Series: The Nethergrim Trilogy
Published by Philomel on April 8, 2014
Genres: fantasy, mystery
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Everyone in Moorvale believes the legend: The brave knight Tristan and the famed wizard Vithric, in an epic battle decades ago, had defeated the evil Nethergrim and his minions. To this day, songs are sung and festivals held in the heroes' honor. Yet now something dark has crept over the village. First animals disappear, their only remains a pile of bones licked clean. Then something worse: children disappear. The whispers begin quietly yet soon turn into a shout: The Nethergrim has returned!
Edmund’s brother is one of the missing, and Edmund knows he must do something to save his life. But what? Though a student of magic, he struggles to cast even the simplest spell. Still, he and his friends swallow their fear and set out to battle an ancient evil whose powers none of them can imagine. They will need to come together--and work apart--in ways that will test every ounce of resolve.
In a story reminiscent of the Ranger’s Apprentice epic and the Chronicles of Narnia, Matthew Jobin weaves reality, magic, and adventure into the next great fantasy phenomenon.
The Nethergrim is an enjoyable middle-grade fantasy by first time author Matthew Jobin. It tells of the adventure of three outsiders: Edmund, the son of an innkeeper, who spends what little money he saves on books of spells, legends, and histories; Katherine, the daughter and only child of the Lord’s master of horses, who should be learning how to be a lady but instead is riding horses and wielding swords; and Tom, an orphan slave, who serves as shepherd to an abusive farmer.
They live in Moorvale, a village akin to one you might find in the medieval times. It’s all very primeval and gothic. Mysterious things have been happening: lost animals, missing children, and whispers of an old terrifying tale more suppressed than forgotten. You see, the town of Moorvale owes its existence to three heroes: Tristan, the greatest knight that ever lived; Vithric, the greatest wizard that ever breathed; and John Marshal, a simple townsman. It is said they defeated the Nethergrim some decades ago that allowed the survival of the sleepy town. But perhaps they did not.
And so begins a journey for the three young friends; a journey of magic and good and evil, but also of self discovery and of growing up. What I really liked about Jobin’s protagonists is that they questioned life in a way that was very meditative. Edmund, at some point, says he is tired of “waiting for life to hurt [him]”. I mean, ow. All three are considered outsiders in their town, all three are living in circumstances they wish they could change. They want to run away and dream of better lives, but then they consider their prospects, their duties to their families, their roles and rank in life…what are the possibilities for them and what are not.
The fantasy elements here are quite stock, though there is an impressive cast of terrifying creatures, like the bolgugs, a monster that resembles a man were it not for the blue skin, yellow eyes, and razor-sharp teeth. There are also grotesque uses of magic, like the eating of children and sucking away their life leaving them human-sized prunes. And…weird a comparison as this might be…but there was a bit of the “evil talking in your head to bend your logic” kind of thing a la the Sinsar Dubh in Karen Moning’s Fever series.
I think readers have had a hard time categorizing this either as middle grade or young adult, which is quite understandable as the overall context of the story is quite young but incorporated with disturbing and proper shudder-inducing scenes. What I will say is that this is a wonderful, mature writer writing for a very young audience. I think Jobin has real talent.
“There are words that have never been spoken, words that cannot be spoken, words that, if spoken, would shake the earth… These words trace thoughts too large for the mind to hold — they cannot be grasped, they can merely be touched in the tremble of a moment.”
This is the kind of writing that makes me anticipate a writer’s next work. This is his debut novel, and though I didn’t absolutely love it, I can feel that he has so much more to give. The promise is there. But for now, this is a very good beginning to a fantastic series that I can imagine children who’ve grown up with all of our classic fantasy stories thoroughly enjoying.
An advance copy was provided by Penguin Canada for this review.