“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.
Book: “The Caller” by Juliet Marillier
Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, March 2014
Where Did I Get this Book: own it
Book Description: Neryn has made a long journey to perfect her skills as a Caller. She has learned the wisdom of water and of earth; she has journeyed to the remote isles of the west and the forbidding mountains of the north. Now, Neryn must travel in Alban’s freezing winter to seek the mysterious White Lady, Guardian of Air. For only when Neryn has been trained by all four Guardians will she be ready to play her role in toppling the tyrannical King Keldec.
But the White Lady is not what she seems. Trapped with Whisper, her fey protector, Neryn is unable to send word to her beloved Flint, who is in danger of being exposed as a double agent. When a new threat looms and the rebellion is in jeopardy, Neryn must enter Keldec’s court, where one false move could see her culled. She must stand up against forces more powerful than any she has confronted before, and face losses that could break her heart.
Review: This series was a bit of a roller coaster ride when I read it the first time, and the same holds true now. The first book was a bit slow and plodding. The second book was much improved and more to my taste. And the last book…was kind of back to being a miss, leaving the trilogy as a whole as probably my least favorite series from Marillier. So with that exciting preview to go on, let’s dive in!
Neryn’s task, to meet and gain the blessing of the four Guardains of the fae, has not been completed, and the powerful and dangerous forces in the land of Alban grow. She must hurry, not only does the entire land depend on her ability to communicate with the Fae, bringing them into the battle to secure their country from its cruel dictator, but her love, Flint, may soon be exposed as a spy. But magic can’t be rushed, and there are secrets to be discovered in the chilly halls of the North.
This book was not my favorite. Part of this has to do with the strange pacing of the story which makes it feel like poorly fit pieces of a puzzle that just won’t lie together. In many ways, the beginning feels like a natural extension of the second book, so much so that it reads a bit strange to find it at the beginning of a completely separate book that rather quickly leaves this type of “magical trial” storyline in the dust. But still, as I greatly enjoyed the second book for this very same storyline, the first part of this book is by far my favorite. I enjoyed the magical mysteries to be found with the northern Guardian, and this small adventure perfectly fit Neryn’s optimism and persistent pluck even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.
However, from there the book goes downhill in my estimation. We move on to a undercover spy game that, on its own, isn’t bad but pairs poorly with the magical adventures that came before it. Again, my lack of investment in Flint and his relationship with Neryn didn’t help, leaving me feeling a bit bored as we made our way through what should have been touching reunions and tense games of cat-and-mouse.
And, sadly, the ending was the worst of it. Not only did I find the manner in which these conflicts were resolved unbelievable, but the entire thing undercut much of the grief and terror we’d seen up to this point. Neryn’s journey, her power, all were useful, of course. There was a brief battle. But in the end, it felt like the rebellion, Neryn, and us, the reader, had been primed for something that simply didn’t happen. And if it was ultimately as easy as this (I don’t think it would be and frankly my eyebrows were exploding off the top of my head, they were raised so high), the entire situation could have been handled sooner and the threat was never that powerful to start.
There was also left only a small, short chapter to really wrap up the remaining storylines. We were given only the briefest glimpses into the possible future for these characters, and it all simply felt like too little tacked on at the very last minute. Given how little of this series showed Neryn and Flint together, this truncated ending for them felt like even more of a let down.
So, yeah. I didn’t love this trilogy when I read it the first time and was curious to see if, perhaps, I just wasn’t in the right mood that go around (though, to be fair, I read these as they came out, so I would have had to be “not in the right mood” for like three years for that to be the case). But, no. This series just wasn’t for me. Neryn was a bit too Mary Sue. The romance lacked the spark I’ve come to expect from Marillier. And the story often felt half-baked. If you’re a fan of her work, maybe check this out. But other fantasy readers are sure to find better entries from this author in her other series.
Rating 6: A disappointing end to a lackluster series. Honestly, with “Wildwood Dancing” as the exception, Marillier is a far better adult fantasy author than YA.