Raven Flight: Shadowfell, #2 -- Juliet Marillier
I loved Shadowfell. Like, I loved it A LOT.
I am so, so happy to say that Raven Flight doesn't come close to disappointing. It's just as fabulously superb an epic fantasy as the first book, and it's left me in the same sort of tizzy: ALL I WANT IS THE NEXT INSTALLMENT. AND IT'S GOING TO BE, WHAT? ANOTHER YEAR, PROBABLY? AUUUUUUUUUUUGH.
Although she is small, prone to sickness, and not a fighter, Neryn is the best hope for the resistance against King Keldec's brutal reign: as the only known Caller in existence, only she can bring the Good Folk into the fight on the side of the humans.
It's been a few weeks since she arrived at the rebel's base in Shadowfell. She's rested now, healthier, and now it's time for her to set out again: in order to wield her power properly, she needs to find and train with the four Guardians of the realm. She's already met with the Master of Shadows, but now she needs to find the Hag of the Isles, the Lord of the North, and the White Lady... and due to the timing of the impending battle, she only has a year and a half to to travel to three far-flung corners of the country, find the well-hidden Guardians, train with them, and make it to Summerfort in time to challenge Keldec at the midsummer Gathering after next.
So, yes, in terms of format, it's a classic quest novel. But here's what sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill quest novel—and, for that matter, your run-of-the-mill fantasy, period:
Neryn. As I said in my review of the first book, Neryn isn't an overly badass, swaggering heroine. Yes, she wields huge power, but her strength lies in her thoughtfulness, in her empathy, and in her disinclination to wield her power without fully understanding it. In more grasping, ambitious hands, it could be used to manipulate and enslave the Good Folk, and in lazy or feckless hands it could be used purely for convenience, but Neryn uses it to ask, and to be heard.
She is very aware that waging war will result in deaths on every side, and because of that, her great empathy is also a weakness: her training forces her to confront the idea that she won't be able to use her power effectively unless she makes peace with the fact that some of the fey who join the rebellion will very definitely die, and very possibly at her command. Translation: Raven Flight deals with the emotional and moral implications of leadership, and it deals with said implications with depth, subtlety, complexity.
Even MOAR emotional complexity. Relatedly, it also deals with the difficulty of being a double agent: Flint has affection for some of the men in his troop—and even, to a degree, for King Keldec—and while his belief in the rebels' cause is stronger, it's still a hard road to walk.
The romance. As in the first book, Neryn's romance takes a backseat to the rebellion. She sees Flint very rarely, and she realizes over the course of her journey just how dangerous personal connections are... and the following exchange gets to the heart of the debate that plays out over the course of the book:
"Perhaps this is best. We are each other's weakness."
"We are each other's hope," I said, and although every instinct urged me to throw my arms around him, to press my body against his, to hope him close, I withdrew my hands from his and took a step back. To be a warrior of Shadowfell was to put the cause before all else.
"At the end, you may indeed be all alone. If that is unbearable, if you cannot do without your friends, if you cannot go on without love and support and comradeship, then best you give this up now, before you travel farther down the path. Weigh it up, lassie. It's indeed a hard road."
But is it better to proclaim your love, to be aware of it, to have an understanding and risk your heart and the possibility of later being forced to make the choice between your heart and your country... or is it better to protect yourself and your heart by hiding your love away and never speaking?
Similarly, what is a more powerful force for bringing about change: anger? or hope?
THIS BOOK EXPLORES SO MANY QUESTIONS.
The storyline. OH MY GOD, THE THINGS THAT HAPPEN. It made me feel so very many feels. In particular, Neryn's description of the goings on at the Gathering make it very, VERY plain why Keldec's reign needs to end, and why people are so afraid to defy him. It's a devastating scene—as the hero/quest cycle goes, this segment may as well represent Neryn's descent into Hell—made even more powerful by Neryn's response to it: knowing that she can do nothing to stop it, she watches and bears witness, vowing to use the memory to always keep the rebellion forefront in her mind.
I could go on—the brogue! the cranky fey! the vast array of fey! THE BIRDS WHO WEAR LITTLE FELT BOOTS! the ultra-passing of the Bechdel Test! the parts where I cried! OH MY GOD, THE ENDING!—but I'm pretty sure that A) no one is still reading, and B) I've made it pretty clear how much I loved it.
It doesn't have the same homebody vibe as Chalice, but I could see this series appealing to fans. Beyond that, though, if you're at all a fan of the epic-type fantasy, DO NOT MISS IT.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.