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Saturday, November 07, 2009
HEART’S BLOOD By Juliet Marillier. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2009.
Young scribe Caitrin, fleeing an unwanted marriage with a violent cousin, finds herself on Whistling Tor, whose chieftain, Anluan, needs a scribe to do a summer’s work, translating Latin documents. Anluan’s family has been cursed for a century, since an ancestor conjured up a ghostly horde from the Otherworld and then couldn’t either control them or send them back. Anluan can handle them as long as he stays on the Tor, but if he leaves, the spirits could go on the rampage. They want to go back too, and something- or someone - is driving them insane, unable to control themselves. There may be a counter-spell in the Latin documents that will help. Everyone is relying on Caitrin to find it.
Despite the curse and the fact that Anluan can’t be the chieftain his people need, Caitrin finds friends on the Tor, some of them supernatural, and also finds love.
This Gothic-style romance has moved the story of “Beauty and the Beast” to mediaeval Connacht, a part of Ireland facing imminent invasion by Normans from England. Anluan is not a fairytale Beast, but crippled by a childhood illness. The “heart’s blood” of the title is a plant used to make very expensive ink, but also has a much more important use, as Caitrin finds.
It’s an interesting setting for the story, and it works. Western Australian-based novelist Juliet Marillier’s other Celtic fantasies are set in Ireland and she knows her period well. She reminds her readers that Irish law was fairer to women than the laws in other places at the time. Women had positions of responsibility and they had more property and inheritance rights.
The story is very readable; it was my first time reading one of this writer’s books and it won’t be my last. It is, admittedly, something of a Mary Sue. But I have been known to enjoy Mary Sue when well-written and at least this one is lacking long-lost princes, quests, elves and high priestesses. The only evil sorcerer is the hero’s ancestor, who was unpleasant and stupid, but hardly Sauron. And I must admit that "Beauty and the Beast" is a fairytale I like, and the author has done a good job of putting it into an historical context.
If you haven’t read Juliet Marillier’s other books, this one might be a good place to start, as it is a stand-alone and not part of a trilogy. If you have read her other novels, you probably won’t need me to convince you!