A wailing monster, a cursed land and a lady with secrets.
Add a bristling healer and her hulky companion with pasts that haunt them, and you have an enthralling story that sweeps you into its world of fey and mystery.
Blackthorn is a healer and wise woman who was rescued from a death sentence by one of the fey. The conditions of her reprieve included not seeking vengeance against the chieftain who unjustly imprisoned her. With another of the prisoners, Grim, as friend and companion, she has built a new life in Dalraida.
When the Lady Geiléis arrives seeking help from the Dalraidan prince, it is to Blackthorn they turn. A monster has taken up residence in an old tower surrounded by impenetrable thorns on the lady’s lands. It howls from dawn to dusk and has cast a blight upon the whole land.
At the same time an old friend emerges with a tempting offer for Blackthorn, to bring her old tormentor, Mathuin the chieftain, to justice. She plans to go the lady’s lands and deal with the monster, then slip away from Grim and travel south to help in Mathuin’s trial. Once at Lady Geiléis’ lands, though, it becomes clear the lady and her servants are hiding something.
Tower of Thorns works as a stand-alone novel, but readers of the first book in the Blackthorn & Grim series, Dreamer’s Pool, will be eager for this second offering.
One of the strengths of these novels is the complexity
of the title characters.
They are defined by the things they have in common; their traumatic pasts that are being slowly revealed to each other and the reader, their time in Mathuin’s prison where they occupied opposite cells while enduring deprivation and abuse, and their understanding of the brokenness of one another. Yet they also provide a contrast for one another.
Blackthorn is well-named. She’s prickly, bitter and prone to fits of temper, finding it difficult to be around other people for long periods. She’s also assertive, as Lady Geiléis discovers once they are back on her land.
“Once Blackthorn decided to take the reins, it seemed she was blind to anything that might stand in her way.”
However, even though she finds the caring side of her healing work exhausting, she does it well. She sees herself with little to give emotionally but is so attuned to others that she can’t help empathizing and supporting them when they’re in need. Though she’s been scarred by her life, at the core she’s decent and good and does what she believes is right.
Grim sees himself with little to give in general, in spite of being able to turn his hand to anything from thatching and growing vegetables to training others in use of weapons. Though they conduct their relationship as companions, his devotion to Blackthorn never wavers. Where her focus stays on making Mathuin pay for his crimes, Grim’s is on Blackthorn and doing all his power to protect and provide for her. Discovering more of his story and who he his in Tower of Thorns was especially welcome.
It isn’t easy to get stories about people with post-traumatic stress right, let alone in the context of medieval Ireland where old magic and the fey are forces to be reckoned with. Blackthorn and Grim have different ways of dealing with the traumas of their pasts, but each is authentic and rings true in the context of the time. The descriptions of Grim’s flashbacks and physical symptoms are particularly well done.
Tower of Thorns is told from three points of view; Blackthorn’s and Grim’s, both using first person, and the third from the perspective of Lady Geiléis in third person. Though the narrative style changes, it works well. Marillier’s prose flows, often lyrical, always grounded.
Not only does it feel as though this medieval Ireland of fey magic is real, but it should be real.
Though evil is there just as it is in our world, there is also a beauty and wonder in creation that has been lost for most of us. Perhaps books like this can challenge us to appreciate what we have and strive to preserve the beauty and natural wonders around us.
As I said when reviewing Raven Flight, I’ve been a keen reader of Juliet Marillier’s books since her first book, Daughter of the Forest, was published, so I tend to be well-disposed towards her books when I pick them up. So far I haven’t been disappointed. I’m already looking forward to the next in the Blackthorn & Grim series.
* I received an ARC from the author for review.
Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier
Pan Macmillan Australia
Published: 3 October, 2015