Tower of Thorns (Blackthorn and Grim #2) by Juliet Marillier

Can Juliet Marillier weave a wonderful story or what? Having loved the first book in this series, I couldn’t wait to read Tower of Thorns and find out more about two characters who captured my heart and imagination, the irascible but wise and flawed Blackthorn and her dedicated companion, the huge man of few words, Grim.

imgresIn this book, Blackthorn, reluctant healer with vengeance on her mind, and Grim, are asked to help a distraught noblewoman, Lady Geiléis, whose land is cursed by a wailing monster trapped in a thorn-wrapped tower and whose misery has caused a blight to fall across her lands and test the very health and sanity of her folk.

Bound by a promise to one of the fey, Blackthorn has little choice but to help this strange woman, a woman who for all she claims to need assistance in ridding her people of this curse does not seem overly keen to help. On the contrary, she appears to want to thwart Blackthorn’s efforts to understand who the monster is and why he is so desolate and why this affects the land. Clearly, there is some larger secret to which Blackthorn is not privy but which both she and Grim know they must uncover before the deadline of Midsummer’s Eve, and the possible breaking of the curse, is reached.

As Blackthorn tries to learn what she can from various reticent residents – both within the castle and without – the very handy and reliable Grim reluctantly agrees to help nearby monks restore their decaying buildings. But Grim finds the task almost too much for him and not because the shrieking monster tries his reason. No. Like Blackthorn, Grim carries secrets from his past, secrets that become an ever-growing burden and which threaten to undo him.

In the meantime, as Midsummer’s Eve approaches, Blackthorn tries desperately to learn what she can about the history of this place and its people, but the more she discovers, the more its apparent there’s something being withheld, something that threatens not only those living in thrall of the tower, but Blackthorn and Grim as well.

Once again, Marillier transports readers back to Ancient Ireland and its wild land where faerie folk live side by side with ordinary humans (whether they acknowledge them or not) and the very grass and hills thrum with magic. Unfolding like a dark fairytale, one that captures you by the throat and won’t release you, the sense of foreboding increases with every page as you try to second guess what is happening and who or what is working with and against Blackthorn and Grim and what their intentions are. The reader is also given more insights into Blackthorn and Grim’s tragic pasts, the experiences they endured and which have shaped them into the strong-willed, stubborn yet endearingly vulnerable pair they are now.

Spellbinding writing that elicits a dreamy but uncanny mood and, as all Marillier’s books are, is laced with deeper meaning.

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

It’s hard to know where to begin with this book. Recommended to me by a dear friend, Kerry, who, when I said I wanted a novel to lose myself in, asked, “Have you tried Patrick Rothfuss?” I replied in the negative (though I had heard of him – you’d have to be deaf to the literary and fantasy community not to have), and picked up the first book in his Kingkiller Chronicles a little unwillingly. Unwilling because, with the exception of Kim Wilkins, Juliet Marillier, and Sara Douglass, I’ve read very little fantasy since George RR Martin. I’ve nothing against it; on the contrary, I am a huge fan and have been since I read Prince Caspian when I was eight. My bookshelves bulge with fantasy novels and my first foray into publishing was in that marvellous genre as well. It’s just that having to research my own work and loathing the interminable wait between instalments in fantasy series, I’d deferred my reading in this genre (apart from authors above) indefinitely. I’m just not patient enough and understand completely why my friend, Joy, waits until all books in a series are out before commencing them.

So, I picked up The Name of the Wind reluctantly…

Oh. My.

What a book.

What a reading sensation.

imgres-8How had I deprived myself of this work for so long? Beautifully structured, holistically conceived, filled with characters in whom you believe and a world that is so rich and complex, I found this book impossible to keep away from. I’d rise in the morning and drift towards it; begin to eat and flick it open, regardless of the company (so rude, I know); record a favourite television show (yes, even Game of Thrones) to watch later and read instead; stay up till all hours wishing I could remain in Rothfuss’ world.

And this is why (without, I hope, spoiling the experience).

When the book opens, we’re introduced to Kvothe, the youthful inn-keeper with an incredible past that involves, wizardry, death, monsters, music, women, wine and song, sharp intellect and no small degree of talent, as well as incredible adventures, abject poverty, suffering, brutality, violence, academic and physical lessons, hope, resilience, hard work, love, bets and the lurking ill-will of dire enemies. So how did this amazing red-haired man with a colourful and unbelievable past, who when we meet him seems to have lost the will to live, end up running an inn in a remote, quiet place while the world around him plunges into darkness?

Against his better judgement, Kvothe begins to tell the story of how he became a legend in his own life-time to a man whose been searching for him in order to record his memories – the Chronicler.

And so Kvothe’s tale, from itinerant performer to wunderkind, is told – in Kvothe’s first-person voice in the past before switching to a third person present. The language is poetic and moving, the dialogue snaps one minute and brings you to tears in the next. Kvothe is irreverent, honest, modest (except when he’s not) and completely convincing and lovable, even has he grows into what you can tell will be formidable powers. He’s possessed of a wicked sense of humour, a strong sense of justice and refuses to be a victim, no matter what life metes out. I went through every conceivable emotion and then some reading this book and grabbed the next one immediately (it’s almost a thousand pages), delighted I would be able to spend more time with someone who has fast become one of my favourite characters of all time.

Elegant, original, magnificent in scope yet humble in execution, this is imgresa book any lover of reading would enjoy. Furthermore, Rothfuss is very open with his many fans about his writing, the world he’s created and his ambitions for the writing future. Only, in getting to know him as a writer through words other than those in his marvellous novels, I’ve also learned that the third book in this series, Doors of Stone (there are novellas and short stories connected to the world as well), despite being promised earlier, might not be available until 2016. This brings me back to why I stopped reading fantasy all together –the waiting when you willingly give yourself over to a new book and world is painful. However, in this instance, I make an exception. Learning that Rothfuss doesn’t want to let DoS go until he’s absolutely satisfied it’s as good as it can be, makes sense to me and kudos to him.

Despite the wait ahead, I’ve no regrets I read these books – such is the power and beauty of what Rothfuss has accomplished and my faith in his very impressive abilities – I was poorer without this experience.

Just a marvellous read. I’ll try and be patient… really.

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Book Review: Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

I have to say upfront, not only do I simply adore all Juliet Marillier’s books, and her lyrical writing style, but when the opportunity came to read an ARC of her latest, Dreamer’s Pool, anDreamer's Pool (Blackthorn and Grim, #1)d review it, I quickly threw my hat in the ring, or keyboard into cyberspace, knowing I wouldn’t regret it. I was right.

Dreamer’s Pool is the first in a new series, Blackthorn and Grim, set in Ancient Ireland. While it tells the story of the terribly bitter and deeply tragic healer, Blackthorn (who is as prickly as her name), and her silent, stoic and loyal companion Grim, who due to the interference of a fey lord are released from what appears to be unjust imprisonment on terms Blackthorn at least rails against, the novel is told by three distinct voices: Blackthorn’s, Grim’s and the young Prince, Oran, who is to be wed to the woman of his dreams.

Forced to abide in a part of the country previously unknown to them and which is Prince Oran’s demesne, and hauntingly lovely, Blackthorn must heal and help any who ask. A brilliant is somewhat unwilling healer, what Blackthorn does not expect is to be called to the aid of the prince’s bride-to-be, the beautiful Flidais, when calamity strikes her party while enroute to meet the groom. Death is never a great omen for forthcoming nuptials, but when Prince Oran cannot reconcile the reality of his soon-to-be wife with the darling, sweet and learned Flidais who exchanged letters with him for months prior to her arrival, he calls upon Blackthorn and Grim to help him uncover the truth.

But Blackthorn and Grim have their own pasts and ways of dealing with those they encounter in the present and Blackthorn especially, while she always knows what to do to heal others, believes vengeance is the only panacea for what ails her. Until she recognises the truth in her purpose, and those who believe in her, she is doomed to repeat history’s mistakes and bring more disaster in her wake.

This is a simply gorgeous story with wonderful, intriguing and complex characters, some with dark, wretched pasts, who carry emotional baggage like a hair shirt and find relationships difficult. It also contains a range of naïve, wise and trusting people and those who would betray and abuse this trust. Written in exquisite and addictive prose, each voice rings emotionally true and you find yourself championing and understanding them, even when their choices don’t seem shrewd. This is a tale that will tug at your heart and, like the fable that it draws upon, linger in your head and soul for days afterwards. I cannot wait for the next instalment in this series.

Below is a fabulous sample from Chapter One of the audio book from Audible Studios – just click, listen and enjoy!

Sample of audio book Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

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Book Review: Flame of Sevenwaters

What can I say? Oh. Wow. Talk about conjuring mixed emotions in the reader. I feel like either donning black and keening or dancing wildly through the room. I want to do the former because Flame of Sevenwaters is, I believe, the final book in this sublime series, and kick my heels up because it was so exquisitely beautiful.

Flame of Sevenwaters (Sevenwaters, #6) This novel tells the story of Maeve, one of Lord Sean’s daughters who, in an earlier novel, Child of the Prophecy, was badly disfigured as the consequence of a fire ten years ago. Sent to live with her aunt and uncle to recover, she learns to accept her physical limitations. Cruelly twisted and maimed, Maeve’s hands are all but useless, but she proves her worth to the household in other ways, mainly by working with animals. Maeve has an uncanny knack of being able to calm and reassure even the most fractious of beasts. What Maeve appears to be unaware of is that her talent can also work with the humans who come into her sphere.

When her uncle asks her to accompany a spirited, lovely and flighty horse, Swift, to Sevenwaters, Maeve reluctantly agrees, knowing her homecoming with be as much an emotional journey as it’s physical. In many ways, Swift’s nature functions as a mirror for Maeve’s and, in the horse’s doubts and transformation, Maeve’s is partially echoed.

Arriving back at Sevenwaters after such a long absence, she’s much changed. Forthright, loyal, brave and kind, Maeve’s mother particularly doesn’t know how to respond to the daughter she loves but whom she doesn’t understand. While her father appears to cope better, it’s really her young brother, Finbar, who seems to grasp Maeve’s needs and be able to read what she cannot articulate. Appearing at times stubborn and selfish and torn with self-doubt, Maeve’s struggles to be herself and live by her rules is also made clear.

Finding Sevenwaters on the brink of war, mostly brought about by the machinations of the lord of the Otherworld, Mac Dara, Maeve is at a loss to know how she can help. But other forces know how she can and they enlist her and her brother’s aid to resolve a dispute for power that’s long been brewing and for which Lord Sean’s family and his allies have been paying the price. But the cost of this power struggle between the fey is yet to be reckoned and not even Maeve may be prepared for the sacrifice that will be asked of her and those she loves.

I cannot begin to tell you how beautifully Marillier conjures this world and the people within it. Her prose is as lilting and haunting as the forest that encircles Sevenwaters. Her descriptions so evocative that you are transported into the stillness of the nemetons, the eerie Otherness of Mac Dara’s realm and the homeliness and memory-haunted halls of the castle.

Like all the novels in this series, there are tales within tales, stories that bind, reveal and conceal, and this novel is no exception. From the mouths of seers and seers in training come fables that function as thinly disguised lessons in life, relationships, love and choices as well as the future. Even the title of the book is a description, noun and verb. “Flame” is a role that can be fitted to more than a couple of the characters as they “flame” brightly at times. Indeed, the word ‘flame’ itself contains within it positive and negative attributes that evoke notions of destruction, cleansing, death, transformation and rebirth all at once. There is also the idea of power, steadiness, warmth and passion.

I really don’t want to give too much away, but there are two more points I’d like to make. In this novel particularly, Marillier does a simply lovely job of making her animals wonderful, steadfast and real characters. I adored the animals. Like the humans, I championed them, came to know and love them and wept copiously when they were in peril or worse.

This leads me to the other point. I cried almost non-stop throughout the final quarter of the book, pausing only to blow my nose, wipe my eyes (so I could continue reading) and absorb this magical novel. I admit, I was a compete sook, a wet-rag of emotion as I wept tears of sadness, joy, heartache and triumph. I went from sheer horror to exhilaration and was taken on such an emotional journey, all of which reminded me that, like Ciaran and the other seers who have featured throughout the series, I was in the hands of a master storyteller, someone who cares deeply about their tale and those who read it.

This was an experience I won’t fast forget and nor do I want to. But I do want to thank Juliet Marillier for creating such a beautiful world, populated by incredibly complex dark and light beings.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

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Kushiel’s Dart: Jacqueline Carey

When my friend, the writer Sara Douglass, first toured America, she did so with two other wonderful authors: Juliet Marillier and then newcomer, Jacqueline Carey. So taken was Sara with Carey’s work, she brought back copies of her debut novel for me, and our friend, Francis Thiele, and gifted them with the instructions: “you must read this book.” Never one to ignore a directive like that, I did. Oh. My. Recently, I picked this novel up again, to remind myself of what it was I loved about it before reading the sequels… My. My.

This is a sublime and highly erotic tale of a beautiful woman named Phedre who, as a child, is indentured to a guild dedicated to sensuality and the arts of love and where she is taught how to pleasure others with her body. Born with a scarlet mote in her eye (a ‘dart’) the mark of the goddess Kushiel, Phedre is no ordinary courtesan but one who can receive and inflict both pleasure and pain. Highly sought after, it is in the bedchambers and among the other nobles of her land (and foreign dignitaries who desire to experience the arts of one who possesses Kushiel’s Dart), that Phedre’s worth as a lover, spy and keeper and secrets is realized.

The world that Carey has created is sublime, the language of the novel so poetic. You savour words and phrases, appreciate the elegance of the descriptions, and experience the longing that Phedre arouses; the descriptions of pain are visceral and detailed, yet also tantalizingly seductive. Your flesh tingles as you read and your cheeks grow warm – continuing is not for the faint-hearted. Nothing is gratuitous but endowed with meaning and adds to the reader’s understanding of Phedre’s worth in this hedonistic, complex and powerful realm. Carey uses her knowledge of history and politics to create a rich and imaginative world based on Europe during the Middle Ages/Renaissance but with an almost Byzantine feel, where art and poetry are both beautiful and deadly and always valued and where sensuality is a currency. Never unnecessarily graphic, but nonetheless charged with eroticism and heat, this is one of the most original fantasy novels I’ve enjoyed in a while.

It was a terrific read the first time and even better the second.


					

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