What do we take for granted?
Like others, my house had no electricity for four days after recent storms across New South Wales, and we had to get creative about the basics like lights and meals. (Internet? Hah!). In the middle of those four days, we had a plumbing emergency. Not pretty. Fortunately for us, we were able to get a plumber and it was fixed the same day.
Those four days, I thought a lot about how many people in the world live without power and plumbing. I also spent a lot of time reading, much of it by candlelight. One book I read was Raven Flight, the second book in Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell trilogy. Already being in a thoughtful frame of mind, this book had me thinking along disquieting lines.
The first book of the series, Shadowfell, follows Neryn, alone and hiding from the agents of the tyrannical king of Alban. Her young life has been one of tragedy, but her one hope is to find the rumoured base of a rebellion, Shadowfell. Her affinity with the Good Folk, the fey of the land, would mark her for death or enslavement at the hands of the king’s elite troops, but the Folk also prophesy of her importance to the land. She receives aid from a stranger, but the question is, can she trust him?
The second book, Raven Flight, continues Neryn’s story after she arrives at Shadowfell. First she must become stronger in body, and then in order to truly help the rebellion she needs to be trained to use her gift. Eventually she sets out with one companion to find the Guardians who can teach her.
I have to make a disclosure. I love Juliet Marillier’s books, so I was well disposed towards this series at the outset. Her writing combines strong stories based on elements of history and folklore woven with romance. This is her first series written for a young adult audience, but I’ve never let the YA tag put me off. I’d miss out on too many good books that way.
So far I’ve found that, while still having a strong romantic element at the core, there is less emphasis on the romantic relationship in the Shadowfell books than in most of her others. The protagonist, Neryn, is a strong character – not physically, as she is weak and unwell for a significant part of the first book, but she has courage and strength of will in the face of danger and hardship. She spends a much of the first book traveling alone or in the company of the fey, so while there is sufficient time for the romance to develop, the focus is on her endurance and spirit. The main issue in the relationship between Neryn and her love interest, Flint, is the same as the main question of the book: Do I trust, and risk being vulnerable?
In the second book, Raven Flight, though Flint is often in Neryn’s thoughts they are only together for a short time. The emphasis in this book is on sacrifice for the greater good. They both have crucial roles to play in the coming rebellion which necessitate not only that they be separated, but also that they be willing to give the other up. Flint’s actions when worried about her threaten his position, and thus the rebellion. The question is asked again and again in this book: What will you give up for the cause, for the greater good?
It was this question which had me thinking as I read by candlelight. I read a fantasy book set in a land with a despotic king, who ruthlessly cut down anyone who dared to breathe the slightest opposition. The sad part is that such things are not confined to fantasy, and we don’t have to look far to find examples either in history or in today’s world.
In Australia and other democracies we take so much for granted, just like our electricity supply. There are problems here, certainly, and there have been changes to legislation in the past twenty years, especially recently, which have been unhealthy and curbed freedoms. Perhaps it has happened with little outcry because we have taken so much for granted. I wondered while reading by candlelight: What would I give up for the greater good?
I wonder what questions the third book of the trilogy, The Caller, will ask?
Links: Juliet Marilliers Webpage