The Big Idea: Jay Kristoff

If Jay Kristoff had managed nothing else with this Big Idea piece for his new novel Nevernight, he would have had arguably one of the most grabbing first sentences in the history of the feature. But there’s more to it than the first sentence, promise.


Nevernight started with an argument about vaginas.

More accurately, an argument between two of my lady friends about a particular curse word we use for vaginas. Friend A asserted that the C-bomb was the most offensive curse word in the English language. Friend B’s thesis was that, unless you’re an idiot, vaginas aren’t any more offensive than any other body part, so curse words denoting them shouldn’t be, either.

It was New Year’s Eve. Everyone was quite soused. Friend B won the argument.

. . . Okay, let me back the truck up. Because you might not have even had your morning coffee yet and you probably wandered in here looking for an article on fantasy books, and hey, surprise vaginas.

At this point in the article, I’m supposed to be talking about the big idea behind my new novel, Nevernight. I could talk about the fact that it’s an epic fantasy set in a trinary star system, meaning the world only gets two weeks of night-time every two and half years, and that makes it really hard to construct a narrative starring an anti-hero/rogue archetype, because typically they get up to all their roguery and anti-heroics when it’s dark, and hey, surprise run-on sentence.

I could talk about flipping the switch on the light vs dark trope, and building a world where the folks in white hats aren’t necessarily the good guys. Or I could talk about the big idea behind Nevernight’s setting, which is kinda like Hogwarts, if Hogwarts was a school where, instead of learning magic and the true value of friendship and painfully British stiff-upperlippedness, you learn to murder the shit out of people instead. Writing a school full of neophyte assassins is actually a real pain in the nethers. It’s difficult to keep your characters sympathetic when they’re all training to become the sort of bastards who murder people for money.

But honestly, the big idea in Nevernight is the heroine, Mia. She’s the beating, bleeding heart of the entire book. After the Great 2013 NYE Vajayjay Debate, I went home and wrote a scene about a boy and girl. The boy tried to convince the girl that the C-bomb was the Worst Word Ever, and the girl smoked a cigarette and explained to him why it wasn’t. At the end of that scene, I was fascinated with this girl. I had no idea who she was or what she wanted, and so I built her a world to find out.

It is a world of perpetual sunlight, where Mia’s ability to manipulate darkness isn’t all that useful. It’s a world where Light conquered Dark, a world that illustrates how badly it can turn out when the good guys get what they want. It’s a world of assassins and cats made out of shadowstuff, murder and betrayal and a bit of smut. But ultimately, a fantasy world is just a stage for a story. And this is a story about a girl and her vengeance, and whether the price she pays for the revenge she craves will be worth it in the end.

Mia is the big idea at the heart of Nevernight.

I hope you find her as intriguing as I did.


Nevernight: Amazon/Barnes&Noble/Indiebound/Powells/Book Depository

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

14 Comments on “The Big Idea: Jay Kristoff”

  1. “…a school where…you learn to murder the shit out of people” Now that sounds brilliant.

  2. Godsdamn it!

    Now I need to read this book!

    Thanks, Mr Scalzi!

    (And thanks Mr Kristoff!)

  3. Just read the excerpt when I should be working – thought I’d take a quick look while on my break but could not stop. Wow! It’s going on top of the TBR pile. Really looking forward to this.

  4. Scrolled down the page and saw the title, and was intrigued. Scrolled further and saw the rest of the cover, and was a little creeped out. Scrolled even further and read the Big Idea, and was highly amused and entertained, and now Nevernight is on my TBR pile. Thanks!

  5. Yet another one to go on my to-be-read pile. Ye gods, it’s getting bigger!

  6. I had to stop reading The Big Idea awhile ago cuz my TBR list was getting out of hand. But I was drawn in by the C-bomb as I have very strong feelings about the word (gave one of my cats that name back in my Angry Lesbian With Guitar Days). So now 1 more in the TBR list. This might even go to the top.

  7. Got my copy today – I can’t wait to start reading! Jay Kristoff is an author on my “automatic pre-order” list :)

  8. Kind of reminded me of the first line of Steel Beach (John Varley):
    “In five years, the penis will be obsolete.” (if memory serves.)

  9. Surprise va…. OK, three quick observations: 1. It is a strange, sad thing how guys are insulted by calling them sissies or girly or p_ssies. Much like that C-bomb thing. It is also a strange thing how people will use various words for male anatomy as insults. It is a strange thing how the implication of guy-on-guy activity (various kinds, you know the cuss words) are used as insults. One of them is even pretty watered down: “that sucks.” — Why is it that we say such things as insults? Yet that’s what we are culturally conditioned is insulting and what are “dirty” cuss words. — Even little kids learn those words are “dirty” and learn to cuss. — What if we had a world where being a girl was just as OK as being a boy? What if we had a world where being not-straight was just as OK as being straight, where it was so OK that it wasn’t even a question, and kids could have boyfriends or girlfriends, or ask a friend (boy or girl) they liked, publicly, just like a boy can ask a girl he likes, without anyone batting an eye? She can say no and he gets to ask another girl, no big deal. What if it was just as OK for a boy to ask a boy or a girl to ask a girl, or to be openly as affectionate as the straight kids? — I wonder if a lot of those “dirty” words relating to male and female anatomy and activity would stop being cuss words. (People would cuss about something else, OK, but still….)

    I’d almost wonder why the scene wouldn’t have had the boy saying something about the C-word and the girl saying something about the D-word. Or, y’know, similar words for that thing.

    Then again, being unflappable about either, or pointing out the folly of it, might be another take on the scene. — But I can like a scene where the boy says something like that, and yet the girl does not respond the way the boy thinks she will, at all.

    Also, with daytime temps near or above 100 and nighttime temps from 80 to 85 for weeks, er, the idea of even more full sun? Eeeeee. Not that that is atypical for summer here, but still, yes, temps are climbing, summer and winter, and…I am ready for it to get cooler. Usually, rain and clouds moderate the temps some here. Nope, not this year. Frickin’ hot.

  10. I loved Jay and Amie’s book ILLUMINAE enough to nominate it for a Hugo, so I’m looking forward to anything he writes.

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