11 January 2013

Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her own canny skill—a uniquely powerful ability to communicate with the fairy-like Good Folk—Neryn sets out for the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a secret rebel group determined to overthrow the evil King Keldec.

During her dangerous journey, she receives aid from the Good Folk, who tell her she must pass a series of tests in order to recognize her full potential. She also finds help from a handsome young man, Flint, who rescues her from certain death—but whose motives in doing so remain unclear. Neryn struggles to trust her only allies. They both hint that she alone may be the key to Alban’s release from Keldec’s rule.

Homeless, unsure of who to trust, and trapped in an empire determined to crush her, Neryn must make it to Shadowfell not only to save herself, but to save Alban.

It's odd, because I usually adore Juliet Marillier's books, and yet this one wasn't a slam dunk for me.  It was certainly better than most, but it just didn't have that absorbing quality I've come to expect.  Perhaps that's from the romance.  It hung on such tenuous assumptions I often wanted to shake Neryn and say "Just talk to each other darnit!"  I mean, I know Neryn is young, but you'd think after a few times she'd get the point.  She just kept making the same dumb mistake, though, while skating through all the other challenges presented to her (another slight problem, she seemed a little overpowered in the virtue department, her 'tests' didn't give her much problem).  This was really the only character issue I could see.  The other characters we meet are well developed for their time on stage.  The pacing was slow in spots, but not too bad.  I could probably have overlooked the pacing issues if it weren't for the repetitiveness of the plot.  Neryn's relationship I trust him / I don't trust him / I trust him flip-flops probably accounted for a lot of that feeling.  It got a little better towards the end when there were new characters other than Flint to interact with, but the issues were still there.  I think the biggest problem, though, is that Marillier is too used to writing for adults.  The book felt like a good START to a great novel, but it didn't really have time to develop into something really juicy, and it didn't tighten up like a YA usually does.  I think fans of epic fantasy will like this one, especially if they can read the whole series at once.  As for me, I'll pick up the next book in the series to see if the spark of promise pays off.

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