I think I've been spoiled by Juliet Marillier's earlier works, because as enchanting as Shadowfell is, and as thoroughly as it had reeled me in to the exclusion of all other things in my life, I still can't help thinking that it's missing something. I'm pretty sure that if some other author had written the exact same book, I'd be perfectly satisfied, but I guess I've come to expect more when her name is on the cover.
Trying to pinpoint what exactly fell short of the Marillier Mark is a bit tricky. I don't like to blame the protagonist, because this book is all about how strong Neryn is despite the many terrible turns her life takes. I understand completely why she's so timid and wary--I'd be a bigger wreck than she is if I experienced even half of what she has--but for story purposes, she seems a little pale. She isn't a terrible character -- she's nuanced, she's flawed, and she ultimately rises up to the occasion despite terrible odds and no one to trust, and that's admirable.
It's just that there isn't much of a spark in her, which leads me to some confusion on why Flint would fall in love with her, especially as immediately as he does. I can't help feeling that he just wants to take care of her because she's a wreck, like one would a stray, but events dictate a romantic emotion in addition to humanitarian concern.
I really wanted to love this book, but I'm afraid I'll just have to give it three stars. I suppose this is because so much of Shadowfell was Neryn walking and thinking gloomy thoughts. The next installment seems to be promising, with the ending of the book introducing a broader cast of characters I can't wait to love and the promise of the plot plunging ahead in full steam.
To be honest, what I'm most excited about are the Good Folk, and how Neryn will bring them over to help with Alban's cause. The brief glimpses we've had of Neryn's abilities and the mysterious forces she comes up against were the best parts of this story, I can't wait for her to learn to wield her powers completely.
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