Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier (Blackthorn and Grim Book 3) – a review

Den of Wolves is the third book in the Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier. From Goodreads:

Feather bright and feather fine, None shall harm this child of mine…

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone…

I’ve been a fan of this trilogy since the first book, The Dreamer’s Pool. Billed as a romance, the first two books focused more on the friendship between the two main characters. I enjoyed a story that didn’t rely on concepts of romantic love to redeem characters and found it quite refreshing.

In this final instalment, the regard between Blackthorn and Grim turns towards the romantic. It is very well portrayed romance, subtle and sensitive, but I must admit to being somewhat disappointed that the friendship wasn’t enough for the characters.

Having said that, I am invested enough in the characters that even the prospect of a happy-ever-after wasn’t enough to turn me off. Like the other two books, the story here is stand alone, although enhanced by the investment you’ve made in reading the other books. There is one overarching thread of story that has run across the whole trilogy, which is brought to a resolution.

The writing is excellent, with sharply drawn characters and beautiful, sometimes almost poetic prose. As well as Blackthorn and Grim themselves, other minor characters are deftly sketched – no fully rounded, but enough to move the story along.

The resolution of the overarching thread felt a little rushed and anti-climactic – I must admit to having thought that the whole last book might be dedicated to that storyline, but it was actually dealt with almost as an afterthought. It was still a reasonably satisfying, if somewhat perfunctory, ending.

If you’ve read the other books, you’re going to want to read this one. If not, even though the story does stand alone, I would strongly recommend starting this series from the beginning.

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Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier – a review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2016 Reading Challenge. All my 2016 AWWC reviews can be found here.


Dreamer's Pool

Dreamer’s Pool is the first book in the Blackthorn and Grim series by New Zealand born author Juliet Marillier. This was the first book by Marillier that I have read. I picked it up because it won the Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel in 2015 (I try to read the Aurealis and Ditmar award winning novels as a way of keeping in touch with the Australian SF scene).

I must admit that I was a little put off by the cover, which conjured up images of a very romantic novel. And when read in the context of the cover, even the title of the novel seems a tad on the romantic side. While I have nothing against romance-heavy novels in the abstract, I must admit I find that I tend to procrastinate when faced with actually reading one. As a result, I put off starting Dreamer’s Pool for quite a few months.

Finally, I slapped myself in the face, gritted my teeth and sat down to read because it would be good for me. The novel-consuming version of eating my vegetables. My own writing has all the romance of a roadside diner on the Sydney to Canberra freeway (Australia’s most boring freeway), so I could stand a bit more exposure to good quality romantic writing. Besides, broadening my reading was part of the point of doing the AWWC, wasn’t it?

All that preparation. All that mental fortitude. All those good intentions. Wasted! Because Dreamer’s Pool isn’t a romantic novel at all. Well, I guess the story of the prince and his bride-to-be might be considered romantic. And I suppose the quest to resolve that situation is at the heart of the novel. And I guess it does turn around the triumph of true love over pragmatism. But I don’t care! Because the two main characters, Blackthorn and Grim, they are fantastic. No romance at all. Their story is one of two broken people and the power of friendship to kickstart a healing process.

I’m getting too lazy to recap storylines, so from the Goodreads blurb:

In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.

With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

The story is much darker than this blurb would have you believe. Blackthorn is an excellent character, whose perspective serves to leech away any chance of a sappy interpretation of people’s motivations. She is on a course of vengeance, held back only by the threat of destruction by the mysterious fey who released her. This motivation stains every human interaction she engages in.

Grim is devoted to Blackthorn, but broken himself. Marillier draws Grim as perhaps the most sympathetic of all the characters, but there is an undercurrent of violence that adds an edge to all his interactions as well.

Prince Oran, the third point of view character, is very much the embodiment of a modern 21st century perspective embedded in a medieval setting. He loves and listens to his people. He takes an enlightened perspective on things. He is an innovator. He is drawn somewhat sympathetically as well, and the resolution of his dilemma is the mystery that the story turns on.

The writing is excellent, very engaging and all the qualities of a real page turner. The plot is relatively straight forward, with the reader guessing many of the twists well in advance of the characters. Much of the tension comes from Blackthorn’s need for vengeance and how it clouds her perspective on the problem in front of her.

All in all an excellent read. This review isn’t really for the legions of devoted Marillier fans. I’m aiming this at you, yes you in the corner. The person who doesn’t like romance and who almost didn’t read even this review once you saw the image of the cover above. Do yourself a favour, and read this book. It’s not award winning for nothing!

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Monthly roundup – June and July 2015

So, my website has been neglected for the last couple of months – work has been a bit crazy and I’m running very behind on a whole lot of extra-curricular stuff.

So, let me catch you up gentle reader.

I’ve read a few books over the last couple of months, all of which I enjoyed. I finally read Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Set in the England of the industrial revolution, it follows the exploits of Dodger, a young man who scours the sewers of London for treasure that others have flushed away. I’ve been putting off reading this book, knowing that it was the last new pure Pratchett I’m every going to read. It was good, amusing all the way through and with the great turn of phrase I expect from a Pratchett novel. It was strange reading something that wasn’t set in Discworld, but it was a refreshing change (as much as I love Discworld novels!). Recommended if you’re a Pratchett fan.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of The Big Smoke by Jason Nahrung. Nahrung is one of my favourite authors, and The Big Smoke didn’t disappoint. I’ll be writing a full review soon, but in the meantime if Aussie vampires in Brisvegas sounds intriguing, get out and buy the book (and Blood and Dust, the first book in the duology, which I reviewed here).

Moving more internationally, I inhaled The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, which has featured on many of the speculative fiction award lists this year. An excellent novel, it follows a half-elf-half-orc who unexpectedly inherits the throne when his father and older half-brothers unexpectedly die in an accident. The main character is very sympathetic, and the writing very clean. A real page turner, I read the book in a couple of sittings. I can see why it has received so many accolades. One of the best fantasies of the year.

Peripheral by William Gibson was also very enjoyable, if not the same kind of page turner. Based on the premise that people in the future find a way to communicate with the past through a computer system, it is part science fiction, part murder mystery and part thriller. It took a little bit of effort to get into the book, but once there I really enjoyed it. Well written and the trademark Gibson  extrapolation of current technology gives much food for thought.

I decided to read the winners of each novel category of the 2015 Aurealis Awards to keep my eye on the Australian scene. I started with Peacemaker  by Marianne de Pierres, winner of the Best Science Fiction category. I’ll be doing a full review for the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge, but in short it was a good novel solidly executed, but I don’t know that I’ll be rushing back for the second book in the series.

Next off the mark was The Dreaming Pool by Juliet Marillier. I really enjoyed this book. There was an element of “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, because I had completely the wrong idea about the book from the title and the cover. Once again, I’ll be writing a full review for the AWWC but well worth reading.

I’m taking a short break from my Aurealis reading to look at The Long Utopia by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (more Stephen Baxter than Terry Pratchett, mores the pity – nothing against Stephen Baxter, but I do miss Pratchett’s writing). About as expected so far.

TV wise, like everyone I watching through to the end of Game of Thrones season 5, and have spent the requisite amount of time worrying about Jon Snow’s fate. That’s probably enough – there have been a lot more written about GoT everyone else on the internet, and I find myself without anything interesting to say.

I started watching Dark Matter, which has the distinction of being a science fiction show actually set on a spaceship. I hadn’t realised I’d been missing that until I got about half way through the first episode and thought “<insert deity of choice>, I love spaceships”. A good premise (everyone waking up with amnesia) and very competently executed so far. I’m hooked.

I also started watching Defiance season 3. For a show that was released primarily to sell a computer game, I’ve found Defiance quite compelling. There has been a bit of a clear out of old characters, but I’m still liking the show. If you haven’t watched the first two seasons, I probably wouldn’t advise starting at season 3.

I started watching The Messengers but abandoned it after 1.5 episodes. I’m not a religious man, but I can be convinced to watch angel/demon shows (for instance Supernatural), but I’ve decided I only like them when the angels are almost as bad as the demons.

On the superhero side of things, Gotham has been getting better and better. It is dark – very gritty with characters having to make some nasty choices (one of them, for instance, had to scoop her own eyeball out. It made sense at the time). I’ve always liked the Batman tale, and this exploration of the pre-origin story has grabbed me more than I thought it would. Worth persevering with if you like Batman but didn’t like the first half of the season.

I also just finished Arrow season 3, which was about as I expected. I’ve heard a lot of commentary panning the flashback format of the show, but I really like it. I’m enjoying having Oliver Queen’s backstory filled in, and having the flashbacks track exactly 5 years behind the main action works for me.

Agents of SHIELD was competently executed, and lets face it, I’m just a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I enjoyed watching it, I’m struggling to find anything interesting to say about it. So, lets just stick with “if you like the MCU, you’re probably watching AoS already” and leave it at that.

12 Monkeys was an interesting time hopping adventure. Based loosely around the Bruce Willis/Brad Pitt movie of the same name, it included an interesting take on time travel that remained mostly coherent. I remained interested enough to see it through to the end, just to see how everything played out. I liked the end, pointing everything at “you can’t escape destiny”, then pulling a fast one in the last scene. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the second season.

Wayward Pines started off in an intriguing way. A ten episode season, I was surprised when they revealed the mystery at the heart of the story about half way through. It changed the nature of the narrative quite dramatically. I didn’t mind not having Lost levels of irritating and contrived mystery, but it has made me wonder where the show could possibly go from here. I may start the next season, but I make no guarantees about finishing it.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve started in on the new seasons of Teen Wolf and Falling Skies. More on them next month.

I even got out to see a couple of movies. Imagine what you think the Entourage movie will be like. Picture it in your mind. You’ll be pleased to know that it is exactly what is hovering in your pre-frontal cortex. If you liked the series, then it is a bit of nostalgia. If not, don’t bother.

I really enjoyed Ant Man. It was significantly funnier that I was expecting, and after the ever escalating plots of the last few MCU movies, it was nice to have something with a manageable scale. A good stand alone movie as well if you haven’t kept up with the franchise.

And finally I popped out to see Mission Impossible this weekend. Pretty good non-stop explosions and Tom Cruise may be a fruit loop, but he is an incredibly fit fruit loop. Either special effects are getting really good, or Mr Cruise does a LOT of his own stunts. Lets face it, we all know that we’re going to wake up one day to the headline “Tom Cruise Dies Performing Bloody Stupid Stunt”. Still, in the meantime it makes for some spectacular, if mindless, entertainment.