by Juliet Marillier
Read: November 9-13, 2012
Published: October 2, 2009 by Tor
Source: Kindle purchase
Category: Fantasy/Fairytale retelling (Adult with crossover YA appeal)
Whistling Tor is a place of secrets and mystery. Surrounded by a wooded hill, and unknown presences, the crumbling fortress is owned by a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the district in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan's family and his people; those woods hold a perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.
For young scribe Caitrin it is a safe haven. This place where nobody else is prepared to go seems exactly what she needs, for Caitrin is fleeing her own demons. As Caitlin comes to know Anluan and his home in more depth she realizes that it is only through her love and determination that the curse can be broken and Anluan and his people set free. (From Goodreads)
Heart's Blood reminds me of how much I love Juliet Marillier's novels. I love that they are steeped in Irish history - this story takes place around the time of the Norman invasions - but they also have a unique fantasy element that works seamlessly in the Irish culture. Besides the way Marillier mixes history and magic in her stories, I adore her strong heroines and unlikely heroes.
I got excited when I realized that Heart's Blood is a fairytale retelling, because Marillier excels at retellings (If you haven't read Daughter of the Forest, go get it now.). The basic story structure of Beauty and the Beast is clearly visible in Heart's Blood, but it is also uniquely Marillier's storytelling. She takes much loved tales, crafts them into her own stories, and in the process draws out so much human emotion.
Heart's Blood follows the story of Caitrin, a girl who, when the story begins, is on the run from an abusive past. She seeks employment at Whistling Tor, a fortress surrounded in deep mystery and suspicion. Where rumors of curses, danger and a host of inhuman inhabitants circulate.
Anlaun is the Tor's chieftain. Crippled by a deformity, he is in desperate need of Caitrin's abilities as a scribe. Caitrin needs the remote setting of his home to hide from those who want to harm her. But Anlaun's appearance and the secrets that he holds have made him as distrustful of outsiders as they are of him, and he comes across as cold at first. Caitrin is determined to be brave in her new - and strange - home. But she has been beaten down by recent circumstances and is wary of the hostile nature of her new employer. Despite the magic in this story, Marillier's characters have very human struggles and flaws.
What I've always loved about this fairytale is the fact that Beauty comes to love the Beast not in spite of who he is, but because of it. That is no more apparent than in Marillier's story. Caitrin and Anlaun are both strong people, but they also have an innate vulnerability because of what they have faced in their lives. It is not surprising that their own personal struggles within themselves are just as important as what they face from the outside. Caitrin and Anlaun are a fantastic pair. Despite how different they appear on the surface, they compliment each other well. I love that Marillier pairs people who seem very unlikely at first glance but who make perfect sense on a deeper level.
In addition to Caitrin and Anlaun, this book has a unique and colorful supporting cast that is one of my favorite parts of this story. There are no talking teapots, but these characters bring both a lightness to the book and serve to highlight the mystery and desperation of the place. The setting of Whistling Tor also has a great atmospheric quality to it that made it feel like a living presence in the story.
What broke down for me about Heart's Blood were some of the details of the plot. Most specifically, I thought it was clear early on who/what is the villain in the story, but it took a long time for the characters to put it together. Certain things were observed by them, but I became frustrated with how long it took for them to connect the dots, or for anyone to ask any questions.
Although Heart's Blood has so many of the elements that I love of Mariller's stories, it still didn't capture the magic of Daughter of the Forest or Son of the Shadows for me. However, I still did enjoy this book and will certainly be back for more from this world.
Cliffhanger Scale: None (Marillier's series are generally all companion books)
Love Triangle Factor: None
Rating: 4 stars