Second in the Shadowfell trilogy
By Juliet Marillier
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Juliet Marillier's fantasy novels have long had a crossover audience. Unlike some adult authors, she seemed like a perfect fit to write YA. SHADOWFELL, the first novel, was mostly well received and beautifully written. Common complaints were that it was a bit slow, not much happened, and somewhat generic.
Much the same could be said about the recently released RAVEN FLIGHT. Marillier's writing is wonderful. She lays out the setting and the action beautifully. But while I would defend SHADOWFELL from accusations of being slow - I enjoyed Neryn's flight across the country - I wouldn't do the same for RAVEN FLIGHT. Neryn has learned she has powerful magic and needs to be trained. Thus, RAVEN FLIGHT covers her finding teachers and getting training. There are some moments of peril, and the Gathering is a riveting bit of horror, but there's a lot of introspection and there are those who don't have the patience for it. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I wish I hadn't read it during a drive.
Now there's the problem of being generic. Marillier is a terrific traditional fantasy author. But the Shadowfell trilogy is truly traditional fantasy. It doesn't bow down to the subversive trend. It's technically and artistically well done, but there's not a lot of flair. It's a quiet book, on that differentiates itself through character. Reading it is slightly nostalgic, like rediscovering a fantasy novel from my childhood.
The romance between Flint and Neryn continues to be a highlight - it is all slow smolder. They want each other, but their other duties come first. And consummating their relationship could have long-term unfortunate consequences. Thus, Flint is off proving his loyalty and the two barely interact. The biggest relationship in RAVEN FLIGHT is the growing relationship between waifish-but-determined Neryn and Tali, the fiercest warrior in Shadowfell. Tali is steadfast, yet impulsive, and she's much more willing to kill than Neryn. It's a good counterpoint, because Neryn struggles with how she'll contribute to the war effort. Her powers could be devastating, but she has no desire to devastate.
Fans of traditional fantasy looking for a work with a female friendship front and center will enjoy RAVEN FLIGHT. In fact, most fans of traditional fantasy will enjoy RAVEN FLIGHT. It's a good book with a female protagonist who relies on communication, empathy, and her own sense of purpose rather than physical or mental strength. Neryn reminds me strongly of Aang, from Avatar: The Last Airbender, albeit more mature. This series would definitely appeal to fans of that show.