The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift

30832002The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift is one of two books (the other is The Gilded Lily, but read this one first) that basically deal with a similar set of characters during the same period in British history, 1660 and the Restoration. Instead of being set in London or focussing on the royal family, aristocrats, and their various scandals (as so many wonderful novels set in this period are wont to do), this novel tells the story of Alice Ibbetson, a talented painter and the grieving wife of Thomas Ibbetson. Mourning the death of her younger sister a year earlier, Alice is finding it difficult to embrace life and even tolerate the demands of her rather dullard husband. Finding solace in her painting, she has become obsessed with not simply flowers, but capturing the beauty of various plants for posterity. When a neighbour, the rather strange but also fascinating Quaker, Richard Wheeler, shows Alice the location of a rare and very beautiful orchid called The Lady’s Slipper, which also happened to be her sister’s favourite flower, Alice knows she can’t merely paint it, but must preserve it for the future.

When the flower disappears and a pair of lady’s slippers go missing as well and then a local healer, Margaret Poulter is found murdered, suspicion is rife and there are those with their own motives keen to lay blame for both the flower’s disappearance and the death at Alice’s door. When Alice’s maid, the selfish and rather lazy, Ella, who’s been having an affair with Thomas, presents evidence linking Alice to the crimes, not even the truth and justice of Quakers can save her.

Using the beauty of nature as a theme to explore the ugliness of which human nature is capable, the title is a clever nod to two very different variations of “lady’s slippers” both of which set off a chian of catastrophic events. As the plot twists and turns and characters are tested and mostly found wanting, this book explores loyalty, faith, greed and loss as well as what lengths people will go to protect their power – even before each other.

Dark at times, what I particularly liked about it is that no character is clearly “evil” or “good”. It’s a strength of Swift’s writing that all the characters, even the heroine, Alice, are not above questionable behaviour that has the reader recoiling at times, even if we understand their motives.

Swift also recreates the period beautifully – from clothes, to social ranks, food, faith and politics.

A terrific read for lovers of historical fiction and a fine book.

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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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