Shadowfell, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf.
Its name is spoken only in whispers, if the people of Alban dare to speak it at all: Shadowfell. The training ground for rebels seeking to free their land from the grip of the tyrannical ring is so shrouded in mystery that most believe it to be a myth. But for Neryn, Shadowfell’s existence is her only hope. She is penniless, orphaned, and utterly alone—and concealing a treacherous magical power that will warrant her immediate enslavement should it be revealed. She finds hope of allies in the Good Folk, fey beings whom she must pretend she cannot see and who taunt her with chatter of prophecies and tests, and in a striking, mysterious stranger, who saves her from certain death but whose motives remain unclear. She knows she should not trust anyone with her plans, but something within her longs to confide in him. Will Neryn be forced to make the dangerous journey alone? She must reach Shadowfell, not only to avenge her family and salvage her own life, but to rescue Alban itself.
I liked Shadowfell, but I can’t determine if it was good or not. It was certainly interesting, and I loved loved loved Flint and Neryn and would read the next two books just for that relationship alone. But I did find myself skimming some of it, because Marillier has a sleepy sort of writing where things flow along smoothly and meld into each other until you’ve read three pages and wonder what you’ve just read. So the whole book is just some shadowy thing in my mind, punctuated by scenes that I really liked, such as all the ones with Flint and the battle at the end.
The world is the standard, high fantasy type, but I did like how Neryn’s travels were represented, how barren and rocky environments felt barren and rocky and how her own struggles were brought to the forefront as she travels towards Shadowfell. Maybe there’s just a little too much of sitting by fires and camping and waiting to be well, but I’m more a fan of the quiet, susceptible-to-the-elements-and-such protagonists than the outspoken, I-can-travel-through-anything-and-never-feel-it protagonists.
The plot is also fairly formulaic; Marillier is certainly not treading any new ground. But like I said, what she does have is interesting, for the most part (if at times a teensy bit boring), and even though her writing is a bit sleepy, there are still some very pretty moments. The Good Folk are done especially well, in my opinion. But I could tell while reading it that this certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Violence, death.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
I shut my eyes and pressed my face against the rock wall. If I truly was a Caller, if such a gift existed, let it work for me now “Stanie Mon, Stanie Mon, wake frae sleep,” I whispered through chattering teeth. If this did not work, I would be facing a mind-scraper before sunset. I would be lost. “Stanie Mon, Stanie Mon, hide me deep.”
In an instant everything went dark. Stone was all around me, trapping me within its bulk. I could not move so much as my little finger. I was blind, deaf, paralyzed. I could not breathe. I managed a squeak of terror, and sensed a response, as if the heaviness that surrounded me relaxed a little. I sucked in an unsteady breath. Had I just worked a charm that would kill me?