Serena’s Review: “Den of Wolves”

22567184Book: “Den of Wolves” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Roc, November 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: I bought it!

Book Description: 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…

Review: I had this book pre-ordered on Amazon, so it showed up the day after it was released, and I was ready. Door closed. Husband, I’ll see you later. I’m going to READ THIS BOOK NOW.

Per the usual, Blackthorn and Grim’s lives are once again caught up in the mysteries of their neighbors. These two never get any peace! This time it comes in the form of a neighboring landholder, Tola, his daughter, a mysterious stranger, and a fantastical heartwood house that Grim is recruited to help build. After befriending the outcast and half-crazed builder, Bardan, Grim begins to suspect a dark secret lingering between the builder and the lord Tola. Blackthorn, for her part, befriends Tola’s daughter, Cara, whose fears of failure and disapproval severely impact her ability to speak to others, but who has a fey-like connection to the woods of her home in Wolf Glen and the birds that inhabit it.

This book follows the established format laid out in the first two stories. Chapters alternate between Blackthorn and Grim’s perspectives, as well as that of a third party character. Here, we have both Cara and Bardan’s perspectives, though Cara is given more page time than Bardan. His own narrative being one filled with confusion, amnesia, and a prevailing madness, Bardan’s chapters only begin to become clear as the story and mystery unfolds, making this uneven allotment more understandable. Cara’s chapters were very enjoyable, over all. Her character is one who is crippled by anxiety, and she represents a unique voice in a story like this, providing insight into challenges that many people face outside of a fantasy setting.

In the first two books, my main criticism (not that it was a strong one or that there were many to begin with) was with these side narrators. Oran was, quite simply, rather boring in the first book. And in “Tower of Thorns,” Geiléis revealed herself as a slightly unsavory character right from the beginning. With both of these, their chapters often felt frustrating, leaving me wanting to rush through to get back to Blackthorn and Grim. Here, Bardan, but especially Cara, are much more enjoyable characters on their own, alleviating some of this tension between page time given to their own stories and that of our main characters.

The mystery itself was a bit easy to guess. I’ve read a lot of Marillier’s books, so this could be simply due to the fact that I am very familiar with her storytelling and the ties she creates between the tale being told in the book itself and the mini folktales often sprinkled within. That being said, I still very much enjoyed watching things unfold, and there were still a few unexpected twists thrown in at the end.

Blackthorn and Grim are, of course, the main selling point of this entire series and that remains true in this book. I didn’t go through and count pages, but I felt that Grim’s narrative was more prominent than  Blackthorn’s in this story. At the very least, he’s closer to the action. But given the events of the last book, most notably the emotional revelations that came through on Grim’s part, I felt like this book needed to give Blackthorn more space from the action to reflect on herself and her own feelings and relationship with Grim. So, while this may have left her a bit more disconnected from solving the mystery itself (though she definitely plays a large role, don’t get me wrong), I was very satisfied to follow her more introspective story arc.

My one criticism of this book comes down to outside factors beyond the story itself. Marillier’s publisher only signed a contract for a three book series, though the author set up the books to be a longer-running series. With that in mind, she needed to write this book in a way that it could stand either as the end of a trilogy or as a middle point in an ongoing series should the publisher decide to pick it up for more. This created a very awkward position for the book to inhabit. Parts of the story felt rushed, particularly with regards to Blackthorn’s ongoing vendetta against the high lord who did her such wrong in the past. And, even, the progression of her relationship with Grim, while still very satisfying, did at times also feel that it might have benefited from an additional book to properly complete the slow-burn approach laid out in the first two novels.

The ending does its job though. It can serve as the final part of a trilogy, but does leave the door open for sequels, should the publisher so choose. Obviously, I would love to read more of this series. Blackthorn and Grim are both very unique narrators to the genre, both being older, more broken individuals than are commonly seen. Either way, however, this book did not disappoint, and I will happily shelve it right next to all of the other Marillier books I have bought (which is all of them).

Rating 9: Loved it! The only mark against it is its need to serve as two things as once, both the final third of a trilogy or the middle book of a series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Den of Wolves” is a new book and isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Irish Myth and Folklore.”

Find “Den of Wolves” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “Dreamer’s Pool” and “Tower of Thorns”



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