I had a hard time getting through The Nightjar. I liked the premise, although it sounded a little like the His Dark Materials trilogy, I liked the setting, although it’s kind of like Neverwhere, and I liked some of the characters, although I never took a liking to either of the two leads. I really wanted to like this, and there were a lot of times where I almost did.
The premise is that there is an alternate world attached to our own where people with olden time powers (often of natural forces of various kinds) have retreated to live, and that people have soul guardians shaped like birds called nightjars and some special people called aviarists can see them. Lose your nightjar, and you basically lose all sense of self and consciousness; basically, you’re in a coma, unless or until you die. When you die, your nightjar leaves and goes to live in a menagerie watched over by Death aka Tuoni or Loviathar (not technically quite the same being but close enough for now).
Alice (as in Wonderland in an indirect kind of way) discovers that she is an aviarist but has lived her life with no idea how or why she sometimes sees mysterious birds; when a guy name Crowley (and I never did succeed in getting David Tennant’s image out of my head, even though the characters are not alike, and one is most certainly superior to the other) suddenly shows up after she’s nearly been kidnapped and murdered, and she thinks she’s seen her best friend get hit by a car, he tells her about the mysterious world of the Rookery and takes her there to learn how to use her abilities and keep her away from the people who would try to get her to use them for bad things. Except that Crowley may not be trustworthy; but then again, no one is.
Here’s my big problem: neither Alice nor Crowley are very likeable, not even with their full, mostly tragic backstories revealed. They both want the other one to trust them without giving much reason or information on why they want things certain ways, and Alice especially keeps causing things to get worse by ignoring other people’s warnings. Granted she’s new to this world, but she never listens, not even once. Both she and Crowley are actually willing to let people die and use those deaths to get what they want, even though they want to save people (just not the ones who seem to end up dead). Admittedly, this then means that I wasn’t too upset for either of them when neither of them manages to save someone important whose unrelated (mostly) situation has been driving them to do the bad stuff to begin with.
Honestly, I would have liked this better if the story had featured the side characters more, like the residents of Coram House.