by Juliet Marillier
by Juliet Marillier
Hardback: 410 Pages
Publication: September 11, 2012 by Knopf BFYR
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.
◆ A copy was provided by Random House for review ◆
One of the things I love about epic fantasies is how unique the characters can be, and Shadowfell did not disappoint. While Neryn is a bit on the tame side, she meets many interesting personalities along her journey, especially among the Good Folk who aid her on her journey. I especially love Sage and Red Cap, two of Neryn's early supporters among the Good Folk. I have a feeling that I'll find more characters to love among the human comrades that Neryn makes, especially Flint. Of all the humans, he is the most complex, and it still seems as though he's hiding much from us. I hope to see more of his character developed in future installments along with that of Neryn.
While there are no outstanding flaws in Neryn's character, there aren't any strengths either. On the whole, Neryn is a flat character who is extremely naïve and sheltered girl despite having been on the run from the Enforcers since she was twelve. She knows how much the people are suffering. She's seen how people are willing to turn in their own to protect themselves. Still, she has no strong desire to use her skills to return the pain back to the king's supporters. Her naivety also manifests in her hesitancy over whether or not to trust Flint and over the decision to accept the aid of the Good Folk when she needs help to survive. It does seem as though she's becoming more confident towards the end of the story, however, so there's hope for her growth in future installments.
The pacing is rather slow as well. It takes Neryn pretty much the entire novel to find her destination, and there is a lot of waiting in between. Combined with a flat heroine, the plot would have disappointed had it not been for the striking world building that brings the story to life. Many YA fantasies I've read tend to underdevelop the world in an attempt to focus more on character relationships and action. In Shadowfell, I never felt as if I lacked an understanding of how the world worked, excluding the first chapter while I was still getting acquainted with the world. Alban is rich in history and culture that distinguishes from other worlds oppressed by an evil tyrant. Progressing into the plot with a solid understanding of the world allowed me to better appreciate the importance of Neryn's canny skills.
Shadowfell is a solid first installment in a series. It sets up the world and introduces the characters who'll be playing major roles in the battles to come. The future for the series looks promising. I'll be reading Raven Flight to see where Neryn's journey takes her.