Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Hardcover: 416 pages
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Random House (Alfred A. Knopf Books)
Release date: September 11, 2012
Series: Shadowfell #1
Reviewed by: Stéphanie
Source: Net Galley
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.
SHADOWFELL starts off with a bang as Neryn’s whole world comes crumbling down in a matter of moments. She loses her father, the only person she had left in her life. Despite him being game-loving drunk, she still felt respect for him because of the hard life he had endure. The major decision were always made by father, and now alone, Neryn faces hard decisions. Not really having a home to go to since she and her father have been vagrants for the past couple of years, she does the only thing she can think of—she flees. Believing her father’s death was her fault because the King’s men have been scrounging the kingdom of Alban looking for her because of her magical gift, she sets out to find Shadowfell, a place that is rumored to house Rebels against King Kaldec’s tyranny.
The road Neryn chooses is difficult one since the weather is turning cold and the paths are treacherous. I have to admire her courage and her dedication to get to her desired destination. She has no proof whatsoever that Shadowfell exists, but her belief in her late brother’s stories keep her going. As she makes her way north, she encounters many problems on the road, almost as if she’s being tested. Her canny gift for seeing fairy-like creatures called the Good Folk helps her quite often as they offer guidance and assistance. I think this is where the author’s strengths are—in building a creative world full of creatures and myth. The world building is spectacular and I strongly believe that it makes the book stand on it’s own.
As far as characters go, some of them were exceptional. While I didn’t care overmuch for Neryn, the little Good Folk she sees are very loveable. The way the author describes them as fey-like adds mysticism and magic to the story. Their physical descriptions were perfect, because while not too many details were given, each one of them was singled out by having animal-like or nature-like qualities of their own. Because of their hesitancy to be around humans, they weren’t a constant presence in the story, which I think added so much mystery to their race. My favorite character is Flint, a stranger who is trying to help Neryn find Shadowfell. While I hate his secrecy and his refusal to share anything with Neryn, his dedication to her welfare and to her quest is admirable. We learn more about him later in the book so I’m not going to reveal too much and ruin the story, however, I will mention that his constant sacrifices for a better kingdom makes him a hero in my eyes. The romantic relationship that we see develop between him and Neryn at the end of the book is one of the things that didn’t agree with me. To have Neryn hate him with a passion because of who he works for and because of the type of canny gift he possesses, and then a few pages later have her more or less declare her love for him simply made it hard for me to believe in their relationship. The relationship could have felt more natural if more time would have been dedicated to the romance plot.
I strongly believe that SHADOWFELL has the foundation for a good YA fantasy but for some reason, it didn’t amaze me the way I thought it would. Like I mentioned previously, the world building was wonderful and the characters were very likable. But I think the book lacked flow and motion to keep the story going. The whole book was more or less Neryn making her way to Shadowfell, sometimes alone, sometimes with Flint, and never really sure if she should trust him. The repetition of Neryn’s inner thoughts and the stories of her past prevented the story from really taking off. The book felt like an introduction to a great fantasy world but left me looking for the rest of the story.