The act of reading a Juliet Marillier book feels like a homecoming to me. I can remember my first time reading Marillier in 11th grade. I specifically remember because I wrote awful fan poetry and drew awful fan pictures of Simon. After Daughter Of The Forest, I gobbled up every single Juliet Marillier book in the library and was bereft that they didn’t have more. I was even driven to google the author, and this was in pre-facebook times, y’all. When I saw Shadowfell on Netgalley, there was no hesitation, there no consideration of the TBR pile, there was a single moment of author adoration and much finger crossing.
I am thrilled to say that Shadowfell reminded me why I love Marillier’s books so much. Shadowfell brought me back to when I’d crack open a book and get so lost in it that I would forget the world around me. Perhaps I am a rare bird, but I was hooked from the get go. 15 year old Neryn and her father live on the lam. They travel from town to town picking up odd day jobs hoping to make enough coin for a warm meal and if lucky, a bed for the night. Unfortunately, Neryn’s father is a hot mess and horribly addicted to gambling and alcohol. Aboard a chancy boat, or a floating casino, dad is down on his luck with no silvers left to gamble, so like a fool he puts Neryn up as a stake. He loses.
Lucky for Neryn, the guy who wins her, Flint, is a stone cold fox. Unlucky for us readers, they don’t consummate the winning with an adult situation. The two leave the boat and head for the woods, eventually parting ways. Neryn’s got a secret that definitely puts herself at risk — and Flint if he knew. AND YOU GUYS, there is much MUCH more to the plot, but Juliet Marillier books are at their very best if you go in not totally spoiled, although in her case it’s not the destination, but the journey that I love most.
What I love most about Marillier’s writing is her ability to create these worlds that we can just get lost in, fictional worlds that draw strongly from actual places. In Shadowfell there is a heavy Scottish influence. There are lochs and lots of mists, plus some of the characters are written with Scottish accents. The land Neryn lives in is called Alban. Alban was once a place where a portion of the population had canny abilities, meaning they could do something special, maybe someone was especially talented at singing, or had superb sight, or they could talk to the Good Folk, who are basically otherworldly creatures. However, under King Keldec’s rule, people regard those who are canny with suspicion, selling them out to the Enforcers. With the separation from her father, Neryn seeks out Shadowfell, a place where a rebellion against Keldec is forming. I loved the fear I felt whenever an Enforcer entered the picture or the sadness for a land where neighbor is against neighbor and people have forgotten their long heritage. Marillier creates this brilliant world that just sticks with you.
As a character, Neryn is not my favorite of all the Marillier heroines I have read, that honor will forever and always be Sorcha’s. Yet, Neryn certainly grows on you after awhile. At first I felt a certain amount of pity towards her. I mean, I usually pity YA characters who have hot messes for parents. Yet, when Neryn shows her mettle and her strength, I began to warm up to her and actually admire her. She’s not melodramatic by any means, but she definitely makes the decisions I think a 15 year old would make, meaning she is rash at times and does not look at every option, but dives headlong. It was a little tiny bit annoying. However, I found Neryn’s virtue outweighed her impulsiveness. You see, she is loving. She is generous. And she has this bone deep bravery. Not the sort of bravery where she is the first to rush into battle or anything, but the kind of bravery where she faces her fears, where she learns to forgive and most forward from her heartbreaking past. Friends, that is the sort of nuance I like in the characters I read, the characters who have a history but aren’t so mired in it that they cannot function.
I would be utterly remiss and foolish if I did not mention the romance. I know a lot of you come here to hear about the swoon factor of the books I read. Frankly, Shadowfell will not disappoint you if you are patient. If you cannot stand instalove, if you are going to rip your hair out the next time you read a contrived love triangle, then Shadowfell might as well be a balm to your soul. The relationship in this book takes a very long time to develop. That’s the thing with Mariller’s relationships, they are not of the instant-gratification sort, but of the type where as the heroine finds herself slowly falling in love with the hero, you also find yourself slowly falling in love. Mariller’s romances are hugely rewarding, I find. Neryn and Flint are two brave and two tragic people. They’ve both seen and been through so much. They have a hard time trusting, yet when the circumstances toss them together, you guys it’s nothing but sighs and swoons and hopes of a good payoff.
It’s my opinion that if you have a deep appreciation of fantasy, magic, strong women and Scottish lore, you really cannot go wrong with Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier. Time and again, I come to Mariller’s books expecting the very best, to be transported to another world. I have never been let down. If your primary reading goal is to find yourself so lost in the words that you forget what you are doing and where you are, then you need to read Shadowfell, then you need to devour the rest of Mariller’s backlist. Go on now, I’ll be waiting for you when you are done.
Disclosure: Review copy via Netgalley.
Other reviews of Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier:
The Book Smugglers – “Ultimately, I enjoyed Shadowfell – heck, I greatly enjoyed it, with some reservations.”
Bunbury In The Stacks – “As expected, I held my breath, I hoped, I despaired”