Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"The Caller"

Juliet Marillier worked as a musician and a public servant before escaping the day job to become a full-time writer. Her historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults are published internationally and have won many awards. The Caller, published on September 9 by Knopf, is her seventeenth novel, and completes the Shadowfell trilogy for young adult readers (the other two novels in the series are Shadowfell and Raven Flight.)

Marillier submitted The Caller to the Page 69 Test, and here is her analysis:
The Shadowfell books are set in a magical version of ancient Scotland, where a band of young rebels attempts to end the iron-strong rule of the tyrannical King Keldec. To achieve this, they need the aid of Alban’s uncanny folk, never known for their willingness to cooperate with humankind. The key is fifteen-year-old Neryn, who has a remarkable and perilous gift: she is a Caller, with the ability to unite human and fey in the struggle for freedom. In this series I explore the theme of rebellion. What does it take to stand up and be counted? And what is the personal cost of being a rebel, not only during the struggle, but afterwards?

I had two editions to choose from, the Australian and US versions, and I must admit I chose the one with the more appropriate page 69! Our narrator, Neryn, must master four kinds of elemental magic before she can use her gift effectively in the final confrontation with the tyrant’s forces. She has travelled to find one of Alban’s ancient Guardians, the White Lady, so she can learn the magic of air. It turns out the Lady is invisible; Neryn has encountered only a swarm of tiny insect-like beings that are in some way connected with this once-powerful entity. The Lady does have a voice – that of a tough, wry old Scotswoman. To hear it, Neryn must be inside a beehive-shaped stone hut; it is here that she does her learning. On page 69 Neryn practises her newfound skill in hearing, and the White Lady warns her that using her ability on a battlefield is going to be much harder. Neryn is accompanied on this journey by Whisper, an uncanny being who looks like a cross between a young man and a white owl. The story is full of strange creatures, some from Scottish folklore and some newly invented.

Here’s part of page 69:
Spending all day inside the cramped confines of the beehive hut was taking a toll on me, body and mind. But my learning progressed. Now I could hear the subtlest of differences in the vibrations of the drum, and in the movement of the small folk inside the hut and outside, in the broader area of the Beehives. I could detect the movement of one bird in the elder trees, out there beyond my vision. I could identify one insect crawling out from cover at a distance of twenty paces. Without needing to be out in the open, looking, I knew when Whisper came early to collect me; I heard the rustle of his wings up the hill, even when the howl of the wind must surely drown it.

‘This new awareness will help ye,’ the Lady said. ‘If ye can hear the voice o’ a wee crawlin’ creature even when a storm’s ragin’, mebbe ye can gather your wits in the clamour o’ battle and send a message tae the ears that must hear it. Do ye no’ think?’

I imagined the battle: my friends and allies falling, dying before my eyes; the noise of clashing metal, the crunch of bones breaking, the screams. I had only witnessed one such conflict. This one would be ten times bigger, twenty times. ‘I can only pray that I have learned enough to do it.’
That passage captures the central themes of the Shadowfell series. Page 69 also gives us a glimpse of the elusive Good Folk, the uncanny inhabitants of Alban, and the way in which they guide Neryn on her journey, sometimes with kindness but more often with brusque doses of realism. These are not fairy folk of the gossamer-winged, nectar-sipping variety, but a strong, ancient people who have good reason to be wary of humankind. That makes Neryn’s ability to coax them out and gain their trust a rare gift, and one that she must use wisely – Alban’s future depends on it.
Learn more about the book and author at Juliet Marillier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Juliet Marillier & Pippa, Gretel, and Sara.

Writers Read: Juliet Marillier (November 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue