Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier
Tags: YA, fantasy, romance, fairies
On the run from the dreaded Enforcers of the king of Alban’s terrifying rule, 16-year-old Neryn has no one left. Her only option is to travel north to a place called Shadowfell, where rebellion against King Keldec is rumored to be brewing. Shadowfell may be the only place Neryn can be safe…for she holds a rare, magical talent that the king is determined to destroy…or, even worse, possess.
I write this review from the point of view of a Juliet Marillier fan who, shamefully, has only read a handful of her books (so far!). SHADOWFELL, the first book in her new YA fantasy series, may not be as canonical as some of her other works, but it is still a solidly good fantasy read that will please fantasy and non-fantasy readers alike.
SHADOWFELL’s strengths lie, strangely enough, in its great use of common fantasy tropes. Say what? But you hate tropes, Steph! Yeah, well, sometimes you just need a story in your favorite genre with a bit of feel-good predictability. SHADOWFELL does that primarily with its straightforward quest plot, angelic heroine, and simmering romance.
The primary thing that Neryn does in this story is walk…all the way…to her destination. Rather than be bored, however, I was fully engrossed in the many adventures she encountered along the way: the people she talked to, the Folk she befriended, the constant tense threat of encroaching Enforcers. Marillier doesn’t spend too much prose describing the landscape of Alban, but you know enough to envision Neryn traversing dark forests thick with thousand-year-old trees, bleak rocky landscapes, and mountain ridges with the sharp autumn wind conspiring to push her off the edge of the world. Neryn may only do one thing throughout SHADOWFELL, but the story purrs along in that smooth, pleasant way of good rides.
Neryn is a sympathetic heroine, despite her being almost too good to be true. As she unwittingly completes more and more of the “tests” that determine her (ahem) calling, she maintains a sort of golden-heartedness that seems only to exist in literature. Neryn follows her late grandmother’s mantra of “You always have something to give others” so carefully that some readers might be prone to rolling their eyes. Nevertheless, she makes for the perfect protagonist for a quest plot, as she encounters, and overcomes, a number of scenarios and obstacles.
Last—but certainly not least—we have what probably makes all of Marillier’s fantasies stand out the most: the romance. Huzzah, no insta-luv! Flint and Neryn’s attraction develops almost painfully slowly. Neither one of them had an upbringing that endears them to easily trusting others. Perhaps the thing I appreciated most in SHADOWFELL was how we readers, alongside Neryn, never knew whether or not we could trust Flint. That man sure walks the line between two sides so talently. The uncertainty of Flint’s loyalty adds a refreshing uncertainty to this literary romance.
SHADOWFELL probably doesn’t break any new grounds in fantasy, but it’s the sort of story that could’ve easily gone wrong at the hands of a less talented author. Marillier fans, this book may not be your new Marillier favorite, but it is worth your time. And as SHADOWFELL’s voice runs a little younger, this may be the perfect book to give to young readers who have received devoured all of Tamora Pierce’s books and are begging for more.
Maria V. Snyder
Cover discussion: I am underwhelmed by this cover. The eye skips off it; there is nothing to hold one's attention.
Knopf / Sept. 11, 2012 / Hardcover / 416pp. / $16.99
e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley. Thank you!