Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier


September 7, 2012 by Heidi

Shadowfell by Juliet MarillierTitle: Shadowfell [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Juliet Marillier [Website|Facebook]
Standing: 1st book in a new trilogy.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: September 11th, 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover; 416 pages
Source: ARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Challenge: MG/YA Fantasy Challenge

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.

Seven Days for Sevenwaters banner
Before I start my impending review of Shadowfell, and while I have the attention of all of you once and future Marillier fans, I wanted to mention an event that’s happening next week: Holly, The Book Harbinger, will be hosting Seven Days for Sevenwaters.  For all of you waiting most impatiently for Flame of Sevenwaters to release this fall, now’s the time to celebrate all things Sevenwaters!  Holly will be hosting a variety of guest posts about the series, including a post from Juliet Marillier herself.  She’ll also be including a daily round up for Sevenwaters related posts around the blogosphere, so write a discussion post, share your love for this series, or finally write that review and share it with all of us!  Even if you have yet to read Sevenwaters, I hope you’ll attend and let us convince you must do so asap.


Shadowfell  was my first foray into Juliet Marillier’s YA books, and I have to admit I was nervous.  I knew going in that there was no way it could level up to the breathtaking wonder that is her Sevenwaters series, and I knew it would suffer from comparison as I read Son of the Shadows at the same time.  The unfortunate reality is, both these fears were justified, or maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I enjoyed Shadowfell a great deal, but still couldn’t help but feel a wee bit disappointed–I had to keep reminding myself that if this wasn’t a Marillier book, I’d probably be rating it higher (alas, show me great and I will hold you to higher standards).  Still, Shadowfell is the promising start to a new trilogy in a fantasy world that touches on what we know of Celtic mythology but twists it to something new and different.  It is simultaneously that old school fantasy comfort read for fans of the genre everywhere and fresh new use of Marillier’s deft hand with romance and magic.

Where Shadowfell was weakest, for me, was in its heroine.  Neryn wasn’t the strong willed female lead I was expecting or looking for.  Despite being of age with her Sevenwaters counterparts, Neryn shows clearly that this is indeed a YA novel in her youth and naivety.  Smacking of ‘chosen one’, we spend the majority of Shadowfell following Neryn’s journey to the place that shares the novel’s name as she faces the question of whether or not she has been born with a special gift that has the potential to set her people free.  Living in the kingdom under a harsh ruler, Neryn has never known a life of freedom or without fear.  She grew up with the knowledge that it is not safe to speak one’s mind, or to acknowledge her canny abilities to see and communicate with the Good Folk.  I was shocked at how utterly sheltered Neryn’s life had been, despite the horrible things she had born witness to.  I had a difficult time making sense of her when she was so desperate for hope, but unwilling to trust, or even to talk about things that seemed obvious to me.  Neryn is meek, with brief flashes of backbone, and it took her a good 2/3 of the book to gain my confidence.  She did, however, make an excellent contrast for the other leading character who I adored, Flint.

Neryn is young, and as such she sees the world in black and white, completely oblivious to the many shades of grey that seep into our perceptions as we grow older.  Flint, however, is those shades of grey.  I love this character and his existence on the very precipice of right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate.  Flint and Neryn provide the perfect balance for one another, and it was with this realization that I began to accept Neryn a bit more.  My comments on Flint will remain brief (though I could go on and on) so as not to spoil the story, but suffice it to say that he is the reason I kept coming back to this book, and it was the portions with him in it that for me flowed best.

Shadowfell is clearly the groundwork for a story, rather than a complete story in and of itself.  It is that set-up novel leading to a very wrote path that is predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless.  At times it felt as if the world were being constructed around me as I went, as opposed to me being plopped down in a world that was already fully formed, but that made it no less intriguing.  I loved the folklore that Marillier played with, indeed, the novel really took off for me when Neryn finally falls into this world and embraces it fully.

Shadowfell is very clearly a young adult focused novel, rather than one of those line-blurring crossovers I so adore, but as such it was very strong.  As expected, I held my breath, I hoped, I despaired, and I replayed favorite scenes in my head for days after I’d finished.  If I didn’t fall head over heels for Neryn’s tale, it’s also not one I’ll be turning my back on anytime soon.  Neryn, her world, and her story only have room to grow, and left me with the promise to do so.  If you enjoy Marillier or fantasy with enchanting mythology, captivating characterizations, and companions you will adore, look no further than Shadowfell.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  I didn’t completely love Shadowfell, but I recognize that the story is really picking up and starting to go somewhere I hope I’ll enjoy.  I read Shadowfell as a read along with bookish friend, Keertana, which may have led to some overanalyzing, but also allowed us to gush all spoilery to one another the whole way through.  Sign me up for more of that!  I will certainly be back to give Raven Flight a go in 2013.

Recommended for: Readers who enjoy dystopias or fantasies with hard handed rulers such as Throne of Glass or Graceling, the political structures here are similar.  Any Marillier fan, readers who like old school fantasy, slow burn romance, and a good rebellion.

Get a second opinion:
See Michelle Read – “As soon as I put down this book I immediately flipped back to the beginning without hesitation, set on rereading the entire thing again right then and there.”
Book Harbinger – “I’m sorry if I ever doubted your ability to write young adult novels, Ms. Marillier. More, please.”
Books Take You Places – ” a beautiful beginning to another trilogy that I am sure to love.”

I’ve also reviewed:
Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters 1)


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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.