Author: Juliet Marillier
Published: October 2, 2009
Genre: Adult Fantasy, Retelling
Rating: 4.5 stars
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“Even in that time of utter darkness, somewhere deep inside me the memory of love and goodness had stayed alive.”My Thoughts
― Juliet Marillier, Heart's Blood
Whistling Tor is a place of secrets and mystery. Surrounded by a wooded hill, and unknown presences, the crumbling fortress is owned by a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the district in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan's family and his people; those woods hold a perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.
For young scribe Caitrin it is a safe haven. This place where nobody else is prepared to go seems exactly what she needs, for Caitrin is fleeing her own demons. As Caitrin comes to know Anluan and his home in more depth she realizes that it is only through her love and determination that the curse can be broken and Anluan and his people set free. (Goodreads)
Since I read my first Juliet Marillier book, Shadowfell, I have yet to be disappointed in a single book that she has written. There is something magical about her writing style as the words seem to come to life on the pages. Heart's Blood was no exception, and I was once again impressed by Marillier's writing skill.
In Heart's Blood, our protagonist, Caitrin, is on the run from an abusive suitor. When she arrives at Whistling Tor, she is warned by the townspeople to stay away from the cursed chieftain and the unnatural beings that haunt the hill. Yet she takes her chances, happy to find employment and sanctuary in Anluan's castle. As she translates documents in Anluan's library, she uncovers the dark history of the chieftain's family curse and the spectral host that he barely holds control over. But despite its disturbing past, Caitrin finds herself falling in love with Whistling Tor and its chieftain right as they need her most.
Heart's Blood is a dark retelling of the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. Since I was a little girl, I have adored this tale and I have watched the Disney movie countless times. But Heart's Blood is nothing like the sweet, innocent tale that the Disney movie unravels. There's no enchanted inanimate objects, no musical numbers performed at dinner, and most definitely no furry Beast dancing with a beautiful maiden across a ballroom while Angela Lansbury sings. In Caitlin, you'll find the bravery, curiosity and love for books we often saw in Belle, but you'll also find a shattered girl trying to piece together the remnants of her life. Her troubled past has left her struggling with demons she cannot escape even under the protection of Anluan and his host. As for Anluan, he has some hints of bestiality and a nasty temper, but he is not a beast physically nor is he a selfish prince in the beginning. Instead, he is a crippled chieftain and a tortured soul who feels helpless when faced with his tragic past and the family curse. But don't be disappointed if you were hoping for more similarities to the animated movie! There are magical mirrors and a library so that's something!
I know I've probably said this before, but I'm saying it once again. Juliet Marillier excels at writing fantasy. She describes the setting of this book in such intricate detail that I could actually picture Whistling Tor in my mind's eye. Despite its fantastical elements, Heart's Blood was strikingly believable because of its elaborate descriptions and rich storytelling. As the reader is given more backstory through flashbacks, the story comes together beautifully, and you're given a deeper understanding of the characters and their choices. I'd have to say my favorite parts were when Caitlin was reading more about Anluan's family history, as we discovered how the curse came to be and why Anluan is lost in despair.
Caitrin was certainly my favorite character, as she overcomes so many hardships and reemerges from her troubled past stronger than ever. Her arrival at Whistling Tor changes everything and all for the better. She teaches the townspeople, the host and even Anluan to hope for a brighter future when they thought there was no hope left, and she helps Anluan to gain confidence in his abilities despite his limitations. But she was not the only character I loved. There were so many wonderful characters introduced, and they all become dear friends of Caitrin's. I loved learning more about them and watching them evolve as the story progressed.
If I had any complaints, I would have to say that the story did take a predictable turn at the end. While I was a huge fan of the storytelling, the identity of the culprit seemed to be obvious from the very start, even if the villain was complex and somewhat unsettling. So if you're looking for an enthralling mystery, I'd say look elsewhere. I also lost some interest in the story a little over halfway through. The pace seemed to lag, and I found myself wanting to just reach the next part. But overall, I was very pleased with Heart's Blood, and I'd highly recommend it to fans of fantasy and/or Marillier. When Marillier writes a retelling of a fairy tale, she makes it her own.