Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

(9.5/10)

Veteran author Juliet Marillier delivers a strong young adult fantasy novel in Shadowfell, the projected first in a new trilogy.

The Kingdom of Alban lies under the tyrannical rule of King Keldric, who has outlawed all use of magic unless he can harness it for his own purposes. Sixteen-year-old Neryn is on the run from the King’s henchmen, who have heard rumours of her ability to see the Good Folk. When her father gambles her away in a drunken game at the pub, she falls into the hands of Flint, a morally ambiguous young man who appears to serve the King.

Rather than turning her in, Flint helps her along her journey while continuing his role as double agent. Neryn makes for Shadowfell, a rumoured resistance movement. She is aided by the Good Folk, who test her worth at every step. But can Neryn trust the enigmatic Flint to lead her safely to Shadowfell - especially when the Good Folk warn her against him?

Juliet Marillier appears to be right at home writing for a younger audience as she is for adults. Her prose is insightful and haunting, losing none of the depth or dark edge of her adult work. Shadowfell’s plot doesn’t really break new ground; Neryn is an adolescent heroine with latent powers embarking on a quest, while the fantasy realm of Alban borrows liberally from the Celtic settings of Marillier’s popular Sevenwaters series.

But Marillier can be forgiven some familiar tropes, because no one does character development so well. The Good Folk come alive on the pages, as earthy and otherworldly as the faery creatures that populate Brian Froud’s paintings. Flint and Neryn’s growing friendship and budding romance is deftly rendered. Many traditional quest fantasies separate the hero and heroine until the end of the story, so Neryn and Flint’s constant interaction is a refreshing improvement upon the genre. Strong characters, a believable romance, and a clear anti-authoritarian message make Shadowfell one of the best young adult novels published this year. I highly recommend it to all fans of Juliet Marillier and anyone interested in Celtic fantasy.

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