Book Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier


Shadowfell (Shadowfell, #1)Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The following review has been adapted from one I wrote for the now-defunct webzine The Specusphere, in July 2012.

Juliet Marillier has many fans, who are spread across all five continents and the seven seas as well. Her work has been translated into many other languages including Mandarin, and one of her strongest fan clubs is based in Portugal. Her work is largely set in the British Isles (Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret, being set in Europe, are exceptions) so just what explains Marillier’s worldwide popularity?

I would suggest that it is her likeable characters. Her ‘leading ladies’ are all young, strong, efficient and hard-working, and the men who love them are noble, kind and honest. There is, too, the popularity of Celtic mythology and culture, which constitute the main influences on Marillier’s work. Her flagship series, Sevenwaters, is set in Ireland, as are several other of her tales, but for this new series she has moved to an imaginary country named Alba, which we quickly realise is a re-imagining of Scotland.

It’s Scotland, Jock, but not as we know it. Alba is a country beset by wicked magic, wielded by King Keldec and his Enforcers. All other magic is forbidden, and magically gifted citizens are mind-cleansed to sway them to Keldec’s will. In the process, some of them have their minds almost wiped out. Neryn’s grandmother was one of those so ruined, and now Neryn, who has been able to see and talk with the Good Folk for as long as she can remember, must flee northward in search of sanctuary at a place only spoken of in whispers, if at all, Shadowfell.

It is a hard journey, and a long one. Neryn has many tribulations en route. She does have help, not only from the Good Folk, but also from a stranger named Flint. But which side is Flint on?

As usual, Marillier’s characters are clearly defined and individual. One does recognise similar ‘types’ from other books of hers, but each hero, each heroine, differs from all earlier ones through their well-defined personalities and backgrounds. What they have in common is a gift for magic and the desire to do good. The settings, too, are so lucidly described that there is no way we could confuse the mountains and forests of Alba with those of Marillier’s Ireland. Likewise, the magical characters are different: here we have, for instance, the highly original ‘stanie men’ – beings of rock who can only be set free to perform a task by someone with powerful magical gifts. Someone like Neryn.

Shadowfell is an easy read at under 350 pages, and can thus be expected to appeal to girls as young as twelve or thirteen. However, it will also provide a good read for their mothers and grandmothers, to say nothing of their brothers, for many Marillier fans are of the male persuasion, despite the fact that there is always a strong streak of romance in a Marillier book. But the romance is only part of the story. There are also journeys, battles and magic, and strong male characters that will appeal to both genders.

If you have not yet tried Juliet Marillier, you will find Shadowfell a very good jumping-off point. The series is currently set for three books, but if it’s as popular as Sevenwaters there could well be many more. The second book in the series, Raven Flight, has just been published, and I will review that one ASAP. Earlier this year,  Ticonderoga publications  brought out Prickle Moon, a delightful collection of Marillier's short fiction. That one is also on my list of books to review, which, sadly, grows longer by the week.

To learn more of Juliet Marillier’s writings and to see some lovely fannish artwork, go to her beautiful website

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