Neryn, fifteen, is traveling with her father. They have no real destination, not really; their goal is more survival than any other objective, though the name Shadowfell has been whispered. The background of Neryn’s story and of her world is sketched in gradually, until it becomes clear: the land is under a new and brutal regime which is making a concerted effort to harness magic-users when possible, and when that is not possible to stamp it out with a brutality that borders on parody. One talent the hunters look for signs of is the ability to see and communicate with the Good Folk, basically the fae of all shapes, size, and constitutions – and Neryn can see them. It was, partly, for this ability that her grandmother was horribly killed in front of her – and that her village and much of its population was destroyed around her; Neryn must hide the skill at all costs.
When she is horrifically betrayed by her father, she is left on her own at the mercy of a complete stranger who stepped in to save her life. Why he – Flint – acts for her she doesn’t know; whether she can trust him or not she doesn’t know, and opts for not. But their paths keep crossing as she makes for the only place that seems like it might be a haven: Shadowfell.
This is a book that is largely about the journey, so short attention spans need not apply. Neryn has a long way to go, on foot, with few provisions, in the cold, dodging the king’s Enforcers (who are as warm and cuddly as they sound: they’re the ones who search for those with uncanny gifts and mete out punishment) and, at times, the Good Folk (whose intentions toward her are as difficult to fathom at times as Flint’s).
And that’s one of the drawbacks to the book. It’s sensible that Neryn is cautious believing anyone has her best interests at heart; she’s had a horrible short life, and the only way she sees for that life to go on longer is to go it alone. Except that several times along the way she would have died without aid. Reading about her feelings toward Flint is like watching a tennis game – back and forth, back and forth between doubt-filled loathing and grateful acquiescence with shades of something more. And back. And forth. The poor girl must be almost as exhausted by the emotional whiplash as she is by the miles and miles of walking. I was.
The journey is a necessary one for Neryn and the reader, but the payoff isn’t necessarily enough, for her or for me. I might feel differently in the context of reading it with the second book in the series – which I very likely will read. On the whole, beautiful language – some very beautiful; some great minor characters, and main characters who will hopefully develop into fully fleshed-out people. I had been torn between four and five stars; on letting this marinate for a while I’m afraid it’s gone down to three. Good – but not enough.