Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: Shadowfell

Print // Kindle // Juliet Marillier
Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her own canny skill--a uniquely powerful ability to communicate with the fairy-like Good Folk--Neryn sets out for the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a secret rebel group determined to overthrow the evil King Keldec.

During her dangerous journey, she receives aid from the Good Folk, who tell her she must pass a series of tests in order to recognize her full potential. She also finds help from a handsome young man, Flint, who rescues her from certain death--but whose motives in doing so remain unclear. Neryn struggles to trust her only allies. They both hint that she alone may be the key to Alban's release from Keldec's rule. Homeless, unsure of who to trust, and trapped in an empire determined to crush her, Neryn must make it to Shadowfell not only to save herself, but to save Alban.

Please note, Marillier is at pains to mention that Neryn is only 15 years old in the book itself, but judging by some of the contextual clues she's close to her 16th birthday.

One thing I know whenever I go into one of Marillier's books is that the heroine will doubt herself and the hero will do some shady things (but for good reasons).  This isn't a condemnation, but an expectancy that I've grown to have after 9 books in the last ten years that I've read of hers.  And you know I don't mind knowing that.  Each time Marillier builds a character who I want to root for.  I want them to find the strength to continue their journey, to soldier on even when everything is against them.

Neryn begins and spends a good part of this first book in the Shadowfell series frightened, sick and mistrustful.  Not just of other people (though she's given good reason to be), but of herself and the calamity she could bring upon others just be being who she is.  Her father's a no account bum, the rest of her family is dead and she's cast adrift in a world that would turn her in for silver and their own lives spared.

Flint is a patient, resourceful and somber young man who probably doesn't deserve half the accusations flung at him, but shoulders that burden because he knows the future will be better for it.  I may have judged Neryn a little harshly at times, for her hot/cold nature in regards to trusting him.  It got a bit tiresome that she'd trust him, hear something unpleasant (mostly taken out of context) and then run off screaming into the night.

There's quite a bit of intrigue going on in this book.  From who Flint is to Shadowfell's ultimate purpose and Keldec's tyrannical rule.  Its never made clear why Keldec is so anti-magic as to have the 'Cull' (basically a season of butchering, murdering and scaring the citizens of Alban who are rumored to have magic or speak out against Keldec), he came into power the same year that Neryn was born (I'll lay odds that's not coincidental) so she has only ever known Alban under his rule.

I wonder if this is all as straight forward as it seems on the surface--that is Neryn's destiny and exact gift, Keldec's search for her, etc.  Marrilier rarely works in predictable patterns within her Sevenwaters books and this reminds me of them the most out of all her series.  I look forward to reading more in Neryn's adventures in the next book Raven Flight.