Monthly Marillier: “The Well of Shades”

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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: “The Well of Shades” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor, May 2007

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

Book Description: Juliet Marillier continues the epic fantasy begun with” The Dark Mirror, ” which” Interzone” called: “A fascinating evocation of life in Pictish England and an emotional roller coaster of a story.” King Bridei is a man with a mission. His wish to unite his kingdom seems almost within his grasp but there are forces working to undo his dream. He sends Faolan, his most trusted advisor (who is also a master assassin and spymaster) out into the world to ferret out the truth of who is friend and who is foe. Along the way Faolan will uncover many truths. Some may hold the key to Bridei’s future. But more important, they may unlock the secrets that Faolan has held deep within his soul for decades. And offer him the chance of redemption.

Previously Reviewed: “The Dark Mirror” and “Blade of Fortriu”

Review: While there are some books by Juliet Marillier that I feel confident I could review perfectly without even reading them again (due to the millions of re-reads I’ve done over the years), there are others where I have practically no memories. The Bridei trilogy is probably my least-read series of all of her books, and thus I have the fewest memories of these books individually. I had a few vague ideas about the first one, a fairly good memory of the second one (the only one I’ve re-read of the bunch), and now absolutely zero memory of this third book. I mean, I guess I remember there being a mom and her kid involved, but you can also see that from the cover, so that’s really no props to my memory. So it was fun getting to almost read this book again for the first time.

After his recent adventures (and disappointments), Faolan is sent on yet another task by his king, Bridei, in his continuing mission to bring together his country. With dark secrets that have plagued him, Faolan has made a life for himself focusing solely on these missions. But this time, the mission brings him up against that which he has sought to run from for years. Along the way, he meets a young mother with secrets of their own. Together, can they find a way to heal their pasts?

While I didn’t particularly care for Faolan in the first half of the previous book, by the end, he and the situation he find himself in is quite sympathetic. That being the case, it’s no surprise that Marillier chose him as a focal point for this last book in the trilogy. She does love her broken heroes, doesn’t she? She’s also excellent at writing this type of character, so it naturally follows that Faolan continues his trajectory as an increasingly compelling character in this story. His arch of personal reconciliation and redemption is both compelling and emotional. There were a few twists and turns in his story that I remember being fairly surprising, and, in the end, I really liked what the author did with this character.

Ellie and her daughter, Saraid, were also excellent characters. I’m always a bit of a hard sell on child characters. And while Saraid did have her moments of “preciousness” that I struggled with, overall, I did like her quite a lot. Ellie’s story is also dark, and her journey to trusting both herself and, in particular, Faolan, is slow but emotionally fulfilling. Their romance is definitely of the “slow burn” variety, which is just what I like.

The story also switches between Faolan’s journey and Bridei’s court. There’s a lot of work to be done in this book to wrap up all the various plot lines, and Bridei’s ongoing political conflicts do make up a good amount of the story. There were also a lot of twists and turns here that were fun to see, serving as good payoffs for groundwork that was laid down earlier in the book. It’s also always nice to revisit our favorite characters from the first two books.

Due to the nature of this story, with its flip-flopping between two narratives, I did struggle a bit more to fully connect to either story line. I never really felt myself being fully drawn into the book. But I still enjoyed it! It just wasn’t as immersive as some of Marillier’s best books are. Fans of the trilogy should definitely complete the series and should enjoy this final entry!

Rating 8: A satisfying conclusion to this trilogy that focuses on two broken characters learning to find a safe haven with each other.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Well of Shades” is on these Goodreads lists: Books With Heroes/Heroines Who Are Assassins and Character Driven Fantasy Books.

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