Dreamer’s Pool- Juliet Marillier

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.

Son of the Shadows- Juliet Marillier

this cover might be worse than the first one, just AWFUL


Son of the Shadows picks up about 18 years after Daughter of the Forest and features Liadan, Sorcha’s daughter, as the protagonist.  Liadan is much like her mother, in terms of her size and coloring and her talent as a healer.  But Liadan is also much like her father, happy to be tied to her estate and people, living a careful, duty-bound life.  Even further, she shares the gift of the Sight that her uncle Finbar had and she is told she has the power to change the course of destiny.  The “old evil” (AKA Lady Oonagh AKA Sorcha’s evil stepmother) is back to stir up some trouble.  Liadan’s sister, Niamh, is caught in an affair with someone her family strictly forbids.  Niamh is shipped off to be married to a political ally of Sevenwaters and Liadan accompanies her on her journey.  Liadan is kidnapped by a gang of mercenaries known as the band of the Painted Man when they hear of her ability as a healer.  Liadan stays with the band of the Painted Man for a week (or two) and falls pretty quickly into the arms of the Chief of the band, a man she names Bran.  When Bran learns Liadan’s family heritage, he scorns her and send her back to Sevenwaters.  Liadan soon finds out she is pregnant with Bran’s baby and while he has refused her, she cannot give up on her true love.  Nor can she give up on the quickly unraveling stability of her home and family.

So.  I was once again swept up in the Sevenwaters world.  Liadan has more powers and magic than her mother did, so the supernatural and folklore are even more present and active in this story.  I was inclined to like the romance between Liadan and Bran a little more than Sorcha and Red, but mostly because Bran is a bit of a bad boy with a code and well, I like that trope in my romance novels.  Liadan was not quite as endearing as Sorcha, though I liked her confidence in herself and her trust in others.  I did have some issues with some of the choices Liadan makes.  She is quite stubborn and refuses to tell Bran that she is pregnant because she assumes there is no room in his life for her.  I just can’t imagine a more selfish act than keeping the child from him.  Let him decide if he wants to stay or go!  Her major trouble is trying to decide whether to choose for herself or whether to fall into line with what the Fair Folk and her family forsee for her.  But it’s not even much of a struggle, as she very stubbornly believes she knows what is right for herself the whole time.  Also, whenever she hit a snag, there was some sort of magic available to bail her out.  Her journey was not near as tough as Sorcha’s and as a result it was not as touching and heart-wrenching as Sorcha’s.  The book shone the most for me when Liadan was in the camp of the Painted Man, among men with no other place to go.  I wish that had been more of the story, rather than the waiting and angsting that made up a good deal of the middle part of the book.

This is a decent sequel with romance and adventure and a lot more political detail and scheming, but it is not quite the tale of love and struggle and sacrifice that made Daughter of the Forest so special.  All that said, I am probably starting Child of the Prophecy very soon.  I really like this world Marillier has created and while her characters didn’t shine as brightly here, I know the final book of the trilogy focuses on the next generation and I’d like to see how the Sevenwaters family fairs against the reemergence of the old evil.

Daughter of the Forest- Juliet Marillier

this cover is not my favorite


Sorcha has six older brothers who have pretty much reared her on their own, as her mother died giving birth to her and her father threw himself into warfare and political affairs after his wife’s death.  Sorcha is a gifted healer and a bit wild, having grown up around boys and the forest and having been a bit indulged because of her position as the youngest and only sister.  But things quickly change for her, as her father takes a new wife, a woman with strange and evil powers and intentions.  The evil stepmother turns Sorcha’s brothers into swans to keep them from inheriting their father’s estate.  Sorcha is their only hope of returning to human form.  She must dedicate herself to the physically and emotionally painful task of constructing shirts for each brother out of a thorny plant and must not speak with anyone until the task is complete.  Sorcha is taken from her task away to Britain, where she finds a man she loves.  But Britons are the enemy of her people and her devotion to saving her brothers prevents her from fully accepting love into her life.

THIS BOOK.  I sort of felt like my childhood self while reading it, getting completely lost and caught up in Sorcha’s world and story.  I often say books don’t need to be longer than 500 pages, but while this one took a little bit to get going,  I realized how important it was to set the scene and develop Sorcha’s brothers as characters before they leave the story for a while.  The plot here is pretty simple: a task assigned that requires much of the character before it can be completed.  But the characters and the world-building brought the story to life.  Sorcha’s brothers are all uniquely drawn and lovable for their own unique reasons.  And Sorcha was awesome, probably one of my favorite characters I have read in a long time.  She is so strong and loves so deeply and is willing to sacrifice so much for the sake of her family and her beloved home.  It was heart-wrenching watching her hit speed bump after speed bump on her journey to save her brothers and heal her family.  It was heart-wrenching watching Sorcha find true love, only to have to leave it behind.  But Sorcha always remains determined and hopeful and that was so nice to see.  I am a little skeptical of a love story where the characters don’t even talk (I love romantic banter), but it somehow worked here, as Sorcha and Red found their own ways to communicate and be together.  I also had no idea I was remotely interested in Irish folklore, but I thought Sorcha’s world was quite fascinating.  The line between the real and supernatural was very thin and the Fair Folk and other supernatural presences were constantly present in Sorcha’s story, whether as voices in the forest or physical presences guiding Sorcha’s journey.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough if you want to get to know a seriously strong female heroine.  The weight of her family’s very survival is on her shoulders and it is a burden she gladly carries.  I almost immediately started the second book in the Sevenwaters trilogy after finishing this one because I could not get enough of Marillier’s writing and the Sevenwaters world.  I have a feeling this will be a book I revisit on down the road.  It just struck a very special chord with me and I am so glad I gave it a chance and discovered a new favorite.