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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shadowfell By Juliet Marillier. Sydney: Pan Macmillan,2012

In Alban, a land loosely based on Scotland, fifteen year old Neryn and her father are on the run. Here, anyone with a hint of magical ability who isn't working for the king is condemned to death or a mind wipe by the official sorcerers. They have already lost the rest of their family and now Neryn is in danger, due to her ability to communicate with, and call, the Good Folk, what we think of as the Faerie. One night loses her everything she has left, when her father gambles her away and dies in a raid by the king's men.

Now she is travelling with Flint, a mysterious young man who has his own troubles and may be working for the king - or spying on him. Neryn doesn't know and isn't sure she can take a chance; if she gets it wrong, not only will she be turned into a mindless king's servant, but she will be used to destroy any resistance to his tyranny...

I like what the author has done with the characters. Neryn could easily have been a whining heroine, but puts aside her own troubles for the safety of others, especially the Good Folk who have become her friends in the course of her journey, sacrificing her own safety when she must and finding sympathy even for ghosts with whom she has no connection. For their part, the Good Folk are by no means minor gods, creatures of mischief or Tolkienesque elves, appearing as various kinds of creatures, rather like Arthur Rackham's fairies. They have their own troubles and emotions and reason for being as they are. They disagree with each other as to whether or not they should trust and help Neryn, who may or may not be a Caller who can save Alban. Each of them has a separate personality.

There is some good world building here; it has a Scottish feel, but this isn't Scotland as we know it. The characters aren't nobles or princesses, either; Neryn is the daughter of a peasant family. In this world magic can turn up in any family. And Neryn's magic can be based on something as simple as a nursery rhyme.

If you enjoy Juliet Marillier's fiction, this YA novel won't disappoint.

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