Summary: I want my epic fantasy to sweep me away but, at the same time, tantalize me with hints that this is a world that COULD be, a world that is tangible and believable and recognizable even if it isn’t quite our own. Juliet Marillier does an amazing job with that brand of epic fantasy, enlivening it with details that are inspired by our own world’s folklore. In Wildwood Dancing (reviewed here), it was the tale of the dancing princesses and the mythology of Central Europe. In the Shadowfell trilogy, we are introduced to the land of Alban – which, if you know the history of the British Isles, you’ll recognize as a very old name for Scotland (in fact, “Yr Alban” is what it is called in Welsh to this day).
So it’s no surprise that Alban is peopled with not only…people, but also Good Folk, fey creatures that seem like they leapt straight out of the pages of Brian Froud. Good Folk and humans—well, they cohabitate in Alban, but at best, they have an uneasy truce. Ancient wisdom says they can never fight on the same side. But, in the face of a tyrannical ruler, that ancient wisdom might have to be challenged. The only way to do this, says that same lore, is through a Caller: someone with the canny skill of calling the Good Folk to the same side as the humans.
Neryn is a Caller. She’s also the last surviving member of her village, Corbie’s Wood, destroyed in a cull ordered by Alban’s destructive king. Her only hope is to make her way to a rumored rebel stronghold in Shadowfell. Along the way, her skill allows her not only to see the uncanny folk who live in Alban’s forests and fields and waters, but also to talk to them. If she learned to use her power, she might also command them. Alban’s very future depends on Neryn’s quest to learn her true skills, and the rebels’ ability to ally with Good Folk and sympathetic chieftains alike in order to unite against the king (and the queen, I might add, who is a piece of work in herself).
Peaks: This trilogy completely absorbed me. True, I’m predisposed to like most anything that deals with lore of the British Isles, but Marillier’s storytelling is immersive and her land of Alban, vivid and magical. It was a very solidly plotted trilogy, as well, with what felt like constant action and tension propelling things forward to the denouement in the third book, The Caller, which I just finished. Neryn and Flint, as narrators, are easy to relate to, and this makes the difficult choices they are faced with, the awful things they must bear witness to, all the more believable and wrenching. There aren’t easy answers or entirely happy endings in this book; sacrifices must be made and loved ones must be lost for the ultimate cause of freedom and justice. War ain’t easy.
Valleys: These are not things I personally found to be an issue, but if you have trouble reading transliterated Scottish brogue, take note that there is a bit of it in this book, mainly from the Good Folk. And, as I mentioned, sacrifices must be made…and characters you really like might die, and then you might cry. Just sayin’.
Conclusion: Starting with Shadowfell, continuing with Raven Flight, and concluding in The Caller, all three of the books in this trilogy are now out, so if you are the type of reader who simply can’t wait out a cliffhanger, then you’re in luck. (As I neared the ending of The Caller, I was actually scared this might not be the last Shadowfell book, but this plot arc, at least, was concluded…and then I was kind of sad because it’s over…There’s no pleasing me, evidently.) Fans of books about the faerie world, from Maggie Stiefvater to Charles de Lint, won’t want to miss this trilogy; and if you like strong female protagonists, you’ll want to throw in your lot with Neryn.
I received my copy of Books 1 and 3 courtesy of the library, and bought Book 2 as a Kindle ebook. You can find SHADOWFELL, RAVEN FLIGHT, and THE CALLER by Juliet Marillier at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!