Series: Blackthorn & Grim #1
Published by Roc on November 4th 2014
Award-winning author Juliet Marillier "weaves magic, mythology, and folklore into every sentence on the page" (The Book Smugglers). Now she begins an all-new and enchanting series that will transport readers to a magical vision of ancient Ireland...
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.
About a year ago I read Juliet Marillier’s debut novel Daughter of the Forest and fell in love. The beauty of her writing, the complexity of the characters, the slow-burn romance and the atmosphere created was incredible and I knew immediately that I wanted to read other books by her. There is something unique about Marillier’s style, she has a very distinctive storyteller voice and the way she uses fairy tales, myths and lore in her stories is wonderful to read. She makes you feel like you’re sitting around a campfire in the middle of an Irish forest sipping hot tea.
These things still ring true after reading Dreamer’s Pool, but unfortunately my enjoyment of the novel didn’t even come close to that of Daughter of the Forest. I knew going into Dreamer’s Pool that it would be a long and slow-paced book (as was Daughter of the Forest); what I didn’t expect though, was that its length and pace would feel dull, boring and tedious.
The story is told from three different POV’s and every chapter changes perspective. The novel starts off with Blackthorn who has been wrongfully imprisoned for a year by an evil and powerful man called Mathuin. Above all else, Blackthorn wants to get revenge for what Mathuin did to her and countless other people, but then she receives word that she is to die before she can make her case in court. The same night however, a fey named Conmael appears and offers her a deal: He will free her of the prison and save her from imminent death if she agrees to set aside her need for vengeance and help anyone in want of her help for seven years to come. She accepts the offer reluctantly and, along with a prison mate of hers called Grim, sets off to Dalriada to once again practice as a healer.
In the meantime, Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, is anxiously waiting for his future bride, Lady Flidais, to arrive. He knows her only from a drawn portrait and letters but is convinced that she is his soul mate, his one true love. But Oran soon discovers that things aren’t always the way they appear.
The first 50 or so pages of the novel were great. I was immediately engaged in the story and expected a novel full of action, intrigue and mystery. What I got though was nothing of the sort.
All of the main characters in this book were complex and flawed. Blackthorn and Grim are by no means paragons of virtue, but are in fact quite unlikable at times. Blackthorn is a bitter woman with a need for vengeance and generally doesn’t enjoy people’s company. She is also of mature years. Grim is a bit of a brute, a rather ugly man, strong and with a kind heart, but definitely not your typical fantasy hero. He is also of mature years.
See now, these two characters alone should have sold me on this story. They are so unique! When is the last time you have read a fantasy novel with middle-aged characters as protagonists? But to my complete surprise I didn’t feel attached to them in the slightest. I didn’t just not like them, I didn’t empathize with them at all; I didn’t care what would happen to them. I found both Blackthorn and Grim to be incredibly repetitive and uninteresting and after a while I couldn’t bear to hear their thoughts anymore. I was also disappointed by the lack of character development.
Then we have Oran. On the surface, Oran seems like the perfect prince. He is well-read, compassionate and just. He cares about his people, wants to be a good ruler. He also has his flaws however. He is quite naïve and a bit of a hopeless romantic. He wants to do the right thing but sometimes he doesn’t know how.
Oran annoyed me to no end. He was a total bore and lacked backbone. He just seemed like such a weak character overall and I could never warm up to him.
The side characters were not at all developed beyond one dimension and only seemed to serve the immediate story line. None of them were noteworthy or captured my attention.
I think Marillier has a good hand when it comes to characters; they always feel real and are full of raw emotion, however these ones just didn’t do it for me.
Plot & Pacing:
As I’ve already mentioned, this book turned out to be very boring. The book isn’t atmospheric enough to justify the glacial pace and the plot was beyond predictable. I guessed the entire mystery within the first pages of the unfolding events before we were even really confronted with the conflict, which made the meandering storytelling even more frustrating. Overall, Dreamer’s Pool’s length wasn’t really worth my patience. The three POV’s, although well-done, felt unnecessary and didn’t really add to the story.
A few additional comments:
– I appreciated that friendship was a central theme in this story. The friendship between Blackthorn and Grim was complex and slow-building, as was the unfurling of the characters’ back stories. Unfortunately, I couldn’t love this though because I cared so little for the characters.
– I had a big issue with the portrayal of female sexuality. I’m not going to elaborate because it would be impossible to do without spoiling, but basically, Marillier does something here that I think could rub many people the wrong way.
I still suggest you pick up a Juliet Marillier book and I will certainly be reading more books by her, but this one didn’t work for me and I don’t recommend it.