maandag 26 augustus 2013

Review: Juliet Marillier, Heart's Blood

When I first found out about Juliet Marillier, I was amazed at how she was able to take well-known tales and put her own – Celtic – spin on them to weave compelling stories that touch your heart. That was way before I discovered the online book community and the dominance of young adult fiction therein, where retellings of everything older than the past decade – I jest – are to be found. I couldn’t be bothered by those numerous retellings, but for Juliet Marillier, I always take some time apart. This particular novel of hers, however, inspired by Beauty & the Beast, didn’t cut it completely.

Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress belonging to Anluan - a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the region in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan's family and his people, and the woods hold a  perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.
Then the young scribe Caitrin appears in Anluan's garden, admiring the rare plant know as heart's blood. Retained to sort through entangled family documents, Caitrin brings about unexpected changes in the Household, casting a hopeful light against the despairing shadows.
But even as Caitrin brings solace to Anluan, and the promise of something more between them, he remains in thrall to the darkness surrounding Whistling Tor. To free Anluan's burdened soul, Caitrin must unravel the web of sorcery woven by his ancestors before it claims his life - and their love.
In my introduction, I already pointed out that this novel is based on the well-known story of the Beauty and the Beast. However, if I hadn’t known that beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it all too soon. See, while the general flow of the storyline is reminiscent of the fairy tale, Juliet Marillier really made it her own and created an almost new Celtic tale that hints at the fairy tale. This is perhaps the strongest asset of this novel, because with retellings, you risk repetition since your readers already know what’s to come. Here, however, whilst I was able to pinpoint some parallels in terms of who was who, the storyline was not all that the same so it felt like a whole new story to me, rather than a retelling. For example the role played by mirrors. In the fairy tale – at least the Disney version of it – the Beast gets an enchanted mirror to see the world outside, the world he’ll never visit because of his affliction. The mirrors at Whistling Tor, however, are far creepier than that. They might show things you wish you hadn’t seen… Not only the – slightly eerie – Celtic spin on things, but the nature of the curse as well was very refreshing and interesting and I really appreciated the way things ended. Goes to show that it doesn’t have to be all well to end well.
While being a far cry from the original tale definitely being a pro here, the plot also has its lesser qualities in its slow pace and predictability. As for the former, it just takes too long for things to get going. It’s not that it’s not interesting at all, but because things developed so slowly, it was too easy to put the book aside, which I did quite often. Also, pretty early on, you get a good hunch at how things will eventually pan out and while I kept hoping for a surprising twist to take my breath away, it never came. I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed because of this.
The characters that inhabit Heart’s Blood are very interesting to say the least, but most of them failed at engaging me. Most of the characters seem to have a very troubled backstory and I would have loved to have explored those, but apart from some hints now and then, these are left untouched, which I felt was wasted potential. It might have been helpful to add these stories just to break the pace a bit. One backstory that does get explored, is Caitrin’s, and here I have to take my virtual hat off to Juliet Marillier. It seems like all we read about nowadays are ‘strong female characters’(*) who have or have to overcome their insecurities and do so with ease and grace. What I loved about Caitrin is how she is everything but that. She as well has a troubled past, and her past made her how she is today. The way Marillier made Caitrin’s past echo throughout her stay at Whistling Tor and the way she rose above that, were a pleasure to read. She may not be the stereotypical female character with the gutsy kick-all attitude, but she surely is all that in her own way.
Which brings me to probably the main reason why I didn’t like this book as much as Sevenwaters, and that would be the writing. See, I loved Marillier’s prose in Daughter Of The Forest, for it was lush, poetic and very descriptive. The writing in Heart’s Blood is not that very different, but it just didn’t work as well for me. Rather than very, it was overly descriptive and I found there to be too many words for what was being said and less would probably have been more in this case. This made the already slow plot almost dragging around halfway through. As a result, it felt like it took me hours to turn the page and thus made me put the book down way more that I would have liked to.

All in all, I did like Heart’s Blood, but not as much as other offerings from the author. Still, as far as retellings go, I think this once again proves that Juliet Marillier knows her craft when it comes to handling a well-known story in order to make something interesting out of it.

Let yourself get swept away by a love that surpasses time and get your copy now!
* This article raises some valid points concerning the omnipresence of SFC's. If you're interested, it's worth your time.

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