Since their village was destroyed, Neryn and her father have been on the run for several years. Her father has finally given in to drink and despair and makes a drunken wager with Neryn as the stakes. When her father inevitably loses, Neryn finds herself depending on a man who is not what he appears to be. And he isn't the only one with secrets, because Neryn herself is on the run from a ruthless king, armed with a power that she barely understands, but which might provide the fuel for a rebellion.
Marillier usually uses fantastical folklore in her novels and this venture into YA has her trademark touches of magic, fairy tales and romance. Neryn is independent, but also believably vulnerably, both physically and emotionally, and her slow growth in the novel is believable. Her relationship with Flint is barely developed in this novel, but he is an interesting and complex character, a man pulled in two different directions, and who can probably understand Neryn's desire to use her power and to use it for good. This is a great first entry in the series, which reminded me of Nix's Sabriel, and I am eager to read the next installment.
Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her own canny skill--a uniquely powerful ability to communicate with the fairy-like Good Folk--Neryn sets out for the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a secret rebel group determined to overthrow the evil King Keldec.
During her dangerous journey, she receives aid from the Good Folk, who tell her she must pass a series of tests in order to recognize her full potential. She also finds help from a handsome young man, Flint, who rescues her from certain death--but whose motives in doing so remain unclear. Neryn struggles to trust her only allies. They both hint that she alone may be the key to Alban's release from Keldec's rule. Homeless, unsure of who to trust, and trapped in an empire determined to crush her, Neryn must make it to Shadowfell not only to save herself, but to save Alban.