Tag: Juliet Marillier

Review – Tower of Thorns

Posted August 1, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Tower of Thorns by Juliet MarillierTower of Thorns, Juliet Marillier

After the events of Dreamer’s Pool, Blackthorn and Grim are both rather well-settled in Dalriada, respected by their community and particularly by Lady Flidais and Oran. Blackthorn is more or less resigned to staying put and awaiting the end of the term set on her by Conmael, and Grim… well, he’s happy, taking care of Blackthorn, doing odd jobs for local people. Still, when a woman called Lady Geiléis arrives pleading with Oran for help, it’s no surprise that Blackthorn is caught up in it. Where Blackthorn goes, Grim follows — even if one of Blackthorn’s long lost friends has also shown up on the scene, disrupting the dynamic between them.

I love the way this book is put together: the mystery, the slow revelation of the backstory through the story about Lily and Ash, and the way it also brings to light things about Grim and his past. There’s so much that goes on in this book in terms of development, even while there’s a kind of ‘monster of the week’ to provide the excuse. The backstory is heartbreaking, of course, and even though I saw the ending of it coming a mile off, it’s still powerful. Look away now until “spoilers endeth here” if you want to remain spoiler-free!

The betrayals were also fairly expected, but it still works — it’s so amazingly sad that Blackthorn found someone from her old life again, opened up to him, and was even beginning to hope that it might mean she could act against Mathuin… and was betrayed. Especially the way her love for her dead family is used against her by someone who knows very well how to use it. I found the reappearance of that character suspicious, and didn’t particularly like him, but I did find myself hoping it wouldn’t happen. Alas.

Blackthorn and Grim work beautifully together as a partnership, and I’m a little sad that it’s clearly trending towards a more conventional romance in the end. I was really hoping that they would remain as they are: non-sexual and non-romantic, but nonetheless deeply necessary to one another. Their bond read that way to me from the start, and I find it more interesting than a conventional romance. I’m hoping Marillier can stick the landing and make me happy about it, but I’m not convinced yet by a long shot. As ever, though, the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim is what holds the book together and makes everything work. It’d be interesting without them, but it wouldn’t be so full of feeling — for all that these are characters who don’t talk much about their feelings.

Still — and the spoilers endeth here — it’s an engrossing story, and I found myself tearing through it. Marillier evokes this half-fairytale Ireland well, and though I didn’t find myself surprised by the plot, it definitely gave me feelings!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Dreamer’s Pool

Posted May 14, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet MarillierDreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier

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.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted May 8, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet MarillierWell, it’s mid-Wyrd and Wonder and I’ve been reading up a small storm, so right at this second I’m partway through Dreamer’s Pool (Juliet Marillier), for that. I forgot I kind of found Oran’s story a bit embarrassment squicky, so I kinda stalled for a day or two, so I should get back to it.

Other than that, I am reading at least two other books currently. One is A Short History of Europe, by Simon Jenkins. It really is short; it’s an absolute whistle-stop tour of history, pausing at the most obvious moments before tearing on again. It’s not bad, but I might not finish it if it weren’t for a reading challenge. The other is J.S. Weiner’s The Piltdown Forgery, which is about how Weiner, Le Gros Clark and Oakley figured out the Piltdown Man forgery. It’s pretty fascinating, because the forgery seems so obvious now, but it was those three who figured it out when most others were credulous.

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was Snowspelled, and before that Trail of Lightning. I want to read the second book for both! Which is lucky, since Storm of Locusts just arrived in the post for me today, and I can’t see any reason not to get Thornbound as well. Trail of Lightning… I had some doubts, but I’m still interested in the world. Snowspelled is sweet, and I want to know what happens, though I’m a little mad about… well, I shan’t spoiler. (I’m not mad at the author, I should clarify. I’m mad at the book for not turning out the way I wanted.)

Cover of Spinning Silver by Naomi NovikWhat will you be reading next?

Pretty sure it’ll be Spinning Silver; it’s the most contrary thing to read on the bingo card I’ve got, so naturally I’ll be drawn to it. Also contrary because I was waiting for the paperback, I even have a preorder of the paperback, so it’d be totally natural and normal for me to go ahead and read the eARC I got way back when now, because… why not?

What are you reading? What’s next on your stack?

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Review – Dreamer’s Pool

Posted June 8, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet MarillierDreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier

I should’ve got round to this ages ago, I know. I usually enjoy Juliet Marillier’s work, though I don’t always love it (I think Wolfskin and Foxmask didn’t work so well for me), and I read some very enthusiastic reviews about this one. There were one or two aspects that made me pause (a minor character is a victim of pretty serious abuse and rape) and a few people did note that there’s a fair amount of ‘slut-shaming’ in the story, i.e. shaming a female character for being at all interested in sex. It’s not surprising in a medieval-esque setting, as it often comes with the territory, but off-putting in a fantasy world with no reason to include it.

Still, it’s essentially a fairytale set-up: Blackthorn makes a bargain with a fairy to get out of prison, with a number of conditions placed upon it. This frames the story and sets up her relationship with Grim, her obligation to help people, and her slow road to recovery after the depredations of prison and injustice. That then combines with the story of the side characters, Oran and Flidais, who have an arranged marriage but communicated via letters. Yet, when she arrives amidst the tragedy of losing one of her maids, her faithful dog suddenly hates her and she doesn’t behave at all like the bride he expected.

I found the actual mystery aspect of that really obvious; given the mythological, Celtic-ish setting, it was a little tedious waiting for everyone else to catch up to the obvious. There was one issue which surprised me a little, involving the dog Bramble, though I was pleased by that development and how the plot worked out. Flidais and Oran are sweet and naive, and it seemed like everyone would be miserable if things didn’t work out properly. It’s difficult to discuss the plot and the sex/abuse issue without giving any spoilers, so skip the next paragraph if you haven’t read the book and might want to work things out for yourself!

There is a character who has been abused and raped, but it is essential to the story for the things it brings out in various different characters — in Oran and his wife-to-be, in Blackthorn and Grim in their determination to give the girl justice. Likewise, the issue of sex isn’t as straightforward, in my opinion, as other people think. The problem is not that a particular character is interested in sex, but that she acts out of character about it. It’s as important that she isn’t sympathetic to a victim of rape as that she’s proactive about having sex with Oran. It all comes together into a picture of a woman who just isn’t the woman Oran thought he knew from the letters, and that is the important thing. Honestly, the most important clue about her identity is not the sexual aspects, but in her lack of interest in reading and poetry, and her indifference to her formerly beloved dog.

There’s a lot of time spent on the characters of Oran and Flidais, but Blackthorn and Grim are really the core of the story: Blackthorn’s trauma, her need for justice, her geas to help people in exchange for freedom. I expect that the second book is going to spend more time with Blackthorn and Grim, and dealing with their partnership and friendship, and I’m all for it. And I really enjoy that Blackthorn’s relationship with Grim is emotionally important to both of them, gives them both stability, and has nothing to do with sex or romance. I hope it continues that way.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Cybele's Secret

Posted March 27, 2015 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Cybele's Secret by Juliet MarillierCybele’s Secret, Juliet Marillier
Review from 27th January, 2011

To my surprise, I actually enjoyed Cybele’s Secret more than Wildwood Dancing. The main problem I had with Wildwood Dancing was the predictability, and maybe the tortuous way everything went wrong, and so the pacing… For the most part, Cybele’s Secret was better, in that respect. I didn’t figure out the whole plot in the first fifty pages as I did with Wildwood Dancing, so it didn’t drag so much for me — and when it got to the last part, I was hooked, toes curling with excitement, grinning like an idiot: the lot.

My main criticism of Cybele’s Secret is how very, very similar Paula’s tone was to Jena’s. The two sisters are alike, but… Not so alike, I’d thought. I might have been reading the same narrator, though, or so it seemed to me… And the separation of Paula and her father, the way she got on the ship… Once she was on the ship, she acted in character, but there was nothing level-headed about going to confront a man she believed to be violent, unscrupulous and cruel. I didn’t believe that as something she would do. Which is unfortunate, because part of the plot hinged on that.

I predicted who would be following them, too, and even how she would end, so it still didn’t keep me on my toes — but the feeling of utter familiarity wasn’t there.

It’s hard to say, after that, what I did like so much. Duarte and Stoyan, mainly. I believed in both their characters, and in their different loves for Paula. And I believed in her affection for them. The end made me smile a lot.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Wildwood Dancing

Posted March 20, 2015 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet MarillierWildwood Dancing, Juliet Marillier
Review from 23rd January, 2011

Wildwood Dancing is a very interesting blend of several different fairytales and folklore: the seven dancing princesses, the princess and the frog, stories of vampires and fairies. I love fairytale retellings, and it was interesting to see the way these were all put together in a reasonably historical framework, in Romania — with strong touches of realism, when the girls were going about their ordinary lives.

Unfortunately, for me, there was something all too predictable about it. I’d answered all the questions long before the narrator, Jena, even thought to ask them. I knew the identity of Gogu, and what Cezar had done, and what would happen to Costi… At some point, I’ve read a book very like this, or enough books that were like this to tie them all together and make an Ur-Wildwood Dancing in my head! That made it rather less fun for me, since I knew how it would all go and I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, constantly.

With that in mind, I’m not sure how much I actually enjoyed reading it. Everything just seemed so familiar — and I’m absolutely positive I haven’t read it before. If you enjoy fairytale retellings, I think it’s worth a try, and I haven’t been put off Juliet Marillier entirely: I’m going to read Cybele’s Secret, at least, which is the sequel to this. I’m told the narrator is one of the sisters from this story, but not Jena. I wanted more depth in Paula, Iulia and Stela, so perhaps Cybele’s Secret will provide. If not, I’ll give one of her other books from a different series a try, and then perhaps give it up if that doesn’t work out… I really want to like what Marillier does — and in some ways, her work reminds me of Robin McKinley’s: that was a part of the familiarity I had with the writing, I think — but this was just too, too predictable for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted February 24, 2015 by in General / 10 Comments

This week’s topic from The Broke and the Bookish is a great one: top ten heroines. Let’s see…

  1. Yeine, from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Seriously, seriously kickass lady who navigates politics, would prefer a fair fight, and becomes a goddess. Why not?
  2. Tenar, from The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin. That was always my favourite book of the bunch. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Tenar is strong in a way that has nothing to do with physical strength.
  3. Mori, from Among Others by Jo Walton. Because she’s quite a lot like me, only she really can see fairies and she has a streak of pragmatism I could really use.
  4. Harriet Vane, from the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers. Bit of a change of pace from the first three, being a different genre. But she’s a woman in a man’s world, pursuing both writing and academia, a strong woman who knows her own mind and sticks to her principles. But at the same time, she’s not perfect: she snarls at Peter, she’s unfair, etc, etc.
  5. Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève, from Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. If there’s anything that can hold her back, I don’t know what it is. She’s gorgeous, she’s a spy, she manipulates politics and gets involved in all kinds of stuff on behalf of her country.
  6. Katherine Talbert, from The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. Even if she doesn’t want to learn to fight at first.
  7. Ki, from Harpy’s Flight by Megan Lindholm. Practical, determined, fierce, and good to her animals, to her friends.
  8. Caitrin, from Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier. She doesn’t seem like she’s going to be a strong person at first, yet she learns to face her fears — without it ever seeming too easy.
  9. Mirasol, from Chalice by Robin McKinley. She’s thrown in at the deep end, with very little gratefulness or support from those around her, and she pushes through it to do whatever she has to do.
  10. Csethiro Celedin, from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. She basically says that if anyone hurts Maia she’ll duel them and gut them. Like!

I’m gonna have to look at loads of posts on this one, because stories with good heroines are definitely of interest to me!

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted January 31, 2015 by in General / 18 Comments

Once again, a quiet week! Which is good, since that’s what I’m aiming for. I did get two new books — rewards for finishing books two and three of my Open University course!

Bought

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier Cover of Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier

I’ve read (and reviewedPrickle Moon already; it’s lovely. And I’d been wanting Dreamer’s Pool for a while!

Library

Cover of The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

Just one, a bit of self indulgence — I’ve read all of Mary Stewart’s romances, but this was the first one I read, and I’m looking forward to going back to it. Frothy comfort reading for the win! Though right now, I’m digging into Soulless (Gail Carriger) for that!

Oh, and the latest issue of Thor came out, too.

Comics

Thor #4

How’s everyone else doing? Broken your resolutions yet?

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Review – Prickle Moon

Posted January 29, 2015 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Prickle Moon by Juliet MarillierPrickle Moon, Juliet Marillier

Prickle Moon is a collection of short stories, most of them previously published but five of them new, and I knew I’d have to pick the book up someday because of that hedgehog on the cover. I love hedgehogs; just yesterday we rescued one from our garden which seemed too small to be out, and sent her off to a carer to spend the winter. Last winter we did that with a couple of hedgehogs; one of them died, but the second lived and was even strong enough to make a break for it. He tunnelled out with some friends and is now living under someone’s decking!

So mostly I got this for the title story, Prickle Moon, because I love my hedgehogs. Like most of the stories in this collection, it’s bittersweet; woven with loss and hope, awful tasks and finding your way through them. Some of the stories are fairytale retellings — Rapunzel, Baba Yaga — and some are new stories very much styled as fairytales, with very familiar motifs. Some of the stories are oddly modern, which jars against the more traditional and more fantastical ones. Marillier’s good at putting her characters into awful situations which require compromise with their morality, and then making it work out so that it isn’t so bad after all. She’s good at grief, and especially healed grief — the kind of grief you learn to live with and live in.

The collection also includes a Sevenwaters story. I haven’t read that series, so it took me a little while to get into it and pick up everything that was going on, but the joy in the ending, the hope, is not something you need to have read Daughter of the Forest and the other books to understand. Though, right now, I’m definitely in the mood to read more of Marillier’s work.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Heart's Blood

Posted December 11, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Heart's Blood by Juliet MarillierHeart’s Blood, Juliet Marillier

When I first read Heart’s Blood, I really loved it, and at least part of that was because I finally found a Juliet Marillier book I really appreciated. I’m a little sad that I don’t think I loved it as much this time as I did before: things that were obvious to me then were painfully so now, and the narrator still seems like much the same as every other Marillier narrator.

On the other hand, there’s still plenty to enjoy: the imaginative treatment of the Beauty and the Beast story, which takes some pretty familiar elements and twists them just enough that they can still surprise you. I love the main character’s calling as a scribe, and her slow rediscovery of herself and how to stand up for her world. I like that it’s firmly rooted in the real world, for all the supernatural elements, and in history: this isn’t a disconnected fairytale, but one that takes place in a world that carries on around it. I liked Anluan, too; he works very well as a Beast character, because at first he does seem so awkward, so impossible, but he blossoms as much as Caitrin (Beauty) does.

There’s a lot of great side characters, too; all of the characters that surround Anluan and Caitrin are interesting, and really, there could be whole books about what exactly each of them is, what they did, who they really are.

Despite me saying that I didn’t enjoy it as much as before, I did enjoy it a lot. It’s a satisfying story, where good triumphs but not too easily, where struggles and setbacks feel real. The attraction and desire between Anluan and Caitrin comes naturally, and doesn’t cross the line into being too much of a fairytale — it doesn’t break the in-the-real-world feeling that the history and setting give the story. I love Caitrin’s development over the course of the book, and I love the way everything comes together at the end.

Rating: 4/5

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