Having read my first Marillier novel, Daughter of the Forest, earlier this week, I was anticipating great things going into her young adult work Shadowfell. Unfortunately, her latest title failed to live up to my expectations, and I was left wondering whether its failings resulted from the crossover from adult to young adult fiction and, in fact, whether this was actually penned by the same author.
Stories based on fey lore have never captured my interest as much as those incorporating other myths, for some reason. A select few authors, however, have drawn me into their adaptations thoroughly despite my general aversion to faerie settings, such as Seanan McGuire, Patricia Brigs, and Karen Marie Moning. Upon reading Daughter of the Forest, I would have added Juliet Marillier to that list as well, yet Shadowfell made me doubt that initial inclination. Whereas Daughter managed to incorporate the fey in a beautifully subtle way, perhaps not altogether innovative, but nonetheless eerie and perfectly matched to the tone of the story, Shadowfell falls into the trap that perpetuates my distaste for fey-centered stories. The fey characters Neryn meets during her journey seem to step out of the forest straight from the pages of Katherine Briggs’s An Encyclopedia of Fairies, only without any modification to make them Marillier’s own. They’re short-fused, cheeky, double-tongued imps that could have walked right off the set of Labyrinth, and unfortunately they are also twice as annoying. What’s worse, they seemed to add very little to the story other than making Neryn’s journey twice as long and tedious. Had their insistence that she was on the path to danger originated in an innate tendency to be contrary, I might have forgiven their presence, yet they seem genuinely invested in helping Neryn, which merely made their interventions all the more frustrating.
Neryn is a lamentably boring heroine with very little backbone and, at times, even less common sense, though Marillier clearly believes her characters has these traits in abundance. In reality, she is but another cardboard cutout in a story full of incompletely developed ideas, as is her love interest Flint. Tali and Garret show some promise for future development, but I doubt I’ll be around to see whether that promise is fulfilled.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Shadowfell is the fact that, despite being over four-hundred pages in length, it is very obviously only the first third of a story. I have little patience for authors who confuse the concept of a trilogy with that of a single book broken into three segments. While there might be an overarching plot that ties together all three books, I should nevertheless turn the last page of each book feeling as if I have accomplished something, yet Shadowfell‘s ending is abrupt and inadequate. Had this been my first experience with Marillier’s writing, it’s doubtful whether I would have picked up another title from her catalogue. Since I do happen to know how skilled she is, I’ll chalk this one up to a bad day and go back to her Sevenwaters series.