Monthly Marillier: “Heart’s Blood”

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“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Heart’s Blood” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor/Pan Macmillan UK, October 2009

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious, wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress of a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the district in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan’s family and his people; those woods hold a perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.

For young scribe Caitrin it is a safe haven. This place where nobody else is prepared to go seems exactly what she needs, for Caitrin is fleeing her own demons. As Caitrin comes to know Anluan and his home in more depth she realizes that it is only through her love and determination that the curse can be broken and Anluan and his people set free.

Review: This is another of Marillier’s few stand-alone novels. It’s also one of her more straightforward fairytale retellings, this time tackling the beloved “Beauty and the Beast.” I have fairly high-standards for retellings of this classic tale, as the premise sets up a situation that could trend towards an unhealthy romantic relationship (though I don’t buy into the general “Stockholme syndrome” complaint as leveled at every version of the story). But from the author who has delivered favorites on some of my other preferred fairytales….you know I’m going to rave about this one!

As a woman, Caitrin’s work as a scribe would never be accepted. Instead, her work has been passed off as her father’s and used to support their family. But when he passes, Caitrin is left with few options and finds her only refuge in the mysterious and remote Whisteling Tor. There, where strangeness lies around every corner, Caitrin meets Anluan, a young man bearing the terrible curse laid on his home. Each with their secrets and demons, the two find refuge in the blooming relationship between them. But darkness is rising, and soon their fragile bond will be tested.

So, why bother with any pretenses? Obviously, I loved this book. Marillier does have books that aren’t big hits for me, both those are often found in her series. Thinking it over now, I’m not sure there’s a single fairytale retelling of hers that I don’t count as one of my favorites. But “Beauty and the Beast” holds a special place in my heart, so it’s all the better that Marillier nailed this particular tale.

To start with, both Caitrin and Anluan are excellent characters, bringing new takes on the classic “beauty” and “beast.” Caitrin, instead of simply being book-loving, is a scribe who has worked behind the shadow of her father for years and seeks out Whistling Tor as a refuge, rather than a forced-upon-her cage. Anluan is also not a beast in any real understanding of the world. Reclusive and secretive, Caitrin must work to gain his trust, but he doesn’t have the anger issues that often come with the more simplistic takes on “beasts.” He’s also described as living with a form of palsy that struck him as a child and left him with one side of his body weaker than the other. The curse that his family and his home suffers under is much more nuanced than his simply being a “beast.”

I also really liked the magical elements we have in this book. The mirrors in particular were interesting (and a nice callback to the classic “Beauty and the Beast” mirror). Each one has a unique magical elements, and this wide range effects left the story with a lot of wiggle room to explore different parts of each character’s arc. This unknown magic also helped add to the general sense of unease and confusion that Caitrin experiences on Whistling Tor.

I did think a few parts of the story were a bit too predictable. A few characters were so obviously suspicious that you start to wonder early on if they’re red herrings. And then you read on to find out, no, they were just that bad all along and it was just very clear from the start. The curse itself was interesting, but there, too, I wish the story had done a bit more with it. The ending felt a bit sudden and neatly wrapped up, all things considered.

But those are minor quibbles. I really enjoy this story for what it offers on its own and as an interesting interpretation of “Beauty and the Beast.” The original fairytale is recognizable, with nice little winks to various aspects of the fable here and there, but it also feels like a fully fleshed out story on its own. Fans of fairytale retellings should definitely add this to their list!

Rating 8: A refreshingly unique retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” that perfectly balance the old with the new.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Heart’s Blood” is on these Goodreads lists: Beauty and the Beast and Best Adult Fairytale Fantasy.

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