Juliet Marillier continues the epic fantasy begun with The Dark Mirror, which Interzone called: "A fascinating evocation of life in Pictish England and an emotional roller coaster of a story."
King Bridei is a man with a mission. His wish to unite his kingdom seems almost within his grasp but there are forces working to undo his dream. He sends Faolan, his most trusted advisor (who is also a master assassin and spymaster) out into the world to ferret out the truth of who is friend and who is foe.
Along the way Faolan will uncover many truths. Some may hold the key to Bridei's future. But more important, they may unlock the secrets that Faolan has held deep within his soul for decades.
And offer him the chance of redemption.
This is the story of Faolan, King Bridei's bodyguard and often assassin, who is sent on both personal and professional missions to his home country. Faolan goes through a lot of emotions and challenges while at home. He seeks forgiveness and he also wants to pay off a debt, while looking for clues about something Bridei is involved with. Faolan wasn't counting on being the one who had to save someone but after all things considered, he was saves as well...
The amount of research the author works on before a book is published is clear to see in every page of this book - and the others. I think this must be one of the most careful writers out there that, despite writing fantasy novels, inserts her worlds in historical places and traditions. I had such a good time reading this book and looking for each new chapter and to see what would happen.
This story is focused on Faolan. We've met him better in the previous book but the way things ended and what we learned about his past made any reader certainly conscious of the hardships he must face every day just by breathing.
Faolan is doing a mission for King Bridei for which he needs all his focus, but he also plans on meeting his family again after a long absence. He also wants to respect the wishes of a dead man and he goes to check on that man's family, something he thought would be the easiest task of them all. However, nothing happens easily and Faolon makes an impression even if he isn't aware of it. There's a lot for Faolan to come to terms with and that will ask a lot of him.
While this world is heavily based on historical facts from the beginning of Scotland even before it was the Scotland we know about, and considering all the political elements in the story, I can't help but being most impressed with the fiction side of things and how each character has a part to play, a role to interpret. Eile is a wonderful character and I liked her a lot. I was very happy to see how her future is set on the dreams she always wanted.
We see Bridei e his wife, with both personal and political issues to solve but still in love and willing to do their best for their people. We see the solution to some beloved character's future which we haven't seen in the previous books.
But the best part is indeed, Faolan's evolution from someone cold and even to be pitied at the end of the previous book, to someone who went to a personal hell, struggled and in this book was a hero, a friend, a son and the man everyone knows he was capable of. I loved how he got such a deserved HEA because his path in this story faced so many unexpected emotions and situations we wouldn't think of but he never lost his honor, something that bothered him for so long. He is a worthy character and I like him a lot.
There are some issues with this book, but nothing major and nothing that ruined the overall story for me. I cherish this story a lot and I'm sure I'll re-read my favorite scenes often.
I'm definitely returning to this author's work next year.