I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier
Series: Blackthorn & Grim #1
Published: 2014 by Roc
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery
Source: the publisher
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Dreamer’s Pool is the first installment in Juliet Marillier’s newest series, Blackthorn & Grim. The protagonist is a woman who has been imprisoned for speaking out against authority. Fate has not been kind to her. She’s about to be executed for standing up for what’s right, and her time in prison has made her angry and bitter. If she were to have her freedom, she would singlemindedly pursue revenge against Malthuin. But revenge is not in the cards.
A fae named Conmael offers to free her, but like any bargain with the fae, there’s a catch. In exchange for her life, she will have to move to a remote cabin in the forest far from her homeland. For seven years she must delay her quest for revenge, but instead answer any cry for help. The woman accepts Conmael’s proposition, and takes a new name, Blackthorn, to go with her new life.
Blackthorn is accompanied in her travels by Grim, a fellow inmate from the prison. Blackthorn doesn’t want company, but Grim has nowhere else to go, and so she is oathbound to take him with her. Even though she prides herself on being self-reliant, Blackthorn slowly begins to warm to Grim, who proves himself over and over again to be a good and decent person. One very telling glimpse of his character is that while in prison, he’s the only person who doesn’t call Blackthorn “Slut”, instead calling her “Lady.” Grim sees in Blackthorn a chance for his own redemption from the specter of his past. He also believes in Blackthorn when nobody else does, least of all herself. He knows in is heart that she’s a good person, even though she’s currently a bit prickly. Malthuin has left Blackthorn with a lot of emotional wounds, and as a result, she’s pretty much shut herself off from the world. Grim respects her privacy and gives her space, but he has issues of his own, and the two of them gradually learn to trust and rely upon each other.
When Blackthorn and Grim arrive in Dalraida, they stumble upon a mystery. Prince Oran has been corresponding with his future bride, Lady Flidais. It’s obvious that the two of them are soulmates. Even though Oran has railed against the thought of marrying a woman he’s never met, he envisions a happy future, because Flidais is intellectually his equal and has a complimentary personality. However, when Flidais arrives in Dalraida, it’s as if the person whom Oran has spoken with no longer exists. Flidais shows no interest in the common people, takes no pleasure in reading, and locks herself in her room and refuses to come out. The beloved puppy that Flidais mentioned in her letters won’t go near Flidais without barking and quivering. It’s as if she’s a completely different person that the woman Oran had come to love, and Oran wants a way out. He hears about Blackthorn and Grim from the villagers, and he seeks their assistance to figure out what went wrong.
Even though there’s magic in the story, it feels surprisingly realistic, as if magic is just one more element of the natural world that should be taken into account when solving logical puzzles. I think that perhaps it’s because Dreamer’s Pool feels like a mystery that happens to be contextualized within a fantasy story. The book ends when Blackthorn and Grim solve the mystery, but their story arc will continue (presumably) throughout the rest of the series until the seven years are up and Blackthorn can take back control of her life.
Marillier’s prose is sublime. The atmosphere that she creates reminds me of writers like Patricia McKillip or Robin McKinley, evocative of myths and faerie tales, but with a fresh feminist perspective. Dreamer’s Pool is the first of Marillier’s novels that I’ve read, which makes me wonder–Juliet Marillier, where have you been all my life?