Friday, February 20, 2015

Series Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

Release dates: September 11, 2012; July 1, 2013; September 9, 2014
Author info: Website | Facebook
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 410, 406, 480
Format: Paperback, paperback, hardcover
Source: Purchased, purchased, library
Buy the books: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository

About Shadowfell:

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.
 When it comes to fantasy done right, I have two people I go to: Robin McKinley and Juliet Marillier. Never have they disappointed, and when it comes to Juliet Marillier, after reading the Shadowfell books, that statement stands. I remember being excited for Shadowfell a long time before it released, I got an egalley, started it...and lost steam. I was pretty afraid I'd found one of her books I couldn't get into. I set it aside. For a long time. Years. I bought a paperback copy on a whim at least a year ago, which then sat around for a long time. Until a couple of weeks ago, when I had the biggest need for some fantasy, and I figured it was time for another try. BOY WAS IT EVER.

When I first tried Shadowfell, I got stuck in the first hundred pages. They're pretty slow. There's plenty going on, but it still manages to be very introductory. And yet, once I got past those hundred pages, I flew through the remaining 1,100 pages of the series with no problem whatsoever. Never a sticking point, never a moment where I thought I should back off and read something else. Once Neryn and Alban got me, they had me. Shadowfell in and of itself is good, but it never really stood up to my favorites from Juliet Marillier. This is partially, obviously, because my favorites are her more sprawling, intricate adult fantasies, and partially probably just the book itself.

A lot changed with Raven Flight, though. Since all that pesky world-building is, for the most part, done--as are most of the character introductions--you really get into the meat of the world and of Neryn's journey. There's a lot of travelling back and forth through Alban in the three books, but in the last two it's mixed in so well with important moments and character development that it really doesn't drag ever. And the characters have such a wonderful arc over the series, which is obvious no matter what, but highlighted all the more in the quick succession in which I read the series. Neryn is small, quiet, and principled, raised to value the old ways of Alban. As she develops her gift as a Caller, not only does she become more skilled and connected to the land, but she also becomes more confident. The girl who finishes the series is definitely not the one who started it. With Flint, most of his development comes in the first book, but we're given more glimpses into his past and that development throughout the final two. You see just how hard the life he lives is, and the toll that takes on him, each and every day.

The Caller felt like it was all rising action. There's a rebellion that's going to happen, whether its key players are ready or not, and each page turn takes you closer. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I felt a bit like I was living for the final pages. At the same time, Juliet Marillier really threw in some unexpected turns, which both kept me on my toes and made me realize that the events leading up to the finale definitely were not set in stone--which was something my forward-thinking mind had done. The finale itself is brutal at times, hard for someone who so quickly and completely became entrenched in the world of Alban, but it's so worth it.

Juliet Marillier's books are a treasure to me. There are so few authors whose work I connect with each and every time, but she's never failed me. Her writing is, without fail, peerless and completely gorgeous. If Shadowfell is a series you tried and stopped, or haven't tried at all but you like fantasy, I hope you'll give it a chance--past the first one hundred pages of Shadowfell. Neryn, Alban, and the Good Folk will enchant.

Shadowfell: 4 stars
Raven Flight: 5 stars
The Caller: 4.5 stars

About the author:

Juliet Marillier was born July 27, 1948 in Dunedin, New Zealand and grew up surrounded by Celtic music and stories. Her own Celtic-Gaelic roots inspired her to write her first series, the Sevenwaters Trilogy. Juliet was educated at the University of Otago, where she majored in music and languages, graduating BA and a B Mus (Hons). Her lifelong interest in history, folklore and mythology has had a major influence on her writing.

Juliet is the author of seventeen historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults, as well as a book of short fiction. Juliet's novels and short stories have won many awards.

Juliet lives in a 110 year old cottage in a riverside suburb of Perth, Western Australia. She shares her home with a small pack of waifs and strays - she is a foster carer for an animal rescue group. She has four adult children and seven grandchildren. Juliet is a member of the druid order OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.)

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