Nevertell- Katharine Orton

Nevertell takes us to a Slavic landscape like the snowy mythology woven tales of Sophie Anderson, and will also speak to those who enjoyed the Scandinavian mythology inspired quests within Edith Pattou’s North Child and Kiran Millwood Hargraves’ The Way Past Winter.

However, what’s very interesting and fresh is the resetting within a 20th century Soviet setting, of a girl born and raised in a Siberian gulag adds a layer of both historical tangibility and enhances the mysticism within and will thus enthuse fans of the Queen of Historical fiction (and sometimes with a twist) Emma Carroll.

Nevertell by a Katherine Orton
Cover illustration by Sandra Dieckmann

Our tale begins in The Great Escape style of a good old fashioned prison camp breakout, as Lina must raid her beloved greenhouse to pay her way out of the camp, but we quickly learn there is something different about our protagonist from the whispers of her imagination, and a strangely warm string of beads gifted by her mother acting as distraction fit the guards.

As she and best friend Bogdan run straight into the path of an embittered sorceress, who, confused by the fact her ghost wolves do not tear them apart, gives them shelter in her Ice Palace and so begins a game of cat and mouse across the snow dusted tundra to survive and escape.

The full force of the wind hit her. Lina’s head spun. Snowflakes- pulled and pummelled into long snaking streaks- whorled and whizzed all around. Staring at them spinning in a black sky made her lurch with dizziness. The coldness reaches its fingers inside her skull.

Nevertell is absolutely teeming with Magic and witchcraft from the nurturing of plants, mirror magic, transportation as just some of the workings but then also considers the transformation between maiden, mother, crone and the settings where the stars sing and there are ice castles and Baba Yaga houses guarded by enchanted creatures and enslaved shadows b’twixt worlds. This deeply immerses the reader in a rich landscape of magic after a place of earthly pain and suffering that equally isn’t always dark nor light, it’s complicated, much like the characters themselves.

The particularly interesting thing I found about Nevertell without too many spoilers is how the novel doesn’t merely look at the coming of age of Lina. Nevertell also explores and confronts concepts and consequences of choice and the poison of regret within adult characters and how this spirals into long term consequences. This is a rather mature approach that strips back the concepts within childrens stories of good, bad and otherwise to not even a grey area- it takes those frustrating deflections of ‘its complicated’ that can seem like a brush off to children and runs deep with it splintering the monochrome landscape of the novel into a full spectrum.

Something happened to Svetlana’s face. Her stern white mask seemed to crumble, and a hollow look came into her eyes. But it wasn’t pity. It was something else.

Orton particularly brings into focus the duality of Lina’s pure innocence of both heart and worldly experience against the fact she has seen more than many adults having been born and raised in a Siberian prison camp with people starving and freezing to death unless they surrender their morality.

We see this in the way she is astonished when she sees a horse for the first time, a creature from spoken stories never seen against her knowledge of how to survive.

As the book progresses we begin to ask the question of whether escaping is a motion or emotion based revolution. The story begs the reader to consider what it means to have built trust, collaboration, meaning and importantly sanctuary whether this is within a physical place or interpersonal relationship and comes back to the question of what and where is home? Is it a place, a state of mind or other people?

The historical context was immensely interesting for me as a lover and former teacher of history, it really brings home the fear, randomness and injustice of persecution and the informing culture under Soviet Russia and is something rarely if ever seen in children’s literature. The context however is perfect, not just fitting within mythology but bringing us back to the balance and duality of choices against diktat, innocence in a purge and the unsettling fear in mistrusting everyone leading to potential mistakes.

All Linda could hear was the howl of the wind.All she could see was a blur of white and grey. Her own breath, blown back at her, turned to ice when it touched her skin, pulling tight and pinching as it froze.

For me Nevertell is an absolute delight, utterly compelling, whispering of earthy folktales and sparkling with wonder, it’s a frosty delight with a painful historical twist but utterly full of hope and innocence and most perfect winter reading!

Nevertell by Katharine Orton is published by Walker Books

Thank you for my copy 💜

8 thoughts on “Nevertell- Katharine Orton

  1. I really need to read this soon, don’t I? Will probably be in December now given how busy this week and next will be (I gave something like 10 assessments to do I think… not counting the mini grammar ones we need to do) but currently it’s probably going to be my next read! You have me really, REALLY excited for it!
    Amy x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not excited for them but at least once they’re done it’ll be end of semester! I really need a few weeks to just rest, I’m so tired. Fell down some (quite a few stairs) and have hurt my back so not excited to do tonight’s to do list tasks at all 😭😭

      Liked by 1 person

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