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Enchantment, Heartache, and Mystery: The Blackthorn & Grim Trilogy by Juliet Marillier

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Dreamer's Pool-small Tower of Thorns-small Den of Wolves-small

Cover art by Arantza Sestayo

If you visit the bookstore every couple of weeks like I do, you stay on top of the latest titles. You spot the exciting new books early, and learn the names of future genre superstars. Or you stumble on books you’ve overlooked for five years and think they’re brand new, like I did last week.

The book in question was Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier, author of the 6-volume Sevenwaters Series. Looked new to me. Read the back and thought, “This sounds cool.” Took it home. Found out there are sequels, the most recent published two years ago. I guess I’m not nearly as hip as I thought I was.

Well, what the hell. Now I have a complete trilogy to enjoy instead of a single novel, so I suppose there’s an upside. Set in the mystical landscape of ancient Ireland, the series sounds like a winning combo and magic and mystery. The opening volume earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly:

Marillier (the Sevenwaters Series) opens the Blackthorn & Grim epic fantasy series by sweeping readers into a lavishly detailed world full of enchantments, devotion, heartache, and mystery. Blackthorn, an embittered wise woman, longs for vengeance against the wicked lord responsible for her grievous loss, her imprisonment, and her coming execution. Conmael, a handsome fey nobleman, offers her freedom if she will travel to Dalriada, provide healing help to all who ask, and forsake revenge for seven years… She settles at Winterfalls, home of the humane Prince Oran of Dalriada, and eventually solves a tortuous magical puzzle for him. Marillier’s fascinating narrative, based loosely on Irish myth and centered on women’s empowerment, never slips into sentimentality… a tasteful feast for the imagination.

Dreamer’s Pool won the Aurealis Award for Best Australian Fantasy Novel in 2014. Here’s the description.

[Click the images for Irish-sized versions.]

In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.

With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

As an added bonus, here’s the back-cover text for Tower of Thorns, in which a mysterious creature holds ancient Ireland in thrall.

Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn’s bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking them out.

A noblewoman asks for the prince of Dalriada’s help in expelling a creature who threatens the safety and sanity of all who live nearby from an old tower on her land — one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim.

As Blackthorn and Grim put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest soon becomes a life-and-death struggle — a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.

The first two books were published by the (now defunct) Roc imprint of Penguin Random House; Den of Wolves appeared from Ace. Here’s the publishing details.

Dreamer’s Pool (429 pages, $26.95 hardcover/$7.99 paperback/$2.99 digital, November 4, 2014)
Tower of Thorns (416 pages, $26.95 hardcover/$7.99 paperback/$5.99 digital, November 3, 2015)
Den of Wolves (433 pages, $27 hardcover/$7.99 paperback/$7.99 digital, November 1, 2016)

The covers are by Arantza Sestayo. I quite like them, although Blackthorn is depicted much (much) younger than I picture her.

My paperback copy of Dreamer’s Pool includes a 14-page excerpt from Tower of Thorns, which is handy. Read the first 13 pages of Dreamer’s Pool at Tor.com here.

See all our recent coverage of the best in Series Fantasy here.

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