Fifteen-year-old Neryn is a wanderer. Foraging for work, food, and shelter, her only dreams are of a real bed, a warm fire, and a respite from tending to her formerly reputable father, who in the wake of extreme hardship and sorrow squanders every copper they have on drink and games of chance. But it isn’t only their financial ruin which forces them to constantly migrate in search of a scrap of bread or hay for a bed. In the kingdom of Alban, where the magically gifted are captured and brought to the king, Neryn’s magical ability to see the mythical woodland creatures called the Good Folk is dangerous indeed. So when she is unexpectedly separated from her father, Neryn despairs before turning to her last resort – heading north towards Shadowfell, the rumored headquarters and training ground for a secret group seeking to overthrow oppressive King Keldec and his Enforcers. With lifesaving help from a mysterious man named Flint and the Good Folk themselves, Neryn endures a series of tests along the rugged terrain to Shadowfell, which throw her allies and motives into question as Neryn realizes that she alone may be the key to saving Alban.
I may have mentioned a time or two that historical fantasy author Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favorite writers, and both of my children’s names appear in one or more of her books. After being irrevocably changed by her retelling of the six swans in Daughter of the Forest, I quickly devoured her entire backlist. Even now I have to remind myself that it was not the first of her novels I read. I actually read Wildwood Dancing, Marillier’s first young adult novel, before any others. I’d bought into the hype and was left slightly disappointed. I had no concrete complaints, only that we didn’t connect the way I was hoping, and as a result I never did read Cybele’s Secret, the followup. Then the announcement of Shadowfell, her second YA fantasy series, came along, and surprisingly enough, its young adult tag didn’t lessen my excitement or lower my expectations. On the contrary, reading the egalley the day it appeared on my Kindle was difficult to resist.
What immediately impressed me about Shadowfell is its ambitious scope and how alike it felt to Marillier’s adult novels. Epic, life or death, mend or ruin fantasy has a way of totally engaging and immersing me that goes unmatched in contemporary novels. This is why Juliet Marillier’s books strike such a chord. Not only do they have a lovely tone of gravity and a knack for foreshadowing that scream for your attention, but the way they blend fantasy with the grounding roots of history and folklore allow effortless entrance into her lush worlds. The white eyes following Neryn from the trees and the countless uncanny abilities of the people of Alban are no exception. The stakes, too, are impossibly high for Neryn and the warriors of Shadowfell. Personally, her very freedom and life is at stake if she is caught by the king’s Enforcers. Publicly, the survival of both the Good Folk and Alban are at risk if she falters by one step. If strong yet imperfect Neryn was not enough, the well-rounded, limitless Good Folk keep things interesting, as well as cryptic Flint, whom I loved from the start. He is good, kind, and conflicted, teetering on a precipice rivaling Neryn’s. Naturally, he has secrets of his own and he and Neryn suit each other well. I looked forward to any time they were together. That said, if you dislike a good exhausting, starved, and at times lonely trek through the wilderness, then this book may not be for you. Neryn’s journey is cut from the same cloth as Marillier’s other heroines, particularly Sorcha, Liadan, and Fainne of the Sevenwaters series, like it or not. As Shadowfell is the beginning of a series, some plotlines are just beginning at the end of the novel, but the resolutions that will likely matter most to readers are there. I cheered and sighed contentedly at the end, in fact. I’m sorry if I ever doubted your ability to write young adult novels, Ms. Marillier. More, please.
Shadowfell is due out September 11.
A Rogue Librarian’s review – “I enjoyed this book as much as I did her earlier fantasy.”
Cuddlebuggery Book Blog review – “Over all, I would still pick this novel up over a whole host of novels, but for a Marillier novel, I felt a tad let down.”
Raiding Bookshelves review – “I think Neryn’s growth throughout the book is one of the things that makes you like it so much (besides the Good Folk. And Flint.).”
Read. Breathe. Relax. review – “I loved Shadowfell.”
The Hundred Book Project review – “There is no-one I trust more than this author to deliver heart-felt, vivid fantasy.”