Dreamer’s Pool: Blackthorn and Grim 1 by Juliet Marillier (2014, Macmillan)Read about another entry on the list.
Set against the backdrop of Ancient Ireland, Dreamer’s Pool is the first book in the always excellent Juliet Marillier’s Blackthorn and Grim series. The tragic healer, Blackthorn, and her silent companion, Grim, have recently escaped from certain death at the hands of the Chieftain Mathuin, due to the intercession of a Fae benefactor. They’ve settled in the Dreamer’s Wood on the outskirts of Winterfalls, where Prince Oran of Dalriada is awaiting his bride-to-be. The price of Blackthorn’s freedom is this: in true fairy tale tradition, for the next seven years she must help and heal anyone who comes to her − and she must also set aside all thoughts of revenge against Mathuin, though he destroyed everything dear to her.
What she wasn’t expecting was for Prince Oran to come seeking her help, and certainly not the problem he presents. He’s exchanged letter with his betrothed for some time and she seemed to be perfect for him: learned and kind. But though the woman who arrives for the marriage is as beautiful as promised, she’d also both less and more than he bargained for. As the wedding approaches, Blackthorn and Grim are obliged to look into the mystery of the young woman’s strange and brutal behaviour. To complicate matters, their own mingled and messy pasts influence their actions not always for the best; there’s a war on the way, and danger darkening the horizon.
Marillier provides, as ever, superb prose that crackles with energy and magic and style. The characters are complex and tragic, wretched and compelling, with their own histories always bubbling terribly close to the surface and colouring how they see matters − especially the heartsore and bitter Blackthorn.