Dreamer’s Pool is the first of the new Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier. Blackthorn and Grim meet each other when they are imprisoned in grisly conditions by Mathuin, a unjust, terrorizing chieftain. Blackthorn is offered a deal by the fey man, Conmael– he will ensure her escape from Mathuin’s jail and the execution block, provided she not seek vengeance on Mathuin and that she travel north to Dalriada and become a wise woman (healer) there for at least seven years. She must use her powers only for good and she must help anyone who asks her, or else Conmael will add additional years to her service or send her back to Mathuin’s gallows. Blackthorn agrees. Grim also escapes when the prison walls collapse. With no where to go, Grim follows Blackthorn and, recognizing in Grim a call for help, Blackthorn reluctantly agrees to allow him to travel with her and help her establish her home in Dalriada.
Meanwhile, in Dalriada, Prince Oran has finally agreed to marry. After establishing a tender and familiar correspondence with the Lady Flidais, Oran is certain she is a well-suited match. The two share a love of poetry and the natural world and seem to be fairly even-tempered, innocent dreamers. But when Lady Flidais turns up at the castle, something is off. She is not at all faithful to her depiction in her letters and Oran becomes suspicious. He turns to the new wise woman, Blackthorn, asking for her help in finding out what exactly is going on with Flidais, in hopes of returning the woman in his letters to him.
I love Juliet Marillier and what I love about the Sevenwaters series was in this book, too. I love her writing, I love the sense of the supernatural that is all around, and I love the strength and intelligence of her female characters. Blackthorn was deeply wronged by Mathuin and is fueled by thoughts of revenge, but bound by her promise to Conmael. She is smart and good at her work as a healer and beneath her outward prickliness, she shows a love of justice and a desire and drive to stand up for those who cannot defend themselves. Grim is at once liked and respected within the community for his size and strength and ability to contribute to the community in manual labor. His secrets lie deep, but we see flashes of an uncontrollable rage in him, particularly in the face of men who have injured or insulted women. I am curious to get to more of his backstory in future installments in this series.
The weaknesses for this story mainly lie in the whole plot with Prince Oran. It was fairly obvious early on what must have happened to Flidais, and though there were some details that were not readily apparent, it wasn’t some grand mystery for me. I am always a little disappointed to be several steps ahead of the protagonists in solving a problem. Also Prince Oran was a bit… saccharine of a character. While he is not a perfect character, he is a just and kind and fair ruler of his people and also this total softy when it comes to poetry and women. He came off as too good to be true and so did the Flidais of the letters. I do not anticipate that they will play a huge role in future novels, though, so I expect this won’t be a huge issue for me in continuing with the series.
I’d recommend this to fans of Juliet Marillier and if you aren’t a fan of hers, well, then, start with Daughter of the Forest, see what you think and then maybe consider this one. It’s a nice fairy tale story with characters who have a lot of potential for development, but this is not the strongest plot to start with.