Book Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

Neryn is fifteen when her father loses her to a mysterious stranger in a game of chance. It is the final disaster at the end of a gruelling existence on the run from the King’s Enforcers, who are pledged to eradicate any form of magic from the kingdom of Alban.  Neryn’s grandmother experienced a mind-wrenching of the most brutal kind at the hands of an unpractised mind-enthraller, and Neryn knows her fate will be no better if she is caught.

Together with the mysterious Flint, who seems to go to great pains to conceal his true motive for winning her from her father, Neryn aims to reach Shadowfell, a haven for those fleeing the Enforcers. There, a group of rebels is arming themselves in defence against the King. Their aim is to establish a fairer peace in Alban, and to restore the Good Folk (faerie) to their  rightful place of  in the kingdom.

Neryn knows that she can see the Good Folk when others can’t, but she doesn’t realise that she has another gift; one that will literally move mountains …

This is a captivating and engrossing book – a classic fantasy tale of a heroine who is sure to draw readers to her. A loner by circumstance, Neryn is intelligent, observant, pragmatic and yet sensitive to all those about her (human and otherwise). Readers will also identify with her ambivalent feelings towards Flint, her rescuer. Just how disinterested is his concern for her welfare?

The advice she receives from the Good Folk makes Neryn start to question Flint’s motives, and her mistrust of him deepens when he reveals his position as one of the King’s men. So what should she do about her growing feelings towards him? The reader also comes to empathise with Flint – a man in an impossible place, who must do unspeakable things to avoid suspicion from those in power.

Surrounding this tentative romance is a beautifully atmospheric world where creatures come and go at will through the mist and rain that saturates the forests of Alban. Like many of Juliet Marillier’s books, Shadowfell is a book about different kinds of ‘sight’ and the untrustworthy nature of surface impressions. It’s a theme that is brilliantly encapsulated in the stanie mon – folk who emerge, on summons, from the very bedrock of the land.

Younger fans of Juliet Marillier will be rapt to see a new book for YA readers – her last, Cybele’s Secret, was published in 2007, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a strong blend of history and fantasy with an indomitable heroine at its centre.

Shadowfell has many of the same qualities as the author’s acclaimed fantasy series for adults, and many an impatient reader will be tempted to head straight to the Sevenwaters series while waiting for the next instalment of the Shadowfell trilogy.

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