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.
Fairies! And Juliet Marillier, who I love to pieces. High fantasy is basically my bedrock, because it’s where I first began my explorations into books outside chick lit and the Babysitter’s Club. I owe it all to David Eddings, Anne Bishop, and Jacqueline Carey, honestly. Eventually Laurell K. Hamilton, Jim Butcher, and Ilona Andrews helped push me into urban fantasy territory, which led me to Twilight, then The Mortal Instruments, then the Caster Chronicles, and now here I am! Sorry for the impromptu history lesson, but this book had me so excited! The beginning reminded me of the start of Fable II, if only because RPGs are always on my mind in some fashion. Anyway, Neryn has a deadbeat dad who she parts from in the first chapter, after being saved by a mysterious man named Flint. Neryn has been beaten down by a life that saw her grandmother murdered. Neryn is brave though and begins the trek north alone, dangerous for a girl alone in the time of the Cull, when the king’s Enforcers round up and kill anyone with magic. Like Neryn.
We don’t know much about her gift at first, but as soon as she’s on her own, she’s approached by the Good Folk–fairies. Some don’t want to help her and some do, though she warns them away. Magic is dangerous unless you’re in the king’s inner circle. There are three fairies in particular who want to help her: Sage, Sorrel, and Red-Cap. Neryn resists their help at first, but they’re persistent. Marillier really likes to show you the scenery, and there are lush descriptions and measures throughout the novel. I almost always skim these; that’s not a condemnation of the writing, it’s one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” things. It’s something I’ve always done. I really ended up liking Neryn, especially when she learns the full truth of her gift. She doesn’t want to believe it, but she’s logical enough to see the plausibility. She’s responsible and tough.
Much of this novel is traveling, which can be slow and a little boring. Fully half (and more) is just Neryn trying to find her way to Shadowfell and generally failing miserably. Neryn is also incredibly gullible, which just goes along with how good and virtuous she is, and, honestly, it makes for a somewhat boring protag. The worst moral decision Neryn has to make is whether to accept food from fairies. It started feeling like this novel was less about Shadowfell and more about Neryn and Flint. Which is fine, just not what I was expecting. So, yes, I was a little disappointed by this one, which is why I gave it the rating I did. Neryn frustrated me, not seeming to be able to pick up on the behavioral clues of those around her, vowing never to use her gift again because she killed some of the enemy, just so naive and clueless. And she’s fifteen. She has some right to be clueless, I just hope that, in the next book, she’ll have gained some experience.
So, yes, I will read the next novel, and am actually a little impatient to do so, because I see a lot of potential, and I want to see where Marillier goes with all of this. The fairy lore in this one is unique and interesting, so that’s where a lot of my interests lie. I am of course interested to see where Flint and Neryn go next as well.