Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Juliet Marillier - Dreamer's Pool

In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.
Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.
With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

Comment: I've read plenty of books by this author to consider myself a fan of her work. Therefore, it was no surprise I'd feel interested in more of her books and this is the first of the Blackthorn and Grim series.
Once again, the author picked her vast knowledge of old Irish, Celtic and Pict tales and successfully used them as inspiration for her novel. This time the focus is on some older Irish stories, in a very good blend of fantasy and romance.

In this novel we meet the pair Blackthorn and Grim (as they call themselves), two companions on a prison cell who have sort of bonded over their common debasement and imprisonment. Despite not having shared personal stories, they life through the same current fate until one day Blackthorn is rescued and Grim finds his way out as well.
By having her freedom, Blackthorn is told she cannot get revenge on the man who caused her so much suffering and put her in prison. She agrees with the hope of serving the seven years on the agreement she has with one of the fey but then all bets will be off. One of the demands she has to fulfill is to help others when they ask, for she is a wise woman. 
She was not counting on Oran, prince of Dalriada to ask such a task of her but when his intended bride seems to act so strangely, Blackthorn and Grim set off to help. Will they be able to do so?

This is a story told by three narrators, Blackthorn, Grim and prince Oran. The chapters alternate between them so that the reader follows the story through the eyes of people who can be participants of different settings and this way it does feel like the reader never misses a transition moment.
The story is evocative as is a habit with this author's "voice" and, of course, the fantasy elements are superb in their descriptions.

Mrs Marillier is a good storyteller, as she often likes to introduce characters who do the same, and this time, it's no different. Probably, one of the best elements in the book is that she uses details of stories, of fables, of old legends and makes them both mysteriously dark and seductively magic to the reader. I kept thinking that these elements were a little superficial, after all the dark side of this fantasy could have been much more dangerous but the author knew how to balance things out and the magic we see happen isn't as mean as it could and I finished the book with the sense of balance and debts settled in my head.

The plot centers a lot on prince Oran and his fiancée and what I wrote above is linked with this part of the story. I think the author did a good job letting the reader get a notion of things in a very slow mode, but at the same time I must confess the huge part of the mystery wasn't that mysterious. I understand some clues had to be given, otherwise the plot wouldn't need to move on, but the reality is that I guessed the secret of this novel early on. It doesn't mean the surprise isn't there, after all we don't know how things happened or how they will be solved but yes, it was a little complicated.
I liked prince Oran, he is a sweet character and I was really rooting for him and his happiness.

Blackthorn and Grim are the central characters though, and they will be of the future books too. We do discover Blackthorn's past story and I can really understand why she feels like getting revenge. This information is told quite slowly too, not only to grab the reader's attention but mainly to give us an opportunity to see for ourselves how we like or not, these characters. This is so obvious and still some readers prefer to tell instead of showing when really, the beauty of a good tale is on how we can connect with the characters by seeing their actions and attitudes.
Regarding Grim, he's still mysterious but I suppose we'll know more about him in the next book.

The best part of this book is on the small details. One little thing here, another there can be worked to explain a bigger picture later on. I do like this style but for some it can look a bit boring and without much intention. I think this author has a good way of avoiding this by presenting doubtful situations in which the reader is forced to think about possible solutions/scenarios and that helps people to think for themselves on the heroes' worthiness.

I'm a fan, so I'll certainly read the next installments in the future. It's always good to go back to a style we like and this author is usually a hit for me.
Grade: 8/10

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