Monthly Marillier: “The Well of Shades”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

“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.

Monthly Marillier: “Blade of Fortriu”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

“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!

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

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.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Blade of Fortriu” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Magic, Adventure, Romance and Forbidden Love in Fantasy/ Paranormal/ Supernatural/ Historical Fictions.

Monthly Marillier: “The Dark Mirror”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

“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 Dark Mirror” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor, September 2004

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

Book Description: Bridei is a young nobleman fostered at the home of Broichan, one of the most powerful druids in the land. His earliest memories are not of hearth and kin but of this dark stranger who while not unkind is mysterious in his ways. The tasks that he sets Bridei appear to have one goal-to make him a vessel for some distant purpose. What that purpose is Bridei cannot fathom but he trusts the man and is content to learn all he can about the ways of the world.

But something happens that will change Bridei’s world forever…and possibly wreck all of Broichan’s plans. For Bridei finds a child on their doorstep on a bitter MidWinter Eve, a child seemingly abandoned by the fairie folk. It is uncommonly bad luck to have truck with the Fair Folk and all counsel the babe’s death. But Bridei sees an old and precious magic at work here and heedless of the danger fights to save the child. Broichan relents but is wary.

The two grow up together and as Bridei comes to manhood he sees the shy girl Tuala blossom into a beautiful woman. Broichan sees the same process and feels only danger…for Tuala could be a key part in Bridei’s future…or could spell his doom.

Review: When I was planning out this review series, I can honestly say I forgot about this trilogy in my first run through of scheduling. So, take from that what you will! I can say that this is another of Marillier’s trilogies that leave me with the very hipster opinion of preferring the second book in the series to any other. As you will see, this book wasn’t my favorite, and as much as I do enjoy the second entry in the trilogy, I think it’s this lukewarm start that has me so often forgetting about these books’ existence in Marillier’s catalog of work.

Bridei’s childhood is clearly centered around some greater plan being put to work by the druid Broichan. Mysterious and reclusive, Broichan is not one to explain himself to Bridei, but Bridei does know that when they discover a baby girl at their door, this is definitely not part of the plan. Now, growing up alongside Tuala, Bridei begins to suspect why his teacher was so cautious to begin with. But Bridei himself can’t help but feel a stronger and stronger connection to the young woman, and, soon enough, the fates of an entire people may rest in her hands.

So, this another of my least favorite of Marillier’s works. Many of her strengths are equally present: the lyrical writing, the clear sense of the world and time period, and a flowing style of storytelling that lends even practical scenes a sense of wonder and magic. But some of her most common limitations are also present. That is, a stalled pace, especially in the beginning of the story, and a romance that is hard to become invested in. This latter point is the most puzzling, because her amazing romances are part of the reason I love her so much! But she is one of those authors who seems to either really nail the romance or to miss the mark altogether.

This book leans heavily on the political situation surrounding Bridei’s coming of age and the role he is meant to have in the future of the land. As such, much of the story is very much set in the human world (as opposed to some of Marillier’s more fantasy-focused stories). This isn’t a bad thing on the face things, but the story does feel slow and plodding for the first half or so. It’s a struggle to really put together the pieces that are moving and see much of an actual story arch building in the book itself.

The romance was also very cringe-y at times. It’s a hard balance to write a romance that develops from childhood friendship into romance, especially when there’s a distinct age gap. I think that “The First Girl Child” did very well, but that relied on separating the main characters until the younger of the two, the young woman, was an adult (by the time’s standards). Here, Bridei’s views of Tuala seem uncomfortable at times, given her age. I also felt like the resolution for the romance came on too suddenly in the end, with their feelings for one another going from zero to hundred over the course of one event. It wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t hold up to Marillier’s more complex and swoony romances.

This was only my second time reading this book, and I can say that my original lower opinion stands pretty true. I think I might have disliked it even more than the first time I read it, as I found the romance to be harder to read without feeling uncomfortable this go around. But I do remember liking the second book much more. In fact, I know I’ve read that one more than once, though it’s still be about a decade since I last revisited! I hope it holds up!

Rating 6: A slow, plodding pace isn’t helped by a romance that falls more on the cringe side of the cringe/swoon scale.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dark Mirror” is on these Goodreads lists: Wise Women, Witches, Midwives, Healers, and Strong Girls! and Medieval Fantasy Books.

Monthly Marillier: “Heart’s Blood”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

“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.

Monthly Marillier: “Raven Flight”

“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: “Raven Flight” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, July 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: own it

Book Description: Neryn has finally found the rebel group at Shadowfell, and now her task is to seek out the elusive Guardians, vital to her training as a Caller. These four powerful beings have been increasingly at odds with human kind, and Neryn must prove her worth to them. She desperately needs their help to use her gift without compromising herself or the cause of overthrowing the evil King Keldec.

Neryn must journey with the tough and steadfast Tali, who looks on Neryn’s love for the double agent Flint as a needless vulnerability. And perhaps it is. What Flint learns from the king will change the battlefield entirely—but in whose favor, no one knows. 

Previously Review: “Shadowfell”

Review: Back when I read this for the first time, I remember being a bit hesitant going into the second book in Marillier’s YA “Shadowfell” trilogy. I had enjoyed the first one for the most part, but there were a few flags (particularly with the romance and some of the heroine’s decision making) that made me nervous to see how this story would continue to unfold over the entire two books left to complete Neryn’s story. Luckily, this book was the breath of fresh air the trilogy needed and went to prove that sometimes the second book is not only NOT the worst in a trilogy but can even help lift the series up beyond its own lackluster start.

Shortly after arriving at Shadowfell, Neryn realizes that it is her destiny to travel beyond its confines in an effort to prove herself capable of wielding the land’s powerful magical forces. To do so, she must convince four magical guardians who have always looked down with much judgement on the foolishness of humans. Travelling alongside her is her companion and warrior friend, Tali. Together, the two must travel to the furthest realms of north, south, east and west in hopes to gain these powerful beings’ blessing and lessons. But will Neryn be strong enough to convince them? And will they, like Tali, see Neryn’s beloved, Flint, as a weakness in her quest to overthrow Keldec?

There were a few things that stood out in my re-read that pointed to why I enjoyed this book so much more than the first. First off, I think the replacement of Flint with Tali as Neryn’s travelling companion works better on many levels. The romance in this trilogy as a whole is probably one of my least favorites of all of Marillier’s many excellent romantic pairings, so frankly, less Flint/Neryn interactions were a win for me. These two need to get their act together, and while they are both better here than in the first book, I still found myself often annoyed with their dramatics.

Tali, on the other hand, instead of highlighting some of Neryn’s more nonsensical moments, spoke the harsh truths that had been missing and had left me eye-rolling my way through the first book. Neryn is still often rather weak-willed and self-focused, all too willing to hesitate and dither over using her powers, more concerned with potentially moral grey areas than with saving the real people before her (or the larger rebel cause as a whole.) Gruff, tough, Tali has no patience for this type of dithering and often lectures Neryn on how Neryn’s Caller abilities are all that give the rebellion a hope of winning and that Neryn will need to harden herself to the fact that people die in wars. Tali was probably my favorite addition to the story. Not only did she say what I was thinking so much of the time, but I always like this type of rough-and-ready character who takes a while to warm up to both the reader and the other characters that surround her.

I also enjoyed the format of this story more than the first. While I like a good journey book as much as the next LOTR fan, “Shadowfell” too often stumbled in its pacing in this area to be successful. “Raven Flight” calls on another favorite fantasy trope: magical tasks. Always love these, and Marillier does an excellent job here. The Guardians we meet are all unique and intriguing, and the challenges they set for Neryn are appropriately grueling. There is one, in particular, that seems to almost break Neryn, and Marillier’s talent as a writer quite deftly portrays the dire straights that Neryn finds herself in.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this second book. It’s quite good on its own, and, honestly, the improvement over the first works to lift it even further in my estimation. I think many fans of Maillier’s work breathed a sigh of relief when this book came out, again reassured that she had not lost her touch.

Rating 8: The de-emphasis on the romance and the addition of the warrior woman Tali greatly increased my enjoyment of this second outing in the “Shadowfell” trilogy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Raven Flight” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Fantasy Books Under the Radar and Fairy Tale Fantasy with a Touch of Romance.

Find “Raven Flight” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Monthly Marillier: “Shadowfell”

“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: “Shadowfell” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her own canny skill–a uniquely powerful ability to communicate with the fairy-like Good Folk–Neryn sets out for the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a secret rebel group determined to overthrow the evil King Keldec.

During her dangerous journey, she receives aid from the Good Folk, who tell her she must pass a series of tests in order to recognize her full potential. She also finds help from a handsome young man, Flint, who rescues her from certain death–but whose motives in doing so remain unclear. Neryn struggles to trust her only allies. They both hint that she alone may be the key to Alban’s release from Keldec’s rule. Homeless, unsure of who to trust, and trapped in an empire determined to crush her, Neryn must make it to Shadowfell not only to save herself, but to save Alban.

Review: I remember being really excited when this book was slated to come out. I had mostly read Marillier’s “Sevenwaters” books at this point, so I was excited to see a new world molded under her hands. And I was curious to see how she would translate her work to a YA audience (many of the “Sevenwaters” books tackle some pretty serious subjects). And while it surprised me in many ways, it also fell a bit on middling ground as far as my overall rankings of Marillier’s work.

The land has become a dangerous place for those with anything resembling the uncanny. But there are rumors of those who still fight, hidden away in a place called Shadowfell. It’s there that Neryn sets off in search of, all the while trying to hide her own magical abilities. But as she travels, she gains aid from small, magical folk who are even more at risk than she and hint at a future much greater than one Neryn had ever imagined for herself. With this perilous task ahead of her, Neryn’s world is rocked. She finds herself even more unbalanced when she runs across a young man named Flint whose mysterious origins and loyalties keep her guessing at every turn. Will Neryn make it to Shadowfell? And will this place hold the answers to all of her questions?

“Shadowfell” demonstrates some of the standard strengths and weaknesses of her writing. Her world-building, evocative writing, and well-researched to folktales are just as effective and appealing here as they have been in her previous books. Alba felt unique from the Irish setting that we’ve seen so much of in the “Sevenwaters” series. The tales and songs, from what I could tell, were all based in historically accurate traditions of the area. As well, the magical creatures were distinct from the Fae we’ve seen in her other work. The small, creature-like animals and the land-based beings were all fascinating and immediately compelling. And, like always, her writing is lush and immersive, drawing the reader in to the point where you feel the mists and chills that Neryn so often travels through.

On the other hand, if there’s one complaint I’ve routinely had about Marillier’s work it has been the overwhelming “goodness” of her heroines. The extent to which I enjoy them often depends on whether this goodness is balanced out by other actions that they take on the world (often the more pro-active heroines get a bigger pass from me.) But Neryn ends up being one of the more passive heroines we’ve seen for a while. Not only does she fall into the trope of being essentially a “chosen one,” but she is routinely is incredibly naïve about the world she exists within. Her thoughts turn in what quickly becomes a tiresome circle of worries and renewed determination. On top of that, she spends a significant amount of time ill and needing help from others, effectively making her the most passive of passive characters.

I also struggled with the “romance,” such as it is. Flint’s attachment to Neryn seems to come out of nowhere and is based on next to nothing. For her part, Neryn’s naivete is incredibly frustrating with regards to Flint. He’s obviously an untrustworthy party when she first meets him, and yet she quickly seems to fall in love with him. From there we enter yet another circular train of actions between her distrusting and trusting Flint. It gets old fairly quickly.

This book was a struggle for me when I first read it and a struggle the second time around as well. I can see the strong story at the heart of it, but Neryn’s passive presence and the frustrating treadmill that is her thought process about her mission and/or her feelings towards Flint became very frustrating. But, that said, it’s still a nice YA fantasy and Marillier’s strong writing save it from itself for the most part.

Rating 7: Not the best, but not the worst, “Shadowfell” introduces an interesting new fantasy story but hobbles itself with a passive heroine.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shadowfell” is on these Goodreads lists: YA Second World Fantasy and Everything Fae.

Find “Shadowfell” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Monthly Marillier: “Foxmask”

“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: “Foxmask” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor Fantasy, November 2005

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Norseman Eyvind, a fierce and loyal Wolfskin, came to a new land on top of the world to find his destiny. With his priestess bride Nessa he saved the land and weathered the treachery that was caused by Eyvind’s blood-sworn friend Somerled. After much pain and sorrow the two lovers have managed to create a society where the Norse warriors and the gentle folks of the Orkney Isles live and thrive in contentment at last. A decade and more has passed since the devastating events of the creation of the settlement and Eyvind and Nessa have watched their children grow and thrive in peace.

But not all on the islands are content or at peace. Thorvald, the young son of Margaret, widow of the slain king and Eyvind’s war leader, has always felt apart and at odds with all he knows. He learns upon his coming to manhood that he is not his father’s son but that of the love that Margaret bore for the hated Somerled and that Somerled was not killed for his treachery but sent on a boat, adrift with little more than a knife and skein of water, doomed to the god’s will. Thorvald is determined to find a boat and cast off to the West in a desperate bid to find a father he never knew…and to find out if he is made of the same stuff as the henious traitor.

The tragedy of this scheme would be horrific enough…if it were not for the fact that Creidhe, the winsome daughter of Eyvind and Nessa has loved Thorvald since birth and unbeknownst to him conspires to go along on this most perilous of quests.

What happens to them on their journey of discovery will ultimately change the lives of all they know and love…and will doom (or redeem) an entire people.

Review: It seems that I have distinct favorites and less-preferred books in all of Marillier’s duologies and trilogies. There’s no rhyme and reason to it either. Sometimes the first book is my favorite (“Wildwood Dancing”), sometimes the second (“Son of Shadows”), and sometimes even the third (“Flame of Sevenwaters.) So, too, I much prefer “Foxmask” to “Wolfskin.” I hadn’t even re-read “Wolfskin” until I read it again for this series. This book, on the other hand, is quite worn down from multiple re-reads.

A new generation has been born, and life is quiet, homely and comfortable for Creidhe, the daughter of Nessa and Eyvind. Thorvald, the secret son of the banished Somerland, is less content. When he sets out on a perilous journey to discover the truth of his heritage, Nessa secretly joins him, convinced that her dear friend and secret love will need her help. What they discover will change the course of not only their own futures, but that of so many more. In islands shrouded in clouds and mystery, will they discover the truth before it is too late?

I do love this book, and I will freely admit that’s mostly because of how much I love the romance at the heart of the story. Sadly, that doesn’t show up until about halfway through the book, but in the end, it’s well worth the wait. I’ll also admit to the fact that many of my re-reads involve me skipping right to this halfway point. That being the case, it was great to approach this re-read from the beginning of the book. I forgot just how much quality character work goes into the first half of the story and into slowly building up the mysteries and moral challenges that will later pay off in the end of the book.

Creidhe is your fairly typical Marillier heroine: quiet, loves the home and family, but filled with an iron will and inner strength. Luckily, she’s not a healer or a seer, two of the types of characters we’re most likely to see from this author. Instead, she’s a skilled weaver and creates a majestic embroidered tapestry that details her life. As a embroiderer myself, I’ve always love this trait about this character. It’s a really interesting look at this form of art as a storytelling mechanism.

This book is also unique for just how much I dislike Thorvald, the other POV character. Usually when Marillier uses multiple POVs I do end up having a favorite. But that’s just a preference between two character who are each fine on their own. Here? I pretty much spend most of the book wanting to punch Thorvald in his self-centered, whiny face. I even want to punch Creidhe at times for tolerating the amount of nonsense she does from him. There are a few moments in the book where Creidhe and their friend Sam both tear into Thorvald and, while I skip large chunks of his chapters in my casual re-reads, I always read these scenes for the pure joy of watching him get taken to task for being such a jerk. I will give credit to Marillier, though, for writing such a unique character. Very rarely does she write POV character who are anywhere near as flawed as Thorvald is. His journey is interesting enough, but you do have to tolerate a lot from him to get to the eventual pay-off.

I really, really liked the magical elements in this story. There were a good number of twists and turns that were both unexpected and heart breaking. Again and again are heroes must face impossible choices where it seems no one will win, but, in true Marillier fashion, everything is resolved by the end. I don’t want to spoil it by talking about certain characters, but the love interest is probably one of my favorites in all of Marillier’s work. And there are a few other characters that show up later who I also really, really enjoyed.

This is an excellent example of Marillier at her best. Both Creidhe and Thorvald read as very distinct characters from one another, their voices and perspectives so different throughout the story. Her lyrical style of writing perfectly fits the mysterious and magical locations that make up the landscape of the story. And, of course, the romance is beautiful, tragic, and heart-warming.

Rating 9: One of my favorites for sure, perfectly combining many of the elements I most love about Marillier’s work.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Foxmask” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Paranormal & Fantasy Romances and Best Romance in Traditional Fantasy.

Find “Foxmask” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Monthly Marillier: “Wolfskin”

“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: “Wolfskin” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2004

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Eyvind can think of no more glorious future than becoming a Wolfskin, a warrior devoted to the service of the mighty war god Thor. His closest friend, Somerled, a strange and lonely boy, has his own very different ambitions – yet a childhood oath, sworn in blood, binds these two in lifelong loyalty. Meanwhile, far away across the water, on the Light Isles, the king’s niece Nessa is beginning to learn the ways of the mysteries – though neither the young priestess nor her people can realize what lies ahead for them.

Eyvind and Somerled seem set to follow very different paths: one becoming a fearless servant of the Warfather, the other a scholarly courtier. Then a voyage of discovery, led by Somerled’s brother Ulf, brings the two friends together again in accompanying a group of settlers to some beautiful islands rumoured to lie across the western sea. However, their good spirits are dampened by a tragedy on board, which Eyvind begins to suspect may not have been an accident.

Ulf’s new settlement begins in harmony with the native islanders, led by King Engus. But one day, on a trip to a holy place of the Folk, a brutal murder occurs and that peace is shattered. It is now that Eyvind begins to feel the restraining ties of his boyhood oath…and to realize what sort of future Somerled had in mind for himself all those years ago.

Review: There really is no rhyme or reason to the order in which I’m picking the books I read for this series. The “Sevenwaters” series was an obvious starting point, but I’ve been jumping around ever since. However, I do remember that this book was the first of her books that I encountered where she used multiple POVs. All of the “Sevenwaters” books, her “Wildwood” YA duology, and a few of the other stand-alone she has are all told from a single, female perspective. So it was kind of a shock to start this one and find more than one narrator. More so that we were ultimately getting both the man and woman’s perspective from the eventual romantic pairing.

Eyvind and Nessa grow up in very different worlds with very different futures. Eyvind trains to be one of the legendary Wolfskin warriors who go out into the world and fight great battles. His reserved friend Somerland also has plans for his future, but they begin to look less and less familiar to Eyvind as they grow. For her part, Nessa leads a quiet life learning the ways of a wise woman, hoping to continue forward on the bright path set before her small community. But the seasons turn suddenly, and both Eyvind and Nessa soon learn that both of the futures they had set before themselves perhaps were not the ones they were meant to find. Soon, each must learn for themselves the great truths to be found in love, loyalty, and friendship.

First off, I really like the cover for this book. It’s sequel, “Foxmask,” has an equally beautiful cover. Both perfectly fit the overall tone and mythic quality of the stories held within. Marillier is also known as a huge dog lover, so it’s only fitting that few canines also great the cover.

Like I said before, this was the first of Marillier’s books that I encountered that featured dual narrators. And, for the most part, I enjoyed it here. Perhaps due to my expectations going in, that it would again be a single, female POV, I did find myself connecting a bit more to Nessa’s character. However, I will also add that in the long, long list of Marillier’s heroines, Nessa is not one of my favorites. Instead, she falls in similar company with Sibeal and Paula, heroines who were fine for the most part, but not particularly unique or likely to stand out in my memory.

I did like the magic that accompanied Nessa’s storyline. While we’ve seen seers plenty before, Nessa’s magic had some unique aspects to it. I enjoyed the connection to the selkie and the legends that surround magical water creatures. The tools she goes on to use as the story begins to wind down were interesting in their history and implementation.

Eyvind was of a bit more interest, perhaps simply because of the novelty of a male POV. But his story also involved a lot more change and a more established arc that covered the entirety of the book. Yes, some parts of it were highly predictable. And yes, those predictable twists and turns did make the early Eyvind a bit hard to tolerate in his naivety and trusting nature. But in some ways this same trusting nature helped draw a stark contrast between him and his friend Somerled. In some ways, I enjoyed the exploration and downfall of this friendship than I did the romantic relationship between Nessa and Eyvind.

Overall, while this isn’t on my list of favorite Marillier works, it does stand well enough on its own. I enjoy the setting, featuring Vikings and northern European myths and legends. Readers who enjoy multiple POV stories might even appreciate this one more than others. I’ve simply always preferred one narrator, so I’m a tough sell on this type of story. That said, it’s still a worthy entry and a solid recommendation for readers who enjoy mythic fantasy stories.

Rating 7: Not a favorite of mine, but a nice change of pace from the Irish setting and magic system.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wolfskin” is on these Goodreads lists: The Best of Mythic Fiction and Vikings.

Find “Wolfskin” at your library using WorldCat!

Monthly Marillier: “Cybele’s Secret”

“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: “Cybele’s Secret” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 2008

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: For Paula, accompanying her merchant father on a trading voyage to Istanbul is a dream come true. They have come to this city of trade on a special mission to purchase a most rare artifact—a gift from the ancient goddess, Cybele, to her followers. It’s the only remnant of a lost, pagan cult.

But no sooner have they arrived when it becomes clear they may be playing at a dangerous game. A colleague and friend of Paula’s father is found murdered. There are rumors of Cybele’s cult reviving within the very walls of Istanbul. And most telling of all, signs have begun to appear to Paula, urging her to unlock Cybele’s secret.

Meanwhile, Paula doesn’t know who she can trust in Istanbul, and finds herself drawn to two very different men. As time begins to run out, Paula realizes they may all be tied up in the destiny of Cybele’s Gift, and she must solve the puzzle before unknown but deadly enemies catch up to her. . . .

Review: “Wild wood Dancing” definitely reads as a stand-alone, so I remember being surprised when I saw a second book coming out in this series. But given that it’s a story of five sisters, the continuing stories are easy to see. I wasn’t surprised, however, to see that this book focused on Paula. She was the other “sensible” sister of the five and seemed like the natural choice for Marillier, an author who tends towards rather similar heroines in the first place. I can’t lie, I might have been more intrigued with one of the other sisters, more outside her usual realm, but alas. And sadly, this is another of my lesser favorite works by this author.

Everyone had always assumed Jena would be the one to accompany their father in his travels and help with his trade business. But after she marries, the role falls on bookish Paula who journeys with her father to Istanbul, a city full of culture and learning. What began as a simple business trip, however, quickly becomes something more, with powerful cults being rumored to be active once again and a rare artifact at the center of it all. Confident in her own reasoning and logic, Paula begins to unravel the puzzle before her. But things only become more and more complicated, with strange signs and symbols and two men vying for her attention. Can Paula solve this mystery before her time is up?

Anyone who knows me can probably guess what one of my problems was with this book right from the description, both mine and the official summary above. Yep, love triangle. From my memory, this is really the only Marillier book that has a love triangle at its heart, and that’s probably one of the reasons she’s a favorite author of mine. Instead of wasting time between two love interests (time split between two often plays to the detriment of both), Marillier often sets up her end-game couple early on and spends the rest of the book slowly developing it. I remember my friend, Emily, read “Daughter of the Forest” and was unhappy that Sorcha didn’t end up with Simon. But from my read, that idea had never even entered my head, so strong of a love interest was Red once he arrived.

So, yes, here we see a true love triangle, with Paula drawn to both of these men in different ways. While it still felt fairly obvious which one she was going to choose, that fact just made it more of a challenge to read Paula’s ongoing struggles in the love department. On top of that, neither love interest was particularly compelling on his own. It’s bad enough when one romantic interest isn’t that great. But when you have two and a large part of your heroine’s arc is debating between the two and neither seem very great? Not good.

I also didn’t love Paula as a character. In a bit of backward thinking, the fact that she felt more “perfect” than Jena before her almost made her, too, less interesting. It can be argued that the challenges that Paula faces here are much more dangerous and difficult than what Jena had to deal with in her story. But Paula rarely faltered, other than perhaps a bit of over-reliance on her own smarts. What has become a bit of a routine complaint with these books, Paula is almost too perfect.

I did like the magical elements involved in the story. The last third, in particular, really dives into some interesting aspects of fantasy. There are also a few cameo appearances of characters from the first book, but sadly, not Jena. I also really enjoyed the setting of Istanbul. Marillier’s books are almost exclusively set in Ireland or Scandinavia, so Istanbul is a far cry from those settings. Her lyrical, detailed language really played well to describing the colorful, vibrant life of this ancient city.

So, this is one of my less favorite books in the series. It seems like every trilogy/duology of her comes with one book that is a huge favorite and another that is more of a let-down. While I’ve re-read “Wildwood Dancing” many, many times, this was the first re-read I’ve ever done of this book and I’m kind of reminded why. Fans of Paula from the first book would probably like this, and, in general, it’s still a strong book on its own in the subgenre of fairytale fantasy. Just not one of Marillier’s best works.

Rating 7: A love triangle and overly-perfect heroine brought down a book that did excel in the world-building arena, at least.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cybele’s Secret” is on these Goodreads lists: Hidden Gems of the Young Adult Genre and Aussie YA Paranormal and Fantasy.

Find “Cybele’s Secret” at your library using WorldCat!

Monthly Marillier: “Wildwood Dancing”

“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: “Wildwood Dancing” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Alfred A. Knopf, January 2007

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.

But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.

Review: Obviously, I love fairytale re-tellings. But as the genre goes, there are definitely more popular fairytales than others to receive this treatment. For example, there are a million and one stories reimagining “Beauty and the Beast” or “Cinderella.” And just this summer, we’re seeing three separate books coming out retelling variations of “Little Red Riding Hood.” But two of my favorite fairytales, “The Seven Swans” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” definitely fall in the “less likely” category for stories to be rewritten. Luckily for me, one of my favorite authors has written my favorite versions of both of these stories. I’ve already covered “Daughter of the Forest,” so now it’s time for Marillier’s take on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”

To others, Jena’s home may seem strange and even possibly dangerous. But she’s always loved the ramshackle castle and the mysterious woods that surround it. Wandering the wilds with her beloved frog, Gogu, Jena know that magic exists in this place. Every full moon, she and her four sisters travel in secret to the land of the fairies where they spend a night dancing and enjoying the revels of that strange world. But when Jena’s father becomes sick and leaves the management of the household to Jena herself, the magic that once made up her life seems to begin to turn dark. With threats looming in both the world of the fairies and in her own, very human world, Jena desperately tries to find the strength within to hold on tight to those she loves.

There are many things to like about this book. For one thing, it’s one of the first YA fantasy stories I read by Marillier. As such, the tone of the story and the trials her characters face are different than her adult books. While the story still has darker moments, overall, the tone of the story is light and bright. The wonders of the full moon balls were probably some of the best scenes of the book, perfectly capturing the magic of these visits with small details about the music, ballgowns, and strange attendees who made up these affairs. It is easy for readers to immediately come down on Jena’s view of this magical world, both the joys it can present but also the dangers that lurk beneath the surface.

I also really liked the side characters in this book. All of Jena’s sister felt distinct and had their own moments and mini arcs/stakes at play throughout the story. I would at turns find myself rooting for each of them and then, conversely, massively rolling my eyes at some of their nonsense. Tati, for example, the eldest sister who falls in love with a young man from the fairy world, is always a struggle for me. “Dying for love” is just not something I can really get behind, especially not in the circumstances given here where Tati’s lack of will to live, essentially, is not only dooming herself but leaving her sisters alone to cope with the very real, very present challenges before them.

I also really enjoyed the various relationships highlighted in this story. Obviously, there’s quite a lot of attention given to sisterhood, espeically as Jena sees her role in regards to her sisters, learning lessons about the difference between loving someone enough to let them make their own way and holding on too tightly. But there’s also a lot of attention given to friendship, that between Jena and her frog, Gogu, as well as the increasingly tense relationship between Jena and her cousin, Cezar. There we see how the choices we make not only change ourselves, but they change the relationships we have with people as well. The romance was also very sweet and original in this story, taking a winding path and drastically veering away from the traditional fairytale’s version.

Jena is also an excellent main character. And part of what makes her excellent is how very frustrating I often found her to be. If there’s on criticism that I’ve leveled the most against Marillier’s books up to this point, it’s that her main characters are a bit too perfect. That is definitely not the case here. Jena is presented as a highly capable young woman, but this same high level of ability is also her greatest weakness throughout the book. Again and again, we see Jena fail to trust those around her to help her deal with the challenges before her. Instead, she attempts to manage things (and people!) that aren’t her responsibility or things she has no right to direct. There are a couple of choices and moments that are very tough to read, as Jena so clearly ignores the common sense and warnings that the reader is picking up on. However, all of this is also very intentionally written in and included in Jena’s overall arch of self-discovery and growth.

This is one of my favorite Marillier books to go back and re-read. I’ve included it in lists in the past as a comfort read type of book, and that it remains. The story is fast-moving, the magic is beautiful and unique, and I love the friendships and romance at the heart of the story.

Rating 8: The best version of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” that I have yet to find.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wildwood Dancing” is on these Goodreads lists: Books about Faery and 12 Dancing Princesses Retellings.

Find “Wildwood Dancing” at your library using WorldCat!

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