Raven Flight wisely lets the romance fall by the wayside to focus on the rebellion and Neryn's progress as a Caller. I say wisely, because I was never really too sold on Flint as a love interest. Life at Shadowfell is fascinating and if what exactly the rebels are doing to win freedom is sort of vague, it's more than made up for with the interesting characters that make up the Shadowfell rebellion.
Tali, specifically. In the first book, she comes off as a sour and suspicious warrior lady. Which she is, but there's obviously more to her than that. She gradually warms up to Neryn, but maintains her aloof and stern warrior mien until about the very end, when you realize that underneath all those knives and prickly words, she's just a girl, too. With her rich backstory and her hidden yet rather complicated feelings, she's as much a Marillier heroine as Neryn is.
I'm not going to let all this Tali love cause the Neryn Appreciation Party to fall by the wayside. (Also, announcement: there is now a Neryn Appreciation Party, population: me) After the first book, I wrote her off as bland and forgettable. I suppose it's because most of the first book was her agonizing over her family and falling ill and wafting on whether or not to trust Flint, and all of that got a bit tiresome after a while. This time around, Neryn is set on her path as a Caller and the determination that drove her through her many miseries in book one finally shines out. I'm amazed with her ability to deal with all sorts of crazy shit happening to and around her and still be patient and really nice to everyone. If it were me I'd probably retreat into a cave somewhere and let the world outside fall apart.
Neryn and Tali start out without much of a relationship besides woefully unfit student and training tyrant. When they're forced to journey together, it takes a while for them to get used to each other because everything about Neryn is soft and everything about Tali snarls at you to back the fuck off. I won't go into detail about that one moment where you realize that they've truly grown to care for each other, but I'll admit that it did hit me as hard as Sorcha screaming Red's name for the first time in Daughter of the Forest. And that's saying something.
Along the way, we get to marvel at the sights of Marillier's fantastic new world, and to feel vaguely ill at the mess evil King Keldec has made of it. I have hopes of seeing the Hag and the Lord of the North again, possibly in the final confrontation that seems imminent, because our time with them was pitifully short. We see more of Keldec now, and there appears to be a Lady Macbeth sort of thing going on. His relationship with Flint is interesting, but honestly, Marillier may need to work to elevate Flint as a character, because right now he is far outstripped by his ladylove and the upstart newcomer Tali.
Juliet Marillier has proven to be an expert on writing romance and family drama -- now she shows she's pretty damn good at writing friendship, too, and it truly is magic.
(full review at my blog, but only if you feel like it!)