Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier is the first book in a darkly atmospheric fantasy series.
really all that long ago, canny gifts were valued in Alban. That was
before Keldec took the throne and set up his network of Enforcers and
Enthrallers, to make sure that all magic users were either in service to
the king . . . or dead. Neryn has seen the devastation wrought by the
king's men first-hand, when they burned her village and destroyed her
grandmother's mind. She knows she must keep her own gifts hidden as she
and her father travel from town to town, always on the run. Neryn
thought her life couldn't get much worse, but when her father wagers her
in a game of chance to a mysterious cloaked man, she feels as if the
bottom has fallen out of her meager existence. The stranger offers her a
choice: she may go her own way, or accept his protection on her
journey. Choosing to travel alone, Neryn makes her way north toward
Shadowfell, where rumor has it that a band of rebels has a stronghold
and people with canny gifts are accepted and trained. On her way, Neryn
learns that her own gift is something out of the ordinary, even for a
magic user -- and the king's forces are hot on her heels because of it.
If Neryn doesn't want to end up as a weapon for King Keldec, she must
make it to Shadowfell. To do so, she'll face constant danger, harsh
weather, and a series of unexpected encounters as she proves herself and
hones her magical gift.
This book is excellent in all sorts of
ways. The setting is vivid in all of its harsh, rocky dampness. The plot
is strong, connected to the history of the land and the events that
took place before the book begins. The characters are few but fully
realized, and I've got to say that Flint is one of those slow-smoldering
book crushes that you don't see coming until wham you're head
over heels. (Probably doesn't hurt that I found myself basically
picturing him as a younger Aragorn.) All in all, this is a book that
readers of YA fantasy should definitely take a closer look at.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)