Monday, September 22, 2014

AWWC 2014: Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier

Dreamer's Pool, Juliet Marillier's latest historical fantasy, takes us back into a distant Ireland where a nameless woman is the lone female prisoner in the dungeon of vicious chieftain, Mathuin. Brutally treated, she survives only because of her need to expose Mathuin at the Midsummer court and due to the support of her fellow prisoner, Grim, another who refuses to give in and who, despite the brutality of the guards, has maintained his humanity. Desperate and facing death, she is offered a lifeline by Conmael, one of the fey. There are, of course, conditions and dealing with the fey is always dangerous but she has no other option.

After a dramatic escape, Blackthorn, as she now chooses to be known, and Grim make their way to  Winterfalls where Prince Oran is anxiously waiting for his bride to arrive. All seems peaceful as they settle in and Blackthorn takes up the position of the local wise woman and healer but this is no idyll. Both Blackthorn and Grim struggle to deal with issues from their pasts and nearby Dreamer's Wood and Dreamer's Pool are unsettling. Magic, dangerous and unpredictable, is at work here and it is not only that of the fey. But there are other dangers for Blackthorn and Grim as they reluctantly find themselves becoming part of the community and enmeshed in the prince's affairs.

The author deals with themes of healing, family and friendship in a complex tale where much is not as it seems. The world building is cleverly crafted, whether it is in the horrors of Mathuin's prison, the mystery of the woodland or the workings of the prince's court. The details immerse the reader in the society so even minor characters, like those in the vignette of the two farmers squabbling over a dog attack during a hearing before the prince, come alive. There are no placeholders here. Every character adds to the story in one way or another.

That the story is told through the eyes of three very distinct protagonists - Blackthorn, touchy, damaged and uncomfortable with people, Grim, a fundamentally decent man, devoted to Blackthorn, and whose lack of education belies his intelligence, and Prince Oran - young, scholarly and well intentioned - adds depth to what is an already engrossing tale. The voice of each of the three is different and totally believable, something that is critical for me as a reader, and that they all view the world very differently with their pasts and personalities colouring what they see and hear, gives an additional authenticity to an already well imagined world.

I really enjoyed Dreamer's Pool. It's a well-paced story, with a steady build up of tension and a complex plot set in a realistic world. There's nothing formulaic and its characters drive the story, something that always appeals to me. It was refreshing, too, to have a mature woman like Blackthorn as a protagonist and other older folk - women like Prince Oran's aunt, Lady Sochla and the unnamed dying traveller and the old man of the druid's tale - who add much to our understanding of this society. I am very much looking forward to more stories about Blackthorn and Grim. They are the sort of characters who get under your skin and make you want to get to know them better.

Dreamer's Pool is due for release from Pan Macmillan on 1 October in Australia and in November from Penguin in the U.S. If you happen to live in Perth, Western Australia, there's a book launch for Dreamer's Pool at South Perth Library on 2 October. Details and bookings (essential) are available here.

Juliet Marillier's website is here and she is also on Facebook.


Juliet Marillier said...

Lovely review, Helen - thank you!

Helen V. said...

You're welcome, Juliet.