Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier (Blackthorn and Grim #1)
Published November 4, 2014 by Roc, 434 pp.
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.
How goes it?
Apparently, this is an adult fantasy novel; not the sort of “adult” we know, but with the themes it deals with. There’s rape, torture, revenge, and not the pretty kind of revenge. Blackthorn is out for blood, and she will have it… after seven years, or sooner, if she decides to throw her agreement with the fey to the wind. This could be YA though, if you like a darker sort of YA.
Right off the bat, when you start reading this book, you’re thrust into a different world. This book doesn’t wax poetic about its surroundings – it’s brief, clipped, no mincing of how Blackthorn and Grim see the world they move in. You’re left to gather the pieces through Blackthorn and Grim, and while it’s not ugly, it isn’t pretty either. I find that this contributed to the overall atmosphere of the book, because this really isn’t a happy one. If you like cheery, optimistic young ladies, Blackthorn isn’t your girl. She’s pessimistic, abrupt, and only does what she needs to do to get the job done. She is out for revenge, and the fact that she’s stuck helping others for 7 years in exchange for the fey helping her get out of prison chafes at her so much. But she is capable of kindness, just that it takes a lot to draw it out of her.
There is also no romance, except for Prince Oran and Lady Flidais, because that is basically how these three come to know each other. Blackthorn and Grim are reluctant (the reluctance is more on Blackthorn’s part, really, Grim seems willing enough) companions, but that’s all they ever are in this book. They eventually become sort-of partners, because Blackthorn realizes she can’t manage as well when Grim’s not around, and he does more than handle the more physical tasks that need to be done.
Actually, once I did finish this book I was left staring into space, wondering “what did I just read?” because this is driven not by the plot, but by Blackthorn and Grim. Much of the story is told through their points of view, and if it weren’t for the strong characterizations, this book would’ve fell flat. That being said, Blackthorn, Grim, Oran, and the rest of the characters that appear here are quite developed, if not complex – Blackthorn and Grim especially.
4 paper planes! I liked reading this. This is for you if you like unconventional heroines, books that read almost like fairy tales, and something more mature than your usual YA reads.