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.
For those who wish that Tolkien had explored the character of Aragorn more deeply, Marillier (the Sevenwaters trilogy) provides the next best thing. Flint, unlike Strider, is younger than he looks, but he's every bit as skillful. On the day the narrator, 15-year-old Neryn, loses her last connection to family and home, Flint is there to extricate her from disaster and set her on the path of destiny, no longer a victim but an agent in the struggle against a cruel king who has twisted and poisoned his realm. How much of an agent Neryn might be, only Flint and the Good Folk, the fae, seem to guess. Marillier presents a classic quest in the high fantasy tradition, but there are no noble warriors to be found in this first book in a planned trilogy. Neryn's gifts lie in seeing, listening, and asking, and the turning points are marked by belief, not battles. The land of Alban is not a comfortable place, Flint is not a comforting man, and Neryn is up to the challenges of both. Ages 12 up.