Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

In case you weren’t convinced by my previous ranting, the amazing Ebony at The Hundred Book Project has allowed me to reblog her wonderful review of Shadowfell and her Q&A with Juliet Marillier.

Ebony’s review expresses exactly what I love about Marillier’s writing and Shadowfell. Given my goal to make everyone read this book, I just couldn’t help but share it! 🙂

Click below to read Ebony’s fantastic review of this amazing novel! Many, many, many thanks to Ebony for allowing me to reblog this!



Its name is spoken only in whispers, if the people of Alban dare to speak it at all: Shadowfell. The training ground for rebels seeking to free their land from the grip of the tyrannical king is so shrouded in mystery that most believe it to be a myth. 

But for Neryn, Shadowfell’s existence is her only hope. She is penniless, orphaned, and utterly alone – and concealing a treacherous magical power that will warrant her immediate 

enslavement should it be revealed. She finds hope of allies in the Good Folk, fey beings whom she must pretend she cannot see and who taunt her with chatter of prophecies and tests, and in a striking, mysterious stranger, who saves her from certain death but whose motives remain unclear. She knows she should not trust anyone with her plans, but something within her longs to confide in him. 

Will Neryn be forced to make the dangerous journey alone? She must reach Shadowfell, not only to avenge her family and salvage her own life, but to rescue Alban itself.
This first novel in a new trilogy from enchanting fantasy author Juliet Marillier is a captivating tale of peril, courage, romance, and survival

The problem I have with the fantasy genre is that a lot of the books in the market feel geared towards a male audience – often female characters are scarce, and I never know what I’m going to get. I have a similar problem with the crime-fiction genre. That is why Marillier’s women-centric fantasy novels and I are a match made in heaven.

A die-hard fan, I’ve read all Marillier’s novels and commonly devour them in one sitting. Aside from the abundance of strong, interesting female characters, there is the historical element and refreshing lack of info-dumping that make her my favourite fantasy author.


My collection – I even have some of the awesome retro circa-2000 covers

Thus, the question I was asking myself before reading Shadowfell was how it would compare to the stories I already knew and loved. My worries were assuaged almost immediately. The writing was like slipping into a favourite woolly jumper – warm and familiar.

To those acquainted with Marillier’s work, I can say that the atmosphere of Shadowfell felt reminisce of the early Sevenwaters novels. Still, Shadowfell is a departure from what I’ve come to expect from a Marillier novel in several ways.

Most noticeably, the ending of Shadowfell does not tie up all loose ends – it seems that the sequel will carry on where the first left off, rather than acting as a companion in the style of her other novels. I am happy to say that the author has gotten a lot of things right in regards to making this story exciting enough to carry on, and I wasn’t plagued by the disappointment that some series often leave me with. This is probably one of Marillier’s most interesting worlds yet.

Neryn is also not the type of heroine than I am used to; something that I relished. She is somewhat different to Marillier’s usual leads in that, despite her inner strength and determination, she seems truly young and a bit naive. This was necessary, I believe, given that the Shadowfell series will conceivably follow the same protagonist. Normally each protagonist is given one book and thus the character’s growth does not have as much time to play out. Neryn has a longer story arc; it makes sense that she would have further to go in terms of development and growth.

Crucially, the world-building and premise of the story is strong – emotive and intriguing without being too complex. Though the world of Shadowfell is a bleak one, there is a strong sense of hope from Neryn that lifts the story. She’d downtrodden, but not defeated. I really enjoyed exploring Alban through her eyes.

Flint was interesting and mysterious, and the other supporting characters are memorable and alive. There is rarely a character that does not add something important and meaningful to the story – Marillier is never wasteful. One thing I’m hoping for in the sequel is getting to meet characters from the other side of the central conflict. I can’t wait!

There is no-one I trust more than this author to deliver heart-felt, vivid fantasy. If you are looking for realistic characters and an intriguing world, I urge you to give Shadowfell a try.

A big thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing me with a review copy. Shadowfell is already available in Australia, and is released in the US on the 11th of September. Stick around for a Q and A with the author, where she discusses Shadowfell and writing.


Ebony: You are known for the Sevenwaters series and The Bridei Chronicles. How does writing for a young adult audience differ from writing for an adult audience?

Juliet: For me it’s not so very different – that may be because the historical settings of my books mean it wouldn’t be appropriate for my characters to speak or interact the way today’s young adults might! There are three obvious differences: one, the books are shorter, so I need to write tightly and not waste words; two, the protagonist(s) are younger, though not so much younger than the central characters of my adult books, who are usually in the 16-22 age group; and three, the story is centred on that young protagonist and his or her journey towards a goal, perhaps maturity, perhaps completing a quest, perhaps better self-knowledge and self-acceptance. Incidentally, the reason the protagonists of my adult books are young is that in the time of the books (early medieval for Sevenwaters and sixth century for Bridei) people were getting married and having children, going off to fight wars, providing for their families and so on by the age of about 14 or 15. While I was writing Shadowfell I didn’t think a lot about the fact that it was a young adult book – I just wrote the best story I could! I’m hoping very much that it will appeal to all ages from about 13 up, including my adult readers.

Ebony: I’ve found that your characters always have interesting, memorable names. For instance, in Shadowfell, I thought Flint very aptly named. How do you decide on names and how significant are they when you are exploring your characters?

Juliet: Usually I do a lot of research to get names correct for the time and culture – that was especially so with the Bridei Chronicles, where I had to reconstruct names from an almost forgotten language (Pictish.) I don’t often choose names for their meanings, more usually I go for something that sounds and looks as if it suits the character. There have been a few chosen for meaning, eg Fianchu (‘hound of a warrior band’) and Magnus (‘great’) in Heart’s Blood. And Bran (‘raven’) from the Sevenwaters series.

Shadowfell is recognisably Scottish, with the country of Alban based on the Scottish highlands both in geography and climate and in the way people talk (especially the Good Folk!) But it’s not a true historical setting – Alban is really an imagined, very magical version of ancient Scotland. So, instead of going for names like Hamish, Fergus and Ishbel, which would suggest the Scotland of clans and tartans, I invented names that are almost Pictish but not quite. They do follow a pattern, so they sound as if they belong together in the one culture. That’s for the human characters. The Good Folk have names that either suggest their characters (Gentle, Whisper) or are taken from nature (Sage, Sorrel, Red Cap.) In the second Shadowfell book I will introduce a clan of northern Good Folk whose names are all Scottish alpine plants, and a clan of fighters with names like Scar, Stack and Grim. Flint’s name just came into my head and seemed absolutely right for him. Of course, that’s not his real name. The central character, Neryn, was originally Nevyn but I changed it when someone told me there was a character of that name in another author’s classic fantasy novel.

Ebony: Shadowfell is written in first person, but you are also known to use the third person voice. Which do you find easier, or are both equally natural?

Juliet: I find first person easier to write, but it does limit the storytelling choices since we can only go to places where the narrator is present. It means, for instance, that we can’t have insight into what Flint is thinking while he talks to Neryn, and we can’t know what’s going on back at court while Flint is away up the Rush Valley. The Sevenwaters series is written entirely in first person, and I had to resort to a few tricks such as allowing characters to see things in visions or dreams. First person draws the reader right in and allows him or her to identify very closely with the protagonist and share that character’s journey – readers loved that in the Sevenwaters books. Third person allows for more epic storytelling and more complexity both in characterisation and plot (as in the Bridei Chronicles.) Many writers these days use ‘tight third person’, that is, a third person story where each scene is presented from the point of view of one character only, often using language that reflects that person’s thought patterns, attitudes and vocabulary. In tight third person you never move out of that character’s head during the scene. It’s very effective. 

Ebony: How do you think Neryn, the protagonist in Shadowfell, compares to some of your other unforgettable heroines, such as Liadan from Son of the Shadows or Creidhe from Foxmask? (my personal favourites).

Juliet: Neryn starts the story in a position of what appears to be extreme weakness, having lost pretty much everything that made sense of her life. She’s alone and impoverished, and she can’t trust anyone. She has one slender hope that she’s clinging to without really understanding it. Both Liadan and Creidhe start out with far more advantages (physical good health, strong and loving families and naturally positive outlooks.) Neryn’s journey is harder because she is so disadvantaged and lives in a place that’s in the grip of tyranny. It’s a bit of a David and Goliath story – a fifteen year old girl against the might of the king and his Enforcers. I’m hoping readers will come to love Neryn as much as I do.

Ebony: The intricate world-building and vivid imagery are what I love most about your writing. Do you have a tip for aspiring fantasy writers on building the wonderful sense of atmosphere such as is found in your novels?

Juliet: My world-building is based quite extensively on real world history and geography, which helps a lot! Also, I love mythology and folklore and I develop the more fantastic elements of a book from the folk beliefs of the time and culture it’s set in. The main rule for creating fantasy worlds is to keep everything internally consistent in your world. Know your world backwards. You need to know ten times more about your world’s culture, language, habits, history, politics, religion etc than you ever actually write into the story – that helps it become convincing for the reader. It’s often the little touches that make your world rich and real – small, concrete details such as a description of a particular dish characters are eating (sight, smell, taste) or a description of an item with particular meaning for an individual or within a family (eg the neckace Liadan makes for her sister in Son of the Shadows, woven from scraps of family garments – hearth magic to keep Niamh safe when she leaves home) or a telling detail about the weather or season, such as the sound the ice makes when you walk out on it, or the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot, or the sound of gulls wheeling above a fishing boat. Use the five senses to make descriptive language more telling – how do things sound, look, taste, smell, feel? Last but not least, READ extensively, not just within your own genre. I learn all the time from writers who do it better than me!



1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Fantasy, YA Books

One response to “Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

  1. ej2birches

    What a great review, thanks for finding it. And the interview with Juliet is really good too with some wonderful insights. Having just finished Shadowfell myself, I am now re-reading Daughter of the Forest for the third or fourth time. I am enjoying it more than ever but thanks to reviews and interviews such as this one I have much more understanding of the skills and underlying knowledge that Juliet brings to her works. Thanks to Ebony too for allowing you to re-blog this review and interview.

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