Book Review: The Night Raven

From the publisher: It’s 1880, and in the frigid city of Stockholm, death lurks around every corner. Twelve-year-old Mika knows that everyone in her orphanage will struggle to survive this winter. But at least the notorious serial killer the Night Raven is finally off the streets…or is he?

Mika is shocked when a newborn baby is left at the orphanage in the middle of the night, by a boy with a cryptic message. Who is he? And who is this “Dark Angel” he speaks of? When a detective shows up, Mika senses something even more sinister is going on.

Drawn in by Mika’s unique ability to notice small details—a skill Mika has always used to survive—the gruff Detective Hoff unwittingly recruits her to help him with his investigation into a gruesome murder. Mika knows she should stay far, far away, and yet…with such little hope for her future, could this be an opportunity? Maybe, just maybe, this is Mika’s chance to be someone who matters.

My Review: The Night Raven by Johan Runberg (translated by A. A. Prime) is an unusual middle grade story. Written in third person present tense, it took me several chapters to get into the story. Then I was totally gripped! Immersed, in fact, in the bitter cold of a Swedish winter, in the grimness of a frozen Stockholm, engrossed by the shadowy threat hanging over the characters. It’s moody and atmospheric and bleak, and I really enjoyed it.

A murder has been committed, and Mika’s eye for detail catches the attention of Detective Hoff, and together they forge an unlikely alliance to investigate the mystery.

I like Mika, she is kind and caring to the other kids, she uses humour to distract them from their miserable lot (and it is miserable!), and she is smart and loyal. There is a heart-breaking moment too when she recalls seeing the orphanage record of her own arrival. Her attention to detail is remarkable and I enjoyed her going all-Hercule-Poirot and revealing the steps only after demonstrating some part of the mystery.

I’m not sure how accurate a picture of 1880 Stockholm, but it’s certainly an atmospheric and moving story. The book has a Scandi-noir vibe, with its bleak, cold landscape, edgy darkness, and serial killer. Mika is almost thirteen, and readers will enjoy Mika telling Detective Hoff what to do. Unlike most middle grade stories, however, Mika does not share her observations with friends, Detective Hoff or the reader. Although the story is clever, the puzzle pieces aren’t really there for readers to guess. Rather it is a look at a place of hardship in an unforgiving (and uncaring) society, and how one girl strives to better her lifestyle. Its themes of are corruption and injustice, against a background of grinding poverty and bitter cold, with tragedy at its heart.

I found the story compelling, but it is bleak so probably best for teens onward. A look inside the book will give a good feel for it. It’s the first in a series so I would be interested in seeing where the story goes. The Night Raven won Sweden’s most prestigious literary prize, the August Prize, in the children’s and YA category in 2021, and also won a Swedish Crimetime Award in the same category.

Thanks to the publishers, Amazon Crossing, and Netgalley for the eARC. The Night Raven will be published in English on 5th September this year.

18 responses to “Book Review: The Night Raven”

  1. There aren’t many third person-present written MG stories so I’ll have to give this one try. What won me over more is your description of the Mika who sounds like a memorable protagonist. Thanks for featuring your review on this week’s MMGM.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a really thoughtful review, Valinora—I hadn’t seen this book before, but it sounds like a really complex story with a lot to think about! I appreciate your post, and have a great reading week!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review, Valinora. I probably won’t read it because I have so little time for feasting, but it sounded good. By the way, you’re in Ireland right? I just spend 6 days there. Dublin, Kilkenny, Belfast, and ballymena. Enjoyed our quick visit to your neck of the woods! Where do u live? So much history!.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carol, Yes, I’m from the Emerald Isle! I live about 40 miles north of Dublin, not far from the coast in County Louth – if you were on the Dublin-Belfast road you passed my turnoff on the motorway! Glad you enjoyed your (all too short) visit, and hope you will return again 🙂 Let me know if you do!


  4. What a great cover! And the story sounds great as well. Mika sounds like an interesting character, and it makes for a compelling series. I’ll look for this one. It’s not coming out in the states until September, but I have it on my list. Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: