Friday, December 04, 2009

Heart's Blood - Juliet Marillier


Heart’s Blood
Juliet Marillier
Roc

Fantasy

The circumstances of one’s life can change in an instant. When she went to sleep one night, Caitrin was the beloved daughter of a master scribe, learning her father’s trade. When she awoke the next morning, her father was dead. Soon after, distant kinfolk arrived and took over, telling all and sundry that Caitrin was undone by grief. Alone in a house with abusive relatives, Caitrin finally found the courage to leave. Taking only a change of clothing and her writing box, she escaped.

Living on the road was nearly impossible without money. Caitrin soon heard of a job for a scribe at a local chieftain’s home, Whistling Tor. The job would last for some months. While the locals warned her away from the place, telling fantastic tales of a century-old curse and a supernatural host that wander the surrounding forest, to Caitrin it seemed the perfect situation: A place to hide and be safe, and a place to practice the craft she loves.

The job involves translating family historical documents from Latin to Irish, so that the current chieftain, Anluan, can read them easily. The locals warned Caitrin about Anluan, too. They told her that he was an ineffective and absent chieftain, physically afflicted and prone to anger. Caitrin’s first encounter with Anluan goes badly, with Anluan predicting that she’ll leave Whistling Tor like everyone else has done. Caitrin, who honestly has nowhere else to go, vows to stay.

The heart’s blood of the title refers to both a plant used to make costly purple ink for royal decrees and to the hearts of the inhabitants of the house, all of whom need a bit of healing. I don’t want to spoil the journey of discovery for readers, so I’ll say only that the household is strange in many ways. This story is written like a fairy tale for grown-ups, and I often found myself lingering over a passage or description, unwilling to rush the beautifully-written narrative. I wanted to explore the moldering library and uncover its mysteries along with Caitrin.

In truth, I was sad to see this novel end. It’s one of those rare fantasy novels that manages to divide itself between the fantasy/magical aspects of the story and the development of characters without sacrificing either one. The reader gets to know the characters as Caitrin does, and the unfolding of each individual is just as complex and interesting as the story itself. It’s no exaggeration to say that, by the end, I was emotionally invested in the outcome for each character. This is one that goes directly to the keeper shelf. It will be a pleasure to re-read and re-discover in years to come.

Rating: 9 ½
November 2009
ISBN# 978-0-451-46293-0 (hardcover)

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