With all genre series, but in the YA set in particular, it is so utterly rare to uncover one that truly builds as it goes. But Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell series does just that, the three books acting as one long, slow-burning story that improves with each step along the way.
It’s a series where I started with little more than disdain for the Care Bear main character, and ended with her burrowed deep into my heart. The final book in the trilogy is part epic revolution, part sweeping romance—The Caller brings to life two characters who risk love for everything rather than risking everything for love.
Neryn, born with the uncanny gift of a caller, has a mere two seasons in which to finish her training, master her gift, and unite the good folk and humans together in a battle to free Alban from its imperious ruler. Although aided by a myriad of friends and allies, she must stand alone as the linchpin of Shadowfell’s revolution. Neryn, her comrades, and Flint—the man who carries her heart—each tread a perilous path in which one misstep could have their cause exposed and destroyed forever. The Shadowfell series is a classic revolution story told through the masterful pen of Juliet Marillier. Weaving together Celtic mythology with her own inspiration, Marillier creates a world of deep seated dread in which the tiniest flame of hope must be held close for fear of its being extinguished.
What began as a patented chosen one tale grew into so much more with one single twist at the close of Raven Flight, the book preceding The Caller. Suddenly, it is no longer Neryn’s gifts of birth that make her ideally chosen for her role in the revolution, but her gifts of life. Neryn grows throughout this series so subtly and steadfastly that it is impossible not to feel sheer and utter pride in this young woman by the series’ close. She goes from being a mere Pollyanna to a character who knows her importance and role and is willing to make the tough decisions required to put that role first, though she continues to see the world with a sort of sideways hopefulness that takes a unique way of thinking to understand. Neryn is a beautiful reminder of the potential for good in all beings. A reminder that kindness, understanding, and unfailing optimism have their rewards on all sides. Instead of a heroine who sits around feeling sorry for herself or those comrades who have fallen, Neryn shows every living creature the respect they deserve and looks always forward to a brighter day.
If The Caller is enriched by the character growth of Neryn (really people, I look back to my thoughts on Shadowfell and am reminded how little I liked her), it is doubly improved by the regularity in which we are given Flint’s point of view. Flint, Shadowfell’s ears and eyes as an undercover spy in King Kaldec’s court, is nearing his breaking point. He is the counterbalance to Neryn’s unflagging hopefulness. Filled with paranoia and fear, Flint has abandoned his last shred of self confidence and lives each day only for the cause. No one can write a broken man like Marillier, and she forms Flint in such a way that no heart could resist him. We are given bits of The Caller from his perspective regularly as the book goes on, pieces that reflect how Flint himself may most desperately be in need of the mind mending task he himself is able to perform on others. The quiet romance between himself and Neryn continues, always a steady force in both lives, though never the priority. Marillier’s willingness to push the romantic plot to the background makes it all the more engrossing for the delayed gratification crowd, and the torturous wait is worth it.
While I still wish that the Shadowfell series weren’t told in first person, this continued complaint is the only one I can make toward The Caller. This third installment was crafted in such a way that we are reminded of the previous volumes with no info dumps, and what I worried would be a rushed plot due to the amount of tasks left to Neryn was in fact perfectly timed and paced. The Caller starts out slow, as any Marillier work does, but her books are always worth the hard work of reading them. Despite having a very directed path, Neryn’s journey is riddled with surprising twists and turns that lead her to dangers much more imminent (and interesting) than life on the road. While it continues on with the series’ strong cast of side characters, Neryn is truly the star of The Caller, becoming a fixed point around which all others orbit in a perfectly balanced dance.
If my initial criticism of Juliet Marillier’s YA was that it wasn’t as strong as her adult books, The Caller blows it away. If taken as an entire arc, the Shadowfell series is stunning. The growth of Neryn, her relationships, and the revolution itself comes on so slowly and surely that it would be nigh impossible to not feel wholly invested by midsummer’s arrival. There are tricksters, surprises, bravery, respect, and the world is surprisingly clean (ie: never one threat of rape) considering the downtrodden state of Alban. As in all her books, Juliet Marillier uses the Shadowfell series to show the strength and power that women can control regardless of their place in the world or society in which they are born. Though Neryn wields a great power, it is her own personal fortitude and spirit that enables her to use it for the betterment of those around her.
In short, like most reviews of Marillier books, I find myself descending into blathering fangirldom, unable to fully or properly articulate how she affects me. The Shadowfell series was not without its faults, but in the end and as a whole I must declare The Caller to be one of the most successful YA series endings I’ve read in some time. This trilogy is a triumph in young adult fantasy, and well worth picking up for Marillier fans of all ages.
The Caller is available September 9th from Random House.