Remember how I said the next blog would be about the Doctor Who book? I lied. I just couldn’t get into that one while I had a Juliet Marillier book waiting to be read. So, today’s blog is about her latest novel for teens, Shadowfell. While I much prefer the depth and challenge of her novels for adults, I still felt the satisfaction that I always get from reading her novels.
This novel is set in a fictional land called Alban–one that much resembles Ireland in its landscape and its lore. It once was a place of happiness and beauty, but a tyrannical king named Keldec has turned it into a place of suspicion, fear, and death. He has clamped down on his kingdom with an iron gauntlet, forbidding his people to use their “canny” abilities or to question his rule. Anyone who shows the least sign of magical talent is hunted down and brainwashed to enter Keldec’s service. Every autumn, bands of his Enforcers scour the land, rooting out rebellion or canniness and burning down entire villages for the sins of one.
Neryn is a 15-year-old girl who has been on the run for years, ever since her grandmother and brother were murdered by Enforcers and her canny abilities made her a prize for Keldec’s cause. Neryn’s powers are more than just keen sight or musical ability. Neryn can see and speak with the Good Folk, and Keldec wants her bent to his will, for anyone who controls Neryn holds a powerful weapon–the power to harness the spirits and magical beings of the land of Alban itself. Neryn must find a hidden, legendary stronghold called Shadowfell–a haven said to be safe for people with magical abilities or rebellious leanings. She is aided on her journey by a mysterious and stony-faced stranger, who she has great difficulty trusting, and her powerful Good Folk friends.
Everything that Marillier writes is infused with the magic and mystery of folklore. Her prose is stunning in its loveliness. She constructs beautiful plots that always entail a heroine who must find her courage and undertake a journey most girls would shrink from. They also always end with these girls finding love in strange and unexpected ways. This novel was no exception. From what I can recall, it is the first novel she’s written that isn’t set in the world we know. Alban is a mythical land with its own geography, history, and lore. However, like I said, this lore very closely resembles Irish folklore, and it’s for this reason that I was mostly in fits the entire time I was reading. For those that don’t know me, I’m absolutely obsessed with Irish folklore, and being in Ireland this summer and getting to learn about it first-hand was pretty much a dream come true. But I digress. The beauty with which Marillier writes about this lore, the magic of the land, the land itself, and love, are all things that make me adore her writing.
Of course I struggled to find flaws with the book. It was predictable, sure, but I couldn’t tell if it was because I know her body of work so well, or a genuine lack of creativity. Somehow I very much doubt that it’s the latter. And there were parts that surprised me, pleasantly and not-so-pleasantly. Ultimately, I was once again awed by her writing.
Her characters are always pleasing. She often blurs the line between good and evil, and when it comes to the Good Folk, she never really clarifies that line. They are, rather, mostly neutral, choosing to remain aloof of the petty squabbles of mankind. Until, that is, they affect the fate of the Good Folk as well, and that is very much the case in this novel. Though they are beautiful, elusive, and powerful, they are also arrogant, most of them believing they are better than humankind (and rightly so). Neryn, however, does manage to form a bond with a few of them, and earns the grudging respect of others. Always, they are the self-possessed, regal beings that they always are in Marillier’s body of work, and I receive the most delight in reading about them in all of her novels.
The only thing that bothered me was the ending. Being a teen book, and therefore, naturally, a series, it did not have a true ending. It bothers me when authors do not wrap up a book well, leaving the reader impatiently waiting for the next installment of the story. It is, perhaps, my biggest pet peeve in writing. Still, I will anxiously await the next chapter in Neryn’s journey to free Alban from its tyrannical king. Other than that, it was a delight to read, and I recommend it highly, as I do with all of her books.