Neryn is a 15 year old orphan utterly alone in the world of Alban. After being wagered by her drunken father to a complete stranger on a chancy boat, she has no one but herself. Her mother, brother and grandmother are all dead, and her father too as a result of the Cull.
Now Neryn has no choice but to continue her journey North, avoiding the tyrannical nature of the king’s Enforces whom are no doubt looking for her, because Neryn has a gift, a canny gift which will inevitably result in her death if she was ever to be discovered. By orders of the king, magic is banned.
Shadowfell follows Neryn’s journey North, a long and arduous one which will test her to the limits of her life. But if the option is to die at the hands of Enforces, or die trying to reach a better life, it is always clear to Neryn which is the more valiant option.
With the Good Folk at her heels, hiding between rocks and undergrowth, along with the mysterious stranger, Neryn is never truly lonely, but she must act alone. And reaching Shadowfell isn’t that easy. 7 virtues must be shown and proven, and that isn’t even the beginning of her journey.
How can Alban be saved from the wretched king, and can a 15 year old orphan really be at the heart of a rebellion?
After reading Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest, I had very high hopes for Shadowfell. Two entirely different tales, with different protagonists and plots, but the same beautiful words from the author.
As we came down to the shore of Darkwater, the wind sliced cold right to my bones. My heels stung with blisters. Dusk was falling, and my head was muzzy from the weariness of another long day’s walk. Birds cried out overhead, winging to nighttime roosts. They were as eager as I to get out of the chill.
Marillier’s description and world building is simply stunning, the crisp and affirming quality to her words pays hommage to the old tales whilst also sucking me into the ancient medieval world of Alban.
The journey is slow, very slow, which is expected of a hero’s quest and makes it authentic. However, unfortunately in this tale, Neryn’s journey became slightly repetitive; the plot was weakened because for a large portion of the novel nothing was really happening. Taking the hero on a long journey is fine, expected even, but there needs to be action to drive the story forward and for me this aspect was lacking.
Also, it wasn’t until the very last twenty pages or so that I started to believe Neryn and Flint as believable characters in their own right (and not until the last 3 pages that I believed in their friendship). This is unfortunate as its hard to follow a story wherein the protagonist(s) doesn’t appear to change or develop. In fact, once setting the book down I even struggled to see the characters; what colour is her hair? Eyes? How tall is she? The only defining features that I picked up from the book was Neryn’s fragile skeletal form due to lack of nutrition, and Flint’s facial scar.
However, did this stop me from lapping it all up? No. I was still invested in the story and (SPOILER) the relationship between Neryn and Flint. The quote that saved the entire book for me (avert your eyes if you haven’t read it, and/or you want it to be a surprise):
‘You won’t be a friend if you weaken the best man we have. So I said nothing. Instead, I put the tips of my fingers to my mouth, then reached to lay them against his lips.
Braver than I, Flint bent to touch his lips to mine. His kiss was quick and light, yet full of promise. “Be safe, my heart,” he whispered.
Then he moved away.’
For me, this sealed the entire journey. Neryn’s selflessness in this moment, to let Flint go without uttering how she really feels to save the rebellion is the act of a true hero, and so I was swayed. The slowly bubbling romance between the two characters certainly helps propel the plot, but it is not the only factor which keeps the story going; it is simply in the background, a current that can be picked up again at any moment.
So some day in the near future I would love to pick up the second book. I hope that Marillier continues entwining the old Celtic/Scottish tongue into the narrative as this (for me) is the most beautiful aspect of the whole novel. It’s the factor that builds a bridge between YA Fantasy and folk literature; the birth and very essence of storytelling.
Have you read any work by Juliet Marillier? Make sure to leave some of your thoughts in the comments!
Copyright: Laura Davis © 2018, all rights reserved.