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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: “Blade of Fortriu” by Juliet Marillier
Publishing Info: Tor, October 2006
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: Five Winters have passed since young king Bridei ascended the throne of Fortriu. Five years, in which the people have felt a contentment unknown for generations.
But the security of a people can vanish in a heartbeat, for wolves are often drawn to fields filled with fattened sheep. Bridei is determined to drive the Gaelic invaders from his lands once and for all. And so, with his land secure and his house in order, he prepares for war.
And one of Bridei’s plans to win the war to come involves the beautiful young Ana. A princess of the Light Isles, she has dwelt as a hostage at the court of Fortriu for most of her young life. Despite being a pawn of fortune, she has bewitched all at court and is dearly loved by Bridei and his queen. But Ana understands her duty. And so she will travel north, to make a strategic marriage with a chieftain she has never seen, in the hopes of gaining an ally on whom Bridei’s victory relies.
For secrecy’s sake, Ana must travel at a soldier’s pace, with a small band led by the enigmatic spymaster Faolan. Bridei implores Ana to trust see the good in Faolan but Ana cannot see beyond his cold competence and killer’s eyes.
Then, when she arrives at the chieftain Alpin’s stronghold in the mysterious Briar Woods, her discomfort and unease increase tenfold, for this is a place of full of secrets and her betrothed is an enigma himself. The more Ana tries to uncover the truth of her new life, the more she discovers a maze of polite diversions that mask deadly lies. She fears Faolan, but he may prove to be the truest thing in her world. Or her doom.
Previously Reviewed: “The Dark Mirror”
Review: While the first book wasn’t one of my favorites, I was excited to get to re-read this second entry. I believe I’ve re-read this one at least once before, but it’s been over ten years at least. So, it’s probably one of my least remembered favorites out of Marillier’s catalogue. That’s pretty rare for me, as my habit with this author has always been that if I love a book from her, I re-read it fairly consistently over the years. I’m not sure why this one fell off my rounds, but I was all the more excited to revisit this one with so little memory of how it actually plays out.
Though Ana has grown up as a political hostage, she has known nothing but kindness, friendship, and love in King Bridei’s court. And while this makes her duty to make a strategic marriage on King Bridei’s behalf a bit easier, she is still to be sent away from her friends to marry a man she’s never met. When she arrives, she discovers that not all is as it seems in the home of her intended. Mysteries lie upon mysteries, and she begins to fear that her marriage may not be what it seems and that she, and King Bridei, may have bit off more than they can chew with this strange new lord and his court.
I don’t remember if I’ve ever really looked at the book description for this book before. But man, it’s misleading! Fans of Marillier’s books know that she always has a romance that is pretty central to her story, so you look for that when you read the blurbs for her books. Reading this one, you’d rightly think that Faolan is the romantic pairing that will come along for Ana. Nope! It’s an unnamed character who doesn’t even show up until about halfway through the book! That said, I do love said character when he appears (though, like many romantic heroes, it takes a bit for him to get his head on straight about his situation and Ana).
I also really love Ana as the main character in this book. Her position as a political hostage is a completely unique situation from any heroine we’ve read from Marillier before. But in a lot of ways, she’s very similar to the author’s other leading ladies: soft appearing but hiding a coil of inner strength like steel within herself. I enjoyed watching her put together the pieces regarding the mystery going on at her betrothed’s home. It was all believable and fell within her particular insights, things that men might not perhaps notice.
Faolan is a character who shows up again in the next book. I didn’t know this reading this book the first time, but now that I’m aware of his coming role, I did find myself more interested in his story in this book. I’ve always had a bit of a hard time really connecting to him, and I think part of that is his treatment of Ana early in this book is really quite poor. I have a hard time letting that side of him go when I read on. Ana is in a very vulnerable position, in almost every way, and some of Faolan’s callousness towards her isn’t great. That said, I admire that Marillier created a character in him who’s not immediately likable. I haven’t ever re-read the third book in this series, so I’m curious to see whether my estimation of him will change coming at it fifteen years later.
I also really liked the magical elements and the mystery at the heart of this story. Some of it was fairly predictable, but all in the best way. The story had just the right balance of fantasy, action, and romance for me, and this is definitely one of my tops picks of Marillier’s books.
Rating 9: This is a lovely story with a very sweet romance at its heart.
“Blade of Fortriu” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Magic, Adventure, Romance and Forbidden Love in Fantasy/ Paranormal/ Supernatural/ Historical Fictions.