Happy Presidents’ Day! I’m glad you’re here today, because one of my favorite fantasy authors is too—the fabulous Juliet Marillier! And yes, I am giddy.
Juliet, who is represented by Russell Galen, is here today and tomorrow to talk about her Shadowfell series, a young adult historical fantasy trilogy published by Alred A. Knopf/Random House (U.S.) and Pan Macmillan Australia. Tomorrow, I’ll have a special giveaway. To whet your appetite, here is a synopsis of Shadowfell, book 1:
Its name is spoken only in whispers, if the people of Alban dare to speak it at all: Shadowfell. The training ground for rebels seeking to free their land from the rule of the tyrannical king is so shrouded in mystery that most believe it to be a myth.
But for Neryn, Shadowfell’s existence is her only hope. She is alone and penniless, a fugitive concealing a treacherous magical power that will warrant her immediate enslavement should it be revealed. She finds hope of allies in the Good Folk, fey beings whom she must pretend she cannot see and who taunt her with chatter of prophecies and tests; and in a mysterious stranger who saves her from certain death but whose motives remain unclear.
Will Neryn be forced to make the dangerous journey alone? She must reach Shadowfell, not only to avenge her family and salvage her own life, but to rescue Alban itself.
El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Juliet: I was brought up surrounded by tartan, bagpipes, and Scottish place names—in New Zealand, not Scotland. I foster dogs for an animal rescue organisation. I currently have five of my own, all rescues. I’m a practising druid and a member of OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids). I manage to make a living writing novels.
El Space: Many readers know you as the author of such adult historical fantasy series as Sevenwaters, the Bridei Chronicles, and Saga of the Light Isles. For those readers who aren’t familiar with your current series, what was the inspiration behind Shadowfell?
Juliet: The Shadowfell series was partly inspired by the so-called Arab Spring, which saw popular uprisings against repressive regimes occurring in several Middle Eastern countries. I wondered what it took to be the kind of person who will stand up and be counted, and what the personal cost of that might be. Being part of a rebel movement generally means setting aside home, family, work, and relationships—you have to put all your energy into the cause. I decided to base the series on a group of young rebels fighting against impossible odds with magic thrown into the mix. My books are very much based on character, and in this series the central characters face some big moral dilemmas, such as whether it is acceptable to perform destructive or violent deeds if they are necessary for the greater good, and what burden this leaves on a person’s conscience.
Books 2 and 3 in the Sevenwaters series
The other inspiration was the Scottish Highlands and their folklore. Although the Shadowfell series is in no way based on real history, readers will soon realise that the kingdom of Alban is a magical version of ancient Scotland. My uncanny characters all speak Scots dialect, either light, medium, or quite broad! Readers can blame my ancestry and upbringing for that—it came quite naturally.
El Space: I’m always inspired by your wonderful heroines. Neryn in the Shadowfell series is the kind of heroine with whom many of us can relate. But she’s very different from your Sevenwaters heroines like Clodagh [at left] or Caitrin in Heart’s Blood. We can relate to them too. They’re strong but vulnerable and sit gently on the page even when facing heartbreaking circumstances. What traits does Neryn have in common with you? How is she different from you?
Juliet: At the start of the series Neryn is at rock bottom—without family, friends, or resources, and on the run from the king’s Enforcers. She’s been betrayed by the one person she had left. Neryn has a special ability, but that seems more likely to get her captured and executed than it does to help her. However, she is a very strong person. We see her haul herself out of danger over and over. She has a tough core, developed by having to take an adult role from the age of twelve. She is fifteen at the start of Shadowfell.
What traits does she have in common with me? A love of, and respect for, nature; a tendency to see the good in people even when they seem outwardly flawed. How is she different from me? Neryn is far more courageous than I am—I would have collapsed in a heap before the journey was half over!
El Space: Me too! Which of your heroines, if any, is most like you?
Juliet: Caitrin from Heart’s Blood. Her story, loosely based on “Beauty and the Beast,” touches on some personal issues for me. Caitrin is damaged by her past, and she learns during the novel that you need to love and respect yourself, with all your flaws, before you can truly see the good in others and share that same lesson with them. Caitrin reaches out not only to Anluan, who is crippled both physically and mentally, but also to his support group of rather unusual people, each with heavy personal baggage. Quite a few aspects of Caitrin’s journey reflect mine, if not in fact, then in psychology.
El Space: How do you decide whether a series should be written for adults or for young adults? What are the challenges in writing for either age level?
Juliet: That is a really good question. On both occasions when I’ve written a series for young adults, it’s been because a publisher asked me to do so. The Wildwood books are much lighter in style than Shadowfell—they were designed as an antidote to the grim and gritty books that are published for this age group, though Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret do include some serious themes.
I have three main principles in mind when writing for YA. Firstly, the story should have a young adult protagonist or protagonists, and it should focus on that character’s personal journey. Secondly, I only include scenes of sex or violence if they are essential to telling the story well, and I present them in a way that’s appropriate for a young adult reader. In other words it’s not so much what you do, as how you do it. Thirdly, a young adult novel is usually more plot-driven than an adult novel. Having said all that, when I became immersed in writing the Shadowfell series, I lost the awareness of writing for one readership or another. As a result, I think this series works very well for adult readers of historical fantasy as well as young adults—possibly better! I’ve had a lot of positive feedback on the Shadowfell books from adult readers.
I tend to feature quite young protagonists even in my adult books, because in the early medieval period, when most of my stories are set, people did things much earlier—at age 14 upwards girls would be marrying, bearing children, and working at a craft or on the farm. Young men would be fighting in wars, plying a trade, taking responsibility for families. Lives were a lot shorter in those days.
Overall, I think the challenges are much the same when writing for young adults or for adults—maintaining pace and tension, making the characters real, creating a consistent and believable world, trying to stretch and challenge myself a bit more with each new novel.
We’re going to have to break for today! Don’t worry. Juliet will return tomorrow. That’s when I’ll discuss the special giveaway. But if you can’t wait, and need to read one of her books ASAP (I can’t blame you for wanting to do so), the first two books of the Shadowfell trilogy are available here:
Looking for Juliet? Head to her website, then stop by tomorrow!
Author photo and Shadowfell (book 1) cover courtesy of Juliet Marillier. Other book covers from Goodreads and Wikipedia.