Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Shadowfell Book Poster Image
Girl who talks to fairies vs. evil king in complex fantasy.

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

While the book is fantasy and set in a fictional world, young readers will pick up quite a bit of Scots dialect and other bits of Celtic lore along the way. They'll also encounter thoughtfully presented ethical issues.

Positive Messages

There are many positive messages in Shadowfell, including the fact that even the people from whom you expect the worst can surprise you in a good way. Loyalty, steadfastness, generosity, and forgiveness are all important elements in Neryn's learning process.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Neryn doesn't always make perfect choices, though she learns from her mistakes and generally does the right thing when it counts. The mysterious, deeply conflicted Flint navigates between the worlds of mortal enemies while trying to remain true to his own moral compass. Both the fairy world and the human world offer many characters who perform with heroic self-sacrifice to protect Neryn and help her reach her goal.


There's a constant backdrop of violence as Neryn flees the king's forces, who've already killed most of her family. Besides inflicting violent death on the populace, including by setting fire to buildings with the people inside, the king's Enforcers also have skills to destroy the minds of those who oppose them. Conflict between Enforcers and resistance forces results in much death.


Neryn refers to the low-life men in the gambling den undressing her with their eyes as her father stakes her as his wager; she also mentions never having had sex as she ponders what the man who's just won her will do to her. But her relationship with Flint remains notably chaste, with one kiss before the book ends.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Potions, healing and otherwise, turn up frequently. Too much drink leads to trouble, as when Neryn's crazed father can't stop gambling. One of the Good Folk who's been supplying Neryn with a tonic so she's strong enough to travel refuses to give her any more because of the danger of addiction.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shadowfell is the first book in a trilogy by bestselling historical-fantasy author Juliet Marillier. In a generally Celtic medieval kingdom called Alban, 15-year-old Neryn has been in mortal danger her whole life because of her "canny" abilities, which let her see and converse with fairies. And when her addled father gambles her away in a game of chance, she fears the man whose hands she's fallen into. As her adventures unfold and she starts to realize her magical powers, she encounters -- and sometimes participates in -- violent combat, which becomes the subject of much moral reflection. The king's Enforcers set fire to buildings with people inside and have the power to destroy the minds of those who oppose them. Conflict between Enforcers and resistance forces results in much death. But Neryn learns compelling lessons about friendship, forgiveness, and loyalty, and has just one kiss by book's end.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written byElkinon August 21, 2020

Excellent fantasy material

This book is my personal favourite; though, for very subjective reasons. The world-building is phenomenal and the story highly engaging. At face value it doesn... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byseaotter77 November 6, 2012

Great book!

This book is a nice read, with a well-developed plot. I especially enjoyed the characters. I would recommend it to a friend, but I wouldn't say it's t... Continue reading

What's the story?

Fifteen-year-old Neryn, who can see and converse with the \"Good Folk\" -- fairy beings who share the land of Alban with humans -- has already lost most of her family to the evil king's forces as he wages war against anyone with magical powers. When Neryn's father, addled by drink and trouble, gambles her away in a game of chance, she expects only the worst from the dark, mysterious man who carries her off -- and who proves surprisingly protective and willing to help her get to the mysterious land of Shadowfell. As she journeys toward her goal, with and without her enigmatic guardian Flint, Neryn encounters many characters, human and not, who present her with many tests to reveal her destiny -- and her role in Alban's future.

Is it any good?

Juliet Marillier is an accomplished writer of fantasy page-turners with a huge worldwide following, and it shows in the skilled storytelling and world-building in SHADOWFELL. Neryn's introspection and cosmic journeys toward her destiny may not be to the taste of more action-oriented readers. But the story offers interesting, complex characters confronting challenges from the mundane to the horrific and sets the stage for further developments in the trilogy's next installment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why books about humans interacting with the fairy world are so popular. How is the view of that world different in Shadowfell from how it's portrayed in other books you've read or movies you've seen?

  • Do you agree with the way Neryn and Flint handle the issue of doing something harmful for a good cause? Would you do something different?

  • If your country suddenly fell into the hands of an evil ruler, do you think you could do anything to change things, or would you just try to survive?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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