This was a reread for me, in order to get back into the world so I could finally read the rest of the trilogy! It opens with Blackthorn in prison — a horrible sort of prison, where all kinds of atrocities are committed, creepy-crawlies are your closest companion, and you scratch on the wall to count the days until the hearing where you might receive justice. There’s one night left, except the guard says she’s not going to have her trial. There’s a ray of hope, though: Conmael, a fae man, offers her a deal. She must leave the area for seven years, use her craft for good, and say ‘yes’ to any request for help.
Blackthorn takes the deal, of course. Conmael fulfils the start of the promise in an unexpected way, and Blackthorn escapes — with a companion from the prison, Grim — and travels to her new home. She expects to see folk just like the folk she left behind, and a lord who is no better than the one she planned to testify against at her hearing. Enter the other main character, Oran: a gentle poet who tries to be generous and fair to his people, and who has a little dilemma of his own to be solved…
The main thing for me in these books is the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim. It’s coded non-romantically and non-sexually: they are friends, they rely on each other, and they’re even somewhat co-dependent, but there’s no hint that the relationship is or could be romantic. (God, I hope this stays true of the other books. It wouldn’t be a total deal-breaker for me, but I don’t really read it as a romantic relationship. At least not in this book!) Blackthorn’s not interested, and Grim’s only interest is in being useful, in drowning out the nastiness in his past and the horrors of the prison to be by Blackthorn’s side. It’s the strongest part of the book, their bond, and I only hope it will stay rock-solid through the other two books.
I’m less interested in Oran, whose management of his lands and people reads like a modern insertion — he’s just too egalitarian for the medieval Ireland-ish setting we’ve got here, though we do see a less flattering side of his character in his total impatience with Flidais for not acting the way he expects. His love story with Flidais is interesting in terms of the mystery it provides, but I don’t really believe in either of them as people, and I found some aspects of that storyline vicariously embarrassing (usually a death-knell for me, with any form of media). The solution is rather neat and ties most things up, so I rather hope the focus will be elsewhere in the next book. Despite my reservations about Oran, I’m ready to dive in.