I recently had the pleasure to read Beautiful by Juliet Marillier in audiobook format. I thoroughly enjoy all of Marillier’s re-imaginings and re-telling of classic folktales and mythologies. Beautiful was certainly as detailed and well-written as previous novels I have read by Juliet Marillier. The inspiration for Beautiful was the Nordic fairy-tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon where a princess overcomes numerous tribulations to discover her true self. In Beautiful, the young princess is Hulde of the Hill-folk, viewed as trolls by the human populations, Hulde is completely innocent of the world beyond the Glass Mountain where the queen keeps her secluded and ignorant. Hulde’s only companion is a white bear named Rune who teaches her kindness and to trust her own judgement. Orchestrated by the queen, on Hulde sixteenth birthday, a curse will be fulfilled. When Hulde discovers the falsehood and betrayal, she prevents the curse from coming to fruition and begins her own quest to find her true self, to honour the memory of a father she never knew and to lead the Hill-folk with kindness, wisdom and justice.Beautiful was a story of wonder and wisdom, where beauty should be considered on many levels, different personalities and physical forms.
A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first novel in an adult Fantasy series by Sarah J. Maas. Although listed as young adult Fantasy like previous novels by Maas, A Court of Thorns & Roses is unsuitable for younger readers and contains appropriate warnings despite the booksellers listing and conflicting publisher imprint from Bloomsbury YA. A Court of Thorns & Roses follows the protagonist Feyre, the youngest daughter of a once-wealthy merchant but now greatly impoverished. To keep her two older sisters and father from starving, Feyre learned to hunt in the forest south of the great wall dividing the mortal realm from Prythian, the faerie realm. While hunting, Feyre kills a large wolf she suspects is a disguised faerie but generations of mortal hatred toward the Fae justify her kill. Soon, Feyre’s fears manifest when Tamlin, High Lord of the Fae Spring Court punishes Feyre for her crime, taking her to Prythian as his vassal, forcing her to forsake her family.Once in Prythian, Feyre discovers the hatred borne by the mortal world is slightly misfounded, for Tamlin is neither cruel nor merciless. In the relative safety of Tamlin’s power in the Spring Court, Feyre soon learns the greatest danger to the mortal realm is also a threat to Prythian. Although bargaining with the Fae is dangerous, Feyre acknowledges her love for Tamlin, she is determined to break the curse binding him and the other Fae High Lords. So Feyre bargains at great cost to herself to save Tamlin and, in doing so, protect the fragile peace between Prythian and the mortal realm. A Court of Thorns and Roses has a familiar fable quality like the classic tales of Beauty and the Beast but the stronger themes from folktales and folklore of the Fae give depth to the world-building behind Prythian.
A Court of Thorns and Roses is a solid foundation to a series that can only expand and explore the complex history hinted at in this first book.
I recently finished reading The Girl in the Tower, the second novel in the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden. After the conclusion of The Bear and the Nightingale, Vasilisa’s life has changed forever. Unable to return to the simple life in her father’s holding, Vasilisa decides to travel. Although Medvedev, the Bear is bound again, Morozko, the Winter King, warns Vasilisa not to leave the safety of the northern forests. Determined as always, Vasilisa takes her stallion Solovey, and travels through the vast Russian forests. Vasilisa happens upon a bandit campsite and rescues several kidnapped girls. When Vasilisa seeks refuge for herself and the kidnapped girls, she finds the nearby monastery and her brother, Sasha, the warrior-monk. Since travelling on the road alone, Vasilisa has disguised herself as a boy. Relieved that Vasilisa is not dead as he had feared, Sasha agrees for Vasilisa to continue her disguise. For Sasha does not travel alone, but in the company of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Conscious of Vasilisa’s safety and reputation, Sasha takes Vasilisa directly to their sister Olga’s household in Moscow where Olga is now the Princess of Septecov. Vasilisa is reunited with Olga but delight quickly becomes restlessness as the claustrophobic lifestyle led by the noble women of Moscow begins to strangle her. For the noble, virtuous women of Moscow, their lives are spent within the seclusion of their households and tower rooms. The Girl in the Tower continues the story of Vasilisa and Morozko. Behind the main events, the scene in Moscow is one of political intrigue and the very real dangers of the Grand Prince’s court at Moscow. When Vasilisa becomes embroiled in a danger far more explosive than hiding her true identity from the Grand Prince, Vasilisa must risk her own life to save her family. Against the fading powers of the pagan magic, Vasilisa discovers a dark, sorcerous magic that holds a generational family truth.
The Girl in the Tower was just as enchanting as The Bear and the Nightingale, drawing on the wonderful Russian folktales and imbued with the same fable-like qualities. Here you can read my review of The Bear and the Nightingale
Heart’s Blood is a Historical Fantasy by Australian-New Zealand author Juliet Marillier, following the young female scribe Caitrin, who after fleeing her own dark past, takes a commission at the derelict ruins of Whistling Tor in the household of the mysterious Chieftain, Anluan.Caitrin soon earns Anluan’s trust and that of his odd household retainers, a mixture of loyal but bound ghosts. While Caitrin translates records from Anluan’s ancestors, she learns the history behind the dark stories of Whistling Tor and the challenges facing the physically weakened Anluan. Yet the darkest but most important horrific secret resides in one of Anluan’s ancestors and past Chieftan of Whistling Tor, a sorcerer who bound the Host – the capricious army ghosts to Whistling Tor and to the will of its Chieftain. Despite the Host being an unbeatable army, the Chieftain must always reside at Whistling Tor to control the Host. For past attempts to lead the Host to battle away from the control of Whistling Tor led to calamitous and fatal consequences for the Chieftain. While committed to her translations for Anluan, Caitrin is soon determined and consumed by the mystery and plight of the Host. Caitrin promises to release the Host by finding a counter-spell to the one Anluan’s ancestor had used to bind the restless ghosts into an army. The promise Caitrin makes to the Host embodies her own love for Anluan. Parallel to the plight of the Host is the personal battles within Caitrin and Anluan to heal the injuries of their own past and confront the fears that have always constrained them.
Heart’s Blood is a beautiful story, emphasising hope and courage and creating genuine characters. Infused in every facet of the story, the half-seen eldritch world continues as a signature theme for Juliet Marillier.
The best-selling US author Naomi Novik returns to her Polish heritage in a retelling of Slavic folktales. In Spinning Silver, Miryem is the granddaughter of a prominent Jewish moneylender in the city of Vysnia. In a small village outside Vysnia, Miryem’s father is poorly suited to his position as a moneylender, with his own family living in poverty while the villagers he lends money, live without fear of repayment. When Miryem takes control of money-lending, she hardens her heart to the pleas of her community and soon regains the wealth her own family should have possessed. Myriem’s growing reputation as a moneylender and her bold statement to turn silver into gold brings her to the attention of the Staryk, figures from Slavic folklore hunting the winter woods with desire for gold. Myriem is soon taken by the Staryk king where her words become a magic truth. Incorporated into Myriem’s tale is that of Irina, daughter of a minor duke and unintentionally embroiled in Myriem’s attempts to placate the Staryk king. Irina’s father pays Myriem gold for Irina’s jewellery made from Staryk silver. Irina’s jewellery contains a magical enchantment which captivates the Mirnatius, the young Tsar who soon marries Irina. Soon Irina confronts a hidden, dark menace lurking within Mirnatius and Myriem must choose between a known safety and an uncertain future. Interwoven with the stories of Myriem and Irina, is that of Wanda and her poverty-stricken family who become loyal servants and Myriem’s friends.
Spinning Silver is a skilful retelling of Slavic folktale and traditional lore where battles between good and evil require sacrifices extracting a high cost from those involved. Spinning Silver maintains the fable-like quality in the retelling where all life-lessons offer benefit, not without risk and always requiring a cost.
Den of Wolves is the final volume in the Fantasy series Blackthorn & Grim by Juliet Marillier. After the events in Tower of Thorns, Blackthorn and Grim return to Winterfalls hoping the familiar routine will help regain trust with each other and reconcile some of the emotional upheavals. Despite this, they find themselves bound more firmly to each other after all they have endured. When Mathuan of Laois captures the ancestral lands of Lady Flidas, wife to crown-prince Oran, Blackthorn begins to hope, and dread, final justice for all wrongs Mathuan had ever committed. War threatens the stability of the lands and Blackthorn and Grim live in fear that Mathuan will discover their identity and hiding place. As the past, present and future roads begin to converge, Blackthorn suspects the true identity of her Fey benefactor, Lord Conmael, who orchestrated her escape from Mathuan’s prison but the one who now binds her to his rules. Crown Prince Oran leaves Winterfalls for the High Court amid the escalating threat of war, leaving Blackthorn under the ever-present guard of the mysterious but elite warriors from Swan Island. Despite this, Blackthorn is soon occupied by the unexpected arrival of Cara, the daughter of the nearby remote holding of Wolf Glen. Meanwhile, Grim is hired at Wolf Glen to assist in a mysterious building project after the sudden re-emergence of Bardan, a crippled master-builder. Sworn to secrecy about the building, Grim’s suspicion deepens when it becomes clear the crippled builder Bardan is poorly treated and fears for his life. Soon, Cara’s stay at Winterfalls and the sudden arrival of Bardan combines to weave a story of tragic loss and betrayal coupled with the terrible magic of the Fey.
Den of Wolves is a compelling and dark story of the other-worldly machinations of the Fey. A fitting conclusion to the powerful Blackthorn & Grim series of redemption and resurrection. A must-read series!
The Darkest Road is the final volume in The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. This beautifully crafted trilogy began with The Summer Tree and continued with The Wandering Fire, following five University students from Toronto as they cross into Fionavar, another world, where fate awaits them. The Darkest Road is the epic battle between Rakoth and the armies of the Light. The characters of Jennifer, Arthur and Lancelot is tightly bound by their past and future selves. Encompassing all fate is Darien, a lonely child who must choose between Light and Dark and in that act, can either save or doom all worlds. In the midst of battle, the Seer Kimberely is left without the power she used to summon armies to war against the Dark, now struggles with the casualties resulting from her action. In the final and darkest moments of battle, Paul, Lord of the Summer Tree, finally discovers what gift, or curse, the title of Twiceborn granted him.
The Darkest Road forms the final piece in The Fionavar Tapestry where Guy Gavriel Kay crafts a conclusion that is beautifully written and emotionally powerful, a satisfying conclusion that maintains the integrity of the trilogy.
The Wandering Fire is the second volume in the Fantasy trilogy The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. After the defining and devastating events at the conclusion of The Summer Tree, the main characters are irrecoverably changed. While some characters like Kim and Dave have found a sense of belonging and self-discovery, others like Paul and Jennifer are so altered by experience they struggle to re-define themselves. Fionavar is gripped by an unnatural winter and threatened by impending war. A central sacrifice is made by Kevin, a defining act that brings release from the pressures assaulting Fionavar and grants true belonging to Kevin’s restless soul. With war closing in and the Wild Hunt released into Fionavar, darkness and light battle beneath the unfolding tapestry and the watchful gaze of the omniscient Weaver.
Guy Gavriel Kay did not disappoint with this second volume of The Fionavar Tapestry. Working beauty, sorrow and honesty throughout the novel, the story fulfils what began with The Summer Tree.
The Summer Tree is the first volume in the epic Fantasy trilogy The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. Five university students from Toronto are transported by a mage into another world, to Fionavar, under the pretence of witnessing a celebration, the enduring peace of a thousand years and the continued binding of Rakoth, a god-like figure who once tried to conquer Fionavar by force. Since Rakoth’s defeat a thousand years before, he has remained chained beneath his former mountain fortress. Of the five Toronto students, each has hidden strengths and will play pivotal roles in the epic battles to come. In a spectacular catastrophe, the mages are betrayed and treachery sees Rakoth freed. The Summer Tree focuses on the importance for two of the five Toronto students. Kimberely becomes a Seer, enriched with foresight but given the power to summon armies to war against Rakoth. Paul, filled with self-guilt, entered Fionavar without a future remaining in Toronto. Paul sacrifices his life for Fionavar, hoping to repay a debt, believing incorrectly he was to blame for the death of his in a car accident. Paul becomes sacrifice to the god of the Summer Tree, the custom to deliver drought-ending rain. The gods have another fate for Paul and Fionavar and so Paul is saved from death, returned to life but always Twiceborn, conscious of ebb and flow between life and death, Paul becomes the Lord of the Summer Tree, an intercedent for the gods of Fionavar.
The Summer Tree begins a trilogy of epic battle, rich storytelling, full of fable and myth. The philosophical concept underpinning The Fionavar Tapestry is the destiny of all universes relies on the fate of the first world, Fionavar. The complex threads of fate can only be unravelled, the universe destroyed by Rakoth, the one god from outside the realms of Fionavar and seemingly beyond the effects of fate.
Tower of Thorns is the second volume in the Blackthorn & Grim series by Juliet Marillier. Continuing directly from Dreamer’s Pool, Blackthorn and Grim face new challenges and old memories as Blackthorn struggles to endure the rules imposed upon her by the Fey lord Conmael. While visiting the Dalriadan court with Prince Oran, Blackthorn and Grim agree to assist Lady Geileis, a young noblewoman travelled to court with a tale of her holding beset by an eldritch monster, its constant wailing cursing her lands with an unbearable sorrow. Blackthorn agrees to travel to Bann, now accompanied by Flannen, scholar and friend from her past, long thought dead. Flannen offers Blackthorn the chance to return with him to Laois, confront Mathuin as they had always devised.Once in the near-deserted holding of Bann, Blackthorn deliberately deceives Grim, planning to leave with Flannen but not Grim. Blackthorn focuses on how evict the Fey monster from its oddly chosen residence of a river tower, more prison than home. Lady Geileis discovers a family tale, whereby the monster remains imprisoned until it can be freed on Midsummer Eve, where the perilous waters around the isolated tower calm and the thorn hedges encircling it open. While Blackthorn prepares the rites to release the creature from its bonds, Grim is best by sorrow brought forth from the wailing imprisoned monster. Even as Grim struggles to repair a nearby monastery, his darkest memories resurface as the incessant eldritch cries pull him into the past and he flees into the forest. Dazed and lost, Grim is befriended by elusive small forest fey who grant him aid in return for his kindness.
Tower of Thorns explores the light and darkness of all the characters where the bitter-sweet tale of eldritch enchantment is juxtaposed with the Blackthorn and Grim experiencing a resurfacing of past desires and sorrow. The events inevitably pull Blackthorn and Grim closer as their past and future roads begin to merge.