Behold! My Tower of Marilliers!
Title: Dreamer’s Pool
Author: Juliet Marillier
Days to read it: 1 sleep deprived day
Fellow inmate, Grim, might insist on calling her “Lady”, but Blackthorn has almost completely forgotten the person she was before she’d been imprisoned in the lice-ridden, rat-infested bowels of a dungeon run by the Chieftain, Mathuin, a man she hates with the depths of her entire being—a man that had cruelly taken away everything she loved and made her life an empty hell. But, though she has been beaten, assaulted, and tortured day in and day out, she has not forgotten one thing: that she will have her vengeance against Mathuin. If she is to live even one more day, it will be to fulfill this one thing. So, when she finds out—the day before her trial for justice will take place—that Mathuin has decided to have her quietly “taken care of” in the night, she is consumed by the madness of her unfulfilled vengeance. In the last festering hours before her death is to come, however, an enigmatic fey decides to meddle with what’s left of her pathetic life. He offers her a deal: she will be given a new chance at life if she will relinquish her attachment to this quest for vengeance and instead travel to the distant holding of Winterfalls, offering her almost-forgotten talents as a healer to help any who come her way. Blackthorn can’t imagine spending seven years as a healer when she cares not for the ordinary life anymore nor for a life where she would have to speak and care for another soul. But, the fey are full of trickery and hidden motives, and before Blackthorn knows it, she’s taking in her first patient: silent, troubled, chased-by-nightmares but fiercely loyal, Grim. From then on, it is only a matter of time before Blackthorn and Grim find themselves embroiled in the trials and tribulations of miller’s daughters, serving women, high-born ladies and their beloved pets, and even Princes. Ancient magic is afoot in the forests of Winterfalls and only Blackthorn’s canny instincts for truth and justice and Grim’s strength and courage will be able to return Winterfalls to rights before it is too late. Personal vengeance will have to wait but justice for Winterfalls will be had.
I got the book! Finally, I got the book!
And I just went ahead and devoured it.
Onwards to the review—
Juliet Marillier is part of the reason why my imagination fills the woods I visit with fey and magic and mystery, ancient and rarely disturbed. Taking a stroll between the gnarled and marked trunks of rowan or birch or oak will have my thoughts drifting to stories of the Fair Folk or the Old Ones or bogles or Clurichauns or druids and sorceresses and witches and times when the realms of folklore and myth merged with the human world and every knot in the trunk was a face looking back at you. And after the Sevenwaters series, Dreamer’s Pool takes me back to such forests. This time, instead of a tale told from a high-born lady, we get the voice of a physically battered but mentally uncowed leathery scrap of a woman and her monstrous giant of a partner with a dubious past and a propensity for rage-fueled violence. Doubtless all the makings of a juicy tale for bards to sing far and wide and something new and different from my favorite teller of Irish tales, Juliet Marillier.
Juliet Marillier writes such epically intimate stories about earning trust when trust is hardest to find. My favorite is the relationship between Fainne and Darragh in Child of the Prophecy (Book #3 of the Sevenwaters Trilogy). In Child of the Prophecy, Darragh’s steadfast belief in the goodness in Fainne’s heart is what keeps distrustful, lonely Fainne from going over the edge and losing herself to the machinations of her evil sorceress of a grandmother. I loved Child of the Prophecy because Fainne was such a fragile character—half-wild, half-not-quite-there—only a truly pure spirit could pierce through the layers and layers of armor she’s built around her and win her trust. And that quest could only be fulfilled by Darragh, charmer of wild things. They were, simply put, meant for each other. And though as a rule I don’t believe in destined love (and I usually hate it when I read romances featuring this…ahem, thinking of Twilight, or Alyson Noel’s Immortal’s series), Fainne and Darragh’s relationship is seriously so sweet it aches.
In Dreamer’s Pool we have two damaged people and more potential for the sort of exposed-nerve-ending-so-painful-it-feels-good romance. From page one, I was captivated by the raw anger driving Blackthorn’s character and the strangely fragile soul in the beast of a man, Grim. Blackthorn knows exactly what she wants to do with the remaining pittance of a life she has—give it up for vengeance. Grim doesn’t know what to live for anymore—the only anchor holding him to the world is Blackthorn and his self-imposed mission to protect her. Just as Blackthorn is Grim’s lifeline, Grim reminds Blackthorn that hers is a life that needn’t be a hard lump of all-consuming vengeance. Though their relationship is a tentative one, it is the rare sort where the comfort of unquestioning silences are powerful enough to keep nightmares at bay. Both of them have lived under the rule of an evil and cruel Chieftain. They don’t have a lot of trust to go around and every encounter with a new person is a time for their trust to be tested. But regardless of what happens, they have each other. And the resulting unfolding of their relationship is such a sweet thing to read. It’s a difficult romance, with no clear path and no guarantee of resolution, but Juliet Marillier manages to get her two lonely souls slightly closer to each other by the end of the book and it happens so slowly you don’t even realize how far they’ve come until you turn the last page and realized you’re at the end. I loved reading Blackthorn’s POV followed by Grim’s and how they both understood different aspects of each other that the other was still trying to figure out about themselves.
Blackthorn and Grim’s story is only 2/3rd’s of the story. The remaining voice is Oran’s, the Prince of Dalriada who is soon to be wed to Lady Flidais. Oran is a bit of a foolish, sentimental dunderhead when it comes to matters of the heart. He’s the complete opposite of Blackthorn and Grim—I was grimacing just predicting how crushed he was going to be by the brutal reality of loveless, business-like marriages that are usually in store for Princes. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is just full of lofty notions about love that were just asking to be rained on. Poor guy knows this is his weakness and he spends most of the book just being so confused and torturing himself about it. There were times I really wanted to reach into the story, lay a hand on his shoulder, and just tell him to chill. His plight really showcases how a bad partner can make your life totally miserable, even if you seem to have everything in the world going for you (like, if you were a Prince, for example) and I don’t think they looked well upon ideas of divorce back then.
Aside from the character driven portions of the story, the actual plot of Dreamer’s Pool doesn’t have the most twisty of plots. I think I figured out the truth of the major plot arc about halfway through the book. Apparently, Juliet Marillier considers this one her first official foray into mystery writing and it’s really not bad of a mystery for a first go. Aside from the major conflict, there are more minor conflicts that were disturbing and aggravating (I’m thinking of the one involving the disappearance of the miller’s daughter), involving a certain annoying man trying to rouse a witch hunt against Blackthorn which made me aaargh!! in frustration (witch hunts are the freakin’ worst to read about). There are of course, many loose ends in the plot that I suspect will be explored throughout the course of the series, but the main story wraps up neatly enough that you won’t be burning with impatience from a cliff-hanger.
All in all, Juliet Marillier’s Dreamer’s Pool is a great character-driven read! The kind where the characters worm themselves into your heart and wiggle there for a bit after making you feel all achy in there. I love it when a book does that to me! I can’t wait to start reading Tower of Thorns which was just released yesterday. I timed my reading endeavors perfectly…muahaha.
4.5 brews to be made after a rough night
Here’s an excerpt that showcases Blackthorn’s pricklyness and Grim’s doggedness:
When I’d kindled the fire and was building it up, I saw him. He was only a darker patch under the trees, motionless. Then a gust of wind brought down a small branch, and he flinched as it landed close by him. I peered through the curtains of rain, but already he’d shrunk back from view. Not coming out, then. Well, it wasn’t my problem if he died of an ague. I’d never asked him to follow me.
I’d caught a fish earlier in the day, and now I made it into a kind of soup with a handful of greens I’d gathered along the way. What I did not eat now I would have in the morning. I made a makeshift frame to hang my damp clothing on, but with the tracker so close I was not prepared to strip. I draped my shawl and stockings over the frame and set my boots to warmth. I was beginning to think the pack Conmael had given me had a fey charm of some kind on it, for the rest of my belongings, including the two-rolled up blankets, were quite dry.
The fish soup smelled appetizing. My supplies included a bowl, a spoon and a cup, all fashioned from a strange pale substance, neither pottery nor bone, but smooth as silk to the touch and carved with little creatures—hedgehog, owl, and fox—peering out from a twine of ivy. They were far too fine for the likes of me. I filled the bowl, draped one of the blankets around my shoulders, then settled by the campfire to eat.
Beyond my place of shelter the rain was coming down in remorseless, drenching sheets. I watched the stream broaden and the little dam overflow its confines. My fire was the only light in the darkening woods; the moon would not show her face tonight. I gazed toward the spot where I had last seen the tracker, but it was too dark now to make him out. If he had any sense at all he’d back off, leave this dogged pursuit and find himself somewhere dry to sleep. Such pigheaded persistence. It reminded me of something. It reminded me of…
Morrigan’s curse! Surely not. Why in the name of all the gods would Grim follow me miles across country, and if he did, why would he act as if he was on some kind of secret mission? No, it couldn’t be. I squinted out through the rain again. Had those glimpses of the tracker matched the hulking lump of a man who’d shared my imprisonment day in, day out for the last year? Why would he do this? It couldn’t be him. But in my mind I saw Grim performing those exercises in the near dark of the cells, every single night, every endless, mind-numbing night, hauling himself, pushing himself, keeping himself strong as if tomorrow would be not another day in the dank horror of Mathuin’s prison but a day of challenge and hope and heroism. For pigheaded persistance, Grim was the man.
“Danu save us, Grim,” I murmured, remembering the way he’d lifted me out of the place. After it happened, after we saw open sky above us, that had been the first thing he’d done. “That day you were waiting for really did come.”
What now? I might be wrong. I might call out only to see a complete stranger, armed and dangerous, heading up the hill in response to my kind invitation. But if it was him, and I didn’t call out, I might go out there in the morning and find a sodden corpse, dead from cold. I hated obligations. I didn’t want to owe Grim anything—wasn’t my agreement with Conmael bad enough?—but I couldn’t turn my back to him. There was no way I’d have got out through that broken roof myself.
Right, then. I’d need to make it quite clear that all I was offering was a share of fire and food for tonight, and a spot to sleep out of the rain. He could explain why he was here, and I’d tell him I didn’t want company on the road, either open or covert. And in the morning we’d go our separate ways.
I stood up and yelled through the downpour. “Grim! If that’s you, get yourself up here out of the rain, you stupid man! What’s the point of escaping if you’re only going to drown?”