Book Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier
Diving in to a Juliet Marillier novel is always an exciting prospect—she is so brilliant at creating fully formed fantasy worlds with vivid, interesting characters who stay with you long after you’ve put them away on your bookshelf.
Shadowfell is another Marillier triumph.
We first meet Neryn when she’s on the run with her father, moving from town to town in King Keldec’s dark kingdom, trying to stay one step ahead of the Enforcers who violently hunt magic or “canny” people. In a desperate moment, Neryn accepts help from a stranger, Flint, as she flees an Enforcer attack, but she is reluctant to reveal anything about herself to him—it is a dangerous time to trust anyone. Citizens routinely betray one another to the Enforcers for reward and to avoid punishment. She is especially keen to hide the fact that she has a gift for seeing the Fair Folk—a gift that would bring swift punishment down on her should the Enforcers find out. Neryn’s only hope is to make it to Shadowfell, a haven in the North where she can be safe from the King’s Enforcers and perhaps even join the fight against him.
Is Shadowfell the best fantasy Marillier has ever written? No (if you’re a fan of hers you know that’s a hefty feat), but it is definitely a strong start to unmissable new series. I would heartily recommend this to fans of Marillier and/or well-written fantasy in general.
What makes Shadowfell a must-read:
If you loved the Lord of the Rings hike across Middle-earth, Neryn’s trek across Alban will be incredibly enjoyable. Yes there are slow parts as she endures illness and days of monotonous travel, but there is enough danger and action to keep the journey exciting. Sometimes the danger and darkness Neryn faces is overwhelming, brimming with suspense. So when the time comes for her to forage for roots and make herself a sad little campfire soup, you’re totally ok with it—girl deserves a break!
The Fair Folk
Strange shadows moving, eyes peeking out of rocks and bushes and earth, and odd voices in the woods are most likely signs that you’re in the presence of Alban’s Fair Folk. They are visible to few humans, and Neryn is one of them. She was taught by her grandmother to respect them, and share whatever meager food she has with them, and it serves her pretty well in her journey to take the risk of getting to know them. Brave, fickle little creatures, they are so much fun to read about, and Marillier puts her own spin on familiar legends, making them stand out from the fantasy legion.
I loved Neryn! She has SO many reasons to just give up, or be careless with her trust; but no matter what tragedy befalls her, she remains strong and independent. While Neryn does rely on help from some of the Fair Folk and humans she encounters along the way, she bestows equal amounts of compassion and kindness upon them, and in the process earns her stripes as a “canny” human whose gifts could be useful in challenging the violent reign of King Kaldec.
Flint is pretty much everything you want in an epic journey romantic lead. He’s got dreamy eyes; he’s kind, patient, and tough; he ALWAYS has food; and can build a fire lickety split. But he’s also this brooding, tortured quiet type. Oh, he has secrets. And you might be so taken with him by the time you find out that you don’t care….
Slow-building, satisfying romance
One of the best parts of the romance between Flint and Neryn is that they have to learn to trust each other. They are both hiding secrets, and it takes SO long for them to get around their trust issues and even become friends. There’s not a hint of insta-love. They spend a lot of time together, and take care of each other in their journey to Shadowfell. There are not a TON of sexy-times, but what we do get is this deep friendship-turned-love that is SO freaking adorable. I can’t wait to see how this plays out in future books.