Review: Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

Book info:
Form: pdf file, e-book
Genre: Poe-inspired fantasy/romance
Target audience: YA


What can a blonde cheerleader extraordinaire and a Goth oddball wearing eyeliner have in common? They attend the same school and they’ve just paired for an English literature project by a mean professor. Neither Isobel Lanley nor Varen Nethers are exactly thrilled – he perceives her as a pink Barbie doll without brains, she thinks he drinks blood and sleeps in a coffin just to shock people and prove he can. Still both of them need a good grade and so they decide to work on that project and it starts their big adventure with Edgar Alan Poe and the world of dark fantasy resembling a bit the court of Unseelie, dark faeries from Irish mythology of the Daoine Sidhe.

Yes, they fall in love in-between – Isobel finds herself making excuses and lying just to be with Varen a little bit longer (unfortunately we don’t know what Varen thinks because the novel is narrated from Isobel’s POV). Steadily pulled away from her old circle of friends and a possessive football player of a boyfriend she ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world, seeing and talking to strange creature nobody can see or hear. She meets a man called Reynolds but is he real? Why does he look as if he jumped straight from another era? Will he help her to explore the mystery around Varen and his black notebook he carries whenever he goes?

What I liked:
Firstly let me say that the blurb didn’t make me warm up to this novel. Nevermore had the potential to be incredible, but also incredibly bad. First of all it is the first part of another YA series grrrr. Unfinished series to add (double grrrr but don’t let your dog hear you). Secondly a cheerleader girl is more often than not somebody I wouldn’t like to meet or read about – for plethora of reasons. Yes, plethora – one of these words your ordinary cheerleader from different YA stories would  confuse with a fancy, old musical instrument from France.  Still I, like most people in their right mind, love and appreciate poems and stories of Edgar Allan Poe and I have been informed that the male hero is a Goth kid who loves Poe to no end. What’s more I’ve been assured by my dear Heidenking in her great review that this book doesn’t feature any vampires, werewolves or angels, fallen or otherwise,  so I decided to give this one a chance.
Edgar Allan Poe
Cover of Edgar Allan Poe
yeah, chicks dig moustache
I have to admit I didn’t expect to be caught in the story as much as I did. I ended up reading the book in two sittings without noticing the passing hours. Why? Oh it is such a page-turner for YA and adult readers because the author cleverly and skillfully weaves many known facts about Poe’s life and mysterious death into the plot. She relates Poe’s works with the mysteries of a haunted ‘dreamland’ similar to the domain of elves from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Suzanna Clarke (if you read and liked the magical aspect of that one you will enjoy Nevermore as well – different epoch, similar athmosphere) AND then she adds a well-know high school plot to it.
I’d also add the character setting to the number of advantages. Isobel is at first just your ordinary empty-headed cheerleader but then she shows her mettle confronting all the stereotypes and tropes – she starts reading Poe (ok, skimming more like, not being an avid reader and Poe not being a very easy author to read), she dares dump her boyfriend, she almost turns her entire life inside out just to find out more about Varen. 

I loved especially one short, funny scene when Isobel, visiting Varen’s house and looking at his childhood photo, discovers something truly shocking about him:

You’re really a blond,” she said, her tone just short of accusatory.

“And if you tell anyone, I will come to you in the night and smote your everlasting soul.” 

As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind. Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares – a very ambitious task for a cheerleader or a teenage girl I suppose.

The best part is that neither Isobel nor Varen are perfect creatures, both are textured and layered. Ms. Creagh takes her time building these characters, starting with initial mutual dislike, and slowly peeling back the layers of their personalities. Varen is a classic young Severus Snape (a character from Harry Potter series) – a gifted boy, alienated at school and with an abusive parent to boot. He is also much more: he works in an ice-ream parlour, (yeah, actually selling ice-cream; can you imagine Snape doing that?) he dyes his hair and drives along in a vintage Jaguar (very cool!). Still, compared to intrepid Isobel, he seems too preoccupied with his reading, writing and Goth persona to be a truly active character; finally he falls into a not very manly category of damsel in distress (but I told you the author is playing with tropes and stereotypes, right?)

 What I didn’t like:
 Even though I’d looked forward to Isobel’s exploration through the Poeland (I really couldn’t restrain myself, ‘Poeland’ is so…right), but it turns out the progress of Isobel’s learning more about Poe  is a rather rushy one, Isobel’s own opinion on neither the author nor his works, is largely missing. We only got to see her read through The Masque of the Red Death then commented on it and there’s no more mention of her opinion on Poe’s works. I understand that she is not a reading type but I suppose if your fate and the fate of your beloved depends on information from books you should be far more committed to reading and finding stuff; still dear Isobel always acts as if she expected somebody to explain her everything (a fairy theory for dummies on Youtube,  not longer than 3 minutes, would definitely fit her better) and when nobody wants to do it she sulks. As a result she lands in that alternate reality, chased by ghouls and nocs (a kind of demons), completely unprepared and the fact that she actually manages to pull through comes as a major miracle.
Let me also carp about the role of adults. Unfortunately here the author decided to stick to the well-known patters. Although parents exist in this one, they are either too busy or completely out of touch with their kids and the reality for different reasons. As a result when the main lead has a problem she can talk to a friend or to her reflection in the mirror. I wish I read a book which author dared change that, showing a parent who not only cares but also knows how to show it and can actually impress their progeny with his/her knowledge.
My wishes for next parts.

I found Varen too vague a character to dominate the book (and I wish he DID dominate), there are so many things about him we don’t know, e.g. his family’s background, the reason why he had such a bad relationship with his dad, how he discovered Poe and became the way he was now, how he found a job in that bookstore and ice-cream parlour etc. After finishing Nevermore I’d very much love to learn more about him. Also some questions about Poeland simply beg for a creative answer – e.g why some people get trapped there and some can return to the land of living?

Final verdict:
Kelly Creagh’s Nevermore is a very ambitious and interesting Young Adult novel which manages to bring  mystery and dark fantasy to life. Overall it is a worthy read not only for teen Poe’s and/or Goth’s fans. I’m looking forward to the sequel although, being spoiled and all, I know it is not as good as the first part. Maybe the third book will straighten things up nicely? I am definitely willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt.
A good idea for an alternative cover version
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