Jupiter North’s hotel, the Deucalion, which contains myriad mystical rooms. One room is the Smoking Parlor. Townsend describes it:
“The Smoking Parlor wasn’t a room where guests were allowed to smoke pipes and cigars, to Morrigan’s relief, but in fact a room that emitted great rolling clouds of colored, scented smoke that seems to pour from the walls themselves. This afternoon it was a murky green sage smoke (‘to promote the art of philosophization,’ Jupiter told her), but a schedule on the door informed her that later that evening the smoke would change to honeysuckle (‘for romance’) and, late at night, to lavender (‘to aid the sleepless’).”
There is the brolly line, where it’s necessary to have an umbrella to ride. There is the secret room that Morrigan is able to unlock with her special umbrella, gifted to her by Jupiter North. There is Jupiter himself, a sweet and kind man who is half father-figure and half friend and mentor, but also extremely mysterious. He disappears for long stretches of time on various missions and appears, often at the last minute, when necessary.
Other characters include a human-sized cat, Fenestra, who is the main housekeeper at the hotel and Frank, the vampire dwarf. Her best friend is Hawthorne, and he is competing in the trials as well.
Morrigan must vie for entrance to the Wundrous Society, an elite society where once accepted, one’s life of comfort is assured. Everyone who is trying to be accepted in the society has a knack, or skill, that they will use during the trials. Of the many hundreds vying for entrance, only nine will be accepted.
Morrigan is also worried about failing the trials because Jupiter brought her to Nevermoor illegally, and if she fails, she will be deported and then found and killed by the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow. Other residents of Nevermoor make much of the fact that Morrigan is an illegal, an unpleasant reminder of current political times in real life.
The trials are all different, and Morrigan seems to win at least one of them purely by chance. But the twist at the end explains several of the mysterious things that have happened to Morrigan throughout the almost 500-page novel.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Little, Brown and Company, for review purposes.