Tag Archives: juliet marillier

The Harp of Kings

Historical Celtic fantasy novel 

Content warning: family violence

After somewhat of a writing hiatus, one of my favourite authors has come back with force, and I was thrilled to find out she was releasing a new trilogy of novels. Taking advantage of Christmas sales, I picked up a copy from Harry Hartog and couldn’t wait to read it. I’ve also been inspired to make a Spotify playlist that you might like to listen to while reading this review.

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My partner and I both have Irish heritage, and he received this beautiful bodhrán from his parents, and I the exquisite silver bookmark, after they visited Ireland a couple of years ago

“The Harp of Kings” by Juliet Marillier is the first book in her new “Warrior Bards” historical fantasy series. Set some 20 years after the events of “Blackthorn and Grim“, with connections to elements of the “Sevenwaters Series“, the story is about singer and musician Liobhan who is training with her brother Brocc to be an elite warrior on Swan Island. Liobhan has a rivalry with another young recruit called Dau and all three trainees are surprised when they are asked to go on an undercover mission on the mainland to recover a lost harp. Given new names, backstories and personalities, Liobhan, Brocc and Dau must not falter. With court intrigue, secluded druids and the possibility of otherworldly interference, any wrong step could put the mission, and the kingdom, into jeopardy.

It will surprise nobody that I adored this book. This is Marillier at her finest, and this book blends new characters and themes with familiar places. In particular, Marillier explores the lifelong impact of growing up as a child subjected to family violence, and in particular violence from siblings. Liobhan is a great leading character who has the moxie of Liadan in “The Son of Shadows” but exceptional strength, fighting ability and musical talent. However, Liadan is headstrong and must balance her ambitions, prejudices and integrity to make the right decision. I also loved Dau’s story arc, and how Marillier introduces him as seemingly a one-dimensional character whose courage and depth is explored in depth as he must allow himself to become vulnerable.

Although I loved this book, I have to say that of the three point of view characters, I was probably invested in Brocc’s story the least. I think this is possibly due to him being the most passive character in the book. While this does make sense given the plot, I did find myself looking forward to Liobhan and Dau’s chapters much more.

A fantastic beginning to the series, I can’t wait for the second. Knowing Marillier, there is undoubtedly a lot still in store!

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Beautiful

Audiobook retelling of Nordic fairy tale 

I am a Juliet Marillier tragic, and I was so excited to hear that she had a new audiobook coming out, and was even more thrilled when I won a copy on Audible in a contest! To win, I had to share which fairy tale I would most like to see retold from a unique perspective, and I said Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes” because (like many of his fairy tales) I always felt the punishment was disproportionate to the crime. Anyway, I had recently joined the gym and I decided to waste no time and start listening during my next workout. I had listened for about 5 minutes while I was on the stair-climber (or something equally painful), when I laughed aloud because I realised that I had just read this story very, very recently.

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“Beautiful” by Juliet Marillier and narrated by Gemma Dawson is a retelling of the Nordic fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” about Hulde, a princess who lives in a palace at the top of a glass mountain. Her mother, the queen, rules over Hulde and the palace servants with an iron fist. Hulde is told from a young age that her destiny is to marry the most beautiful man in the world. The only friend Hulde has is a white bear called Rune who comes to visit, and who shows her kindness and takes the time to teach her about the world. However, when he leaves, Hulde is left with more questions than answers about her future. When her wedding day arrives, her life is turned upside down and she finally has the opportunity to make her own destiny.

This book was an absolute delight. I have never been so motivated to go to the gym as I was to hear the next part of this story. There are so many wonderful parts to this book that I kind of don’t want to tell you about for fear of spoiling the joy of discovering them for yourself. Hulde is a brilliant, complex protagonist whose physical, emotional and perhaps even magical strength helps her to overcome the many challenges she is faced with. Marillier does a wonderful job showing Hulde’s journey from naive, innocent girl to fully-realised woman. In this story, problems aren’t solved by violence or trickery, but rather with patience, kindness and courage. I’m still smiling about the companions Hulde meets along the way, and the thrill of finding out the romantic direction the book took. I would also like to mention that I quite enjoyed Dawson’s narration, and felt that she captured Hulde’s innocence and strength really well while also creating distinct voices for the different characters.

I think the only thing that people may find frustrating about this story is that quite a lot of the book is about her learning things that the reader likely takes for granted and making mistakes that the reader likely feels are easily avoidable. Hulde is very young in spirit, and while this means that she has a lot of character development, there is a fair amount of time taken up by people explaining things to her. However, I do think that this is a necessary part of the story as Hulde navigates issues like power, independence, kindness and love.

I simply adored this story and if anything was going to get me to the gym, it was the prospect of listening to this.

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Heart’s Blood

Historical fantasy retelling of classic fairy tale

Content warning: family violence, disability

It’s no secret that I adore Juliet Marillier and her beautiful and whimsical historical fantasy novels. I generally try to space them out, but I am getting towards the end of all the books she’s written (so far), so it has been a while since I have picked one up. Anyway, approaching the end of the year, I was in dire need for a comfort read, and I was very eager to give this standalone novel a go.

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“Heart’s Blood” by Juliet Marillier is a historical fantasy novel that reimagines the classic story of “Beauty and the Beast“. The story follows a young woman called Caitrin who is on the run from her abusive family home. Trained as a scribe, when she hears of a job vacancy at the mysterious fortress known as Whistling Tor, locals warn her against it and the disfigured chieftain called Anluan. However when Caitrin arrives, she finds that fear of the known is far worse than fear of the unknown and soon settles into the strange rhythm of the household. While she attempts a seemingly insurmountable task that others before her have failed, she discovers that ugliness is often much more than skin deep.

Marillier, as always, gently coaxes into life sensitive and well-considered characters who overcome hardship and find strength and comfort in one-another. Marillier’s book are and continue to be incredibly inclusive and tackle modern issues through a historical lens. Although this is not the first book of hers with a character with a disability, this book is the first book of hers I have read that really explores the issue of family violence. I thought that she handled Caitrin’s experiences, and the toll they took on her self-esteem and identity, very adeptly and drew out the issues of vulnerability and courage for both Caitrin and Anluan very well. I also really liked that Marillier again made a main character with a disability someone who is capable and desirable.

However, this wasn’t my favourite of Marillier’s books. The plot twist about the true nature of the evil at Whistling Tor I saw coming a mile away, and I felt like a large proportion of the book was spent waiting for the ending I knew was on its way. While I did fully respect that Marillier incorporated themes of family violence into her book, I felt that it could have been a little less distant relatives come take advantage and a little more close to home like unfortunately so many domestic violence stories are. I also felt a little that the way that part of the story is resolved got a bit Jane Eyre towards the end with a bit of deus ex machina in the form of a cart of people going by at just the right time.

Regardless, this is a sweet and enjoyable story and a unique retelling of a classic fairy tale. I read this book in no time at all, and look forward to the next Marillier book I tackle.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

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Den Of Wolves

If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you’re probably well aware that I’m probably Juliet Marillier’s biggest fan. Her book “Den of Wolves”, the finale to the Blackthorn & Grim trilogy following “Dreamer’s Pool” and “Tower of Thorns”, was released only days ago so of course I had to get myself a copy – stat. Bumping all of the other books on my to-read list, I’ve spent the last couple of days positively glued to this book.

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“Den of Wolves” by Juliet Marillier continues the story of unlikely due healer Blackthorn and big man Grim who are slowly rebuilding their lives in a place called Winterfalls. Bound by the fey Lord Conmael to help all who ask for it and to stay within the bounds of Winterfalls for seven years, Blackthorn’s desire for vengeance against the brutal Mathuin of Laois have started to simmer down. However, when she meets a strange young girl is sent away from her home in nearby Wolf Glen to stay in Winterfalls, Grim is hired to help build a mysterious house by the girl’s father and tattooed soldiers arrive in Winterfalls on a secret mission, Blackthorn’s loyalties are put to the ultimate test.

A story rich in folklore and emotion, “Den of Wolves” is a strong ending to the Blackthorn & Grim series. Marillier dances through genres and this book is part historical fiction, part fantasy, part romance and all heart. It’s a story about redemption, trust and love and the importance of truth. Marillier is a brilliant storyteller, and while I think my favourite in this series was the second book “Tower of Thorns”, it is a nevertheless great finish to the stories of two wonderful characters. One of my favourite things about Mariller’s books are her characters and I adore her strong, brave women and her gentle, capable men.

If you haven’t read Juliet Marillier’s books yet, this series would be a great place to start.

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Tower of Thorns

If you’ve been following this blog, you might have noticed that I love Juliet Marillier. Last year I reviewed her book “Dreamer’s Pool“, and while I try to space our her novels as much as I can, I finally let myself read “Tower of Thorns”, which is the sequel.

“Tower of Thorns” continues the story of Blackthorn the healer and Grim the strongman, the unlikely pair who have found themselves once again in the middle of a magical mystery. Bound by oath to help all those who ask for help, Blackthorn agrees to help a beautiful yet haunted lady by travelling with her to her lands and performing a summer solstice ritual. Increasingly frustrated by the lady’s secretive manner and hidden agenda, Blackthorn finds her loyalties tested when a person from her past arrives. She pays less and less attention to her companion Grim, who himself is forced to face demons from his past.

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One of my favourite things about Marillier’s series is that she never starts on a high and peters out. Her books just build and build. “Dreamer’s Pool” was good, but “Tower of Thorns” was better. The characters are really starting to develop, the ambiance is dark and moody and you’re really starting to get invested in the story. I was really excited a when Juliet Marillier announced a couple of weeks ago that her publishers have given the third installment of the Blackthorn and Grim series “Den of Wolves” the green light.

I love this author. I love her books. I love her feminist historical fiction/fantasy blend. If you haven’t read her books yet, definitely give them a go, and this series is as good a place as any to start.

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The Sevenwaters Series

Where do I even begin? There is something about Juliet Marillier’s novels that just seem to resonate with me. Maybe it’s my Celtic roots. Maybe it’s her strong and relatable heroines. Maybe it’s her exquisite mix of historical fiction and fantasy. Maybe, despite everything that I say, I secretly love romance novels. I have no idea, but I just cannot get enough of her, and the Sevenwaters Series is absolutely no exception.

I started reading these books just before Christmas, and I have been trying my hardest to draw this series out as long as I can. I only just recently finished the sixth book in the collection, Flame of Sevenwaters, and so nearly a year after starting them it is only now that I can write about the whole series. The books commence with Daughter of the Forest, a Celtic retelling of the German fairy tale, The Six Swans. This is about Sorcha, a sister who must weave her six enchanted older brothers shirts of thorns to turn them back to humans from swans. The second (and my favourite of the six) is Son of the Shadows, which follows Sorcha’s spirited daughter Liadan who is determined to forge her own path, the Fair Folk be damned. Third comes Child of the Prophecy, which introduces Liadan’s cousin Fainne who brings a lot more trouble than anyone bargained for. The third book is much darker and much more morally grey, which means that while Fainne herself is not as likeable, the book is really interesting. The final three in the series, Heir of SevenwatersSeer of Sevenwaters and Flame of Sevenwaters are about three of Liadan’s brother Sean’s daughters and their interactions with the Fair Folk.

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These books always seem to touch me somehow. For example, I recently had to say goodbye to our beautiful dog Bailey, who at the majestic age of 19 years old had been a part of our family for the past 17 years. The final book, Flame of Sevenwaters, is about Maeve, a woman with a special affinity for animals who lost her own dog in a fire and who bonds with two unusual and clever new dogs. I read this book only a couple of weeks after losing my dog, and had me sobbing my heart out.

Juliet Mariller is comfort reading to me. It is the perfect marriage of history, fantasy and romance, and every new novel of hers I read, I adore. These books are beautifully written and have intricate family dynamics, strong women, beautiful men and are rich in culture and scenery. She has such a knack for capturing nuances in characters and relationships. They are my ultimate form of escapism and I am constantly torn between devouring them and savouring them, book by book. I love these books and there is little I look forward to more than picking up a new novel of hers that I haven’t yet read.

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Dreamer’s Pool

Today is the perfect day to write a review on this book. Cold, rainy and grim suits the tone of the book exactly.

“Dreamer’s Pool” is another Juliet Marillier novel (I have a problem, I know) set in the British Isles. It is the first in the Blackthorn and Grim series, and the only one released so far. While there are some similarities between this one and the others that I have read, it is at its essence quite a different story. There are a number of point of view characters, and is a curious blend between fantasy, historical fiction and mystery.

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Unlikely duo Blackthorn the healer and strongman Grim set up home in a new village after they manage to escape from prison. Readily accepted into the community due to their hard work ethic and skills, they are asked by the prince to get much more involved than they would care to in order to find out the truth behind his newly arrived betrothed’s strange behaviour.

Marillier is and remains a favourite of mine because she fills a largely unoccupied niche in the fantasy genre with her convincing and independent female lead characters. “Dreamer’s Pool” is no exception and has the additional layer of a kind of medieval detective story. However, Marilleir’s use of suspense in the novel at time borders on the infuriating. While perhaps not my favourite of her books, I did enjoy the fact that her characters in this novel were more like “common folk”. I also liked the unconventional relationships she has begun to explore, particularly between Blackthorn and Grim themselves.

I’ll definitely pounce on the next one when it comes out. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to exercise some self-restraint and try not to read the others that I still have all at once.

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