Title: Heart’s Blood
Author: Juliet Marillier
Publisher: Roc (US) / Tor (UK)
Publication Date: November 2009 (US) / October 2009 (UK)
Hardcover: 416 pages (US) / 560 pages (UK)
How did I get this book: Review Copy from Publisher
Why did I read this book: It’s no secret that I love Juliet Marillier. Her Sevenwaters books are among my all time favorites – I’ve even got Ana into them. I’ve also loved her young adult novels, Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret, so when I heard about Heart’s Blood I was literally salivating.
Summary: (from Juliet Marillier.com)
A haunted forest. A cursed castle. A girl running from her past and a man who’s more than he seems to be. A tale of love, betrayal and redemption…
Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress of 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; the woods hold a perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.
And yet the derelict fortress is a safe haven for Caitrin, the troubled young scribe who is fleeing her own demons. Despite Anluan’s tempers and the mysterious secrets housed in the dark corridors, this long-feared place provides the refuge she so desperately needs.
As time passes, Caitrin learns there is more to the broken young man and his unusual household than she realised. It may be only through her love and determination that the curse can be lifted and Anluan and his people set free…
On a cold misty evening, a fair young girl travels a lonely road. Caitrin, beloved daughter and sister, runs away from a home that has become cold and spiteful since her father’s death and her sister’s elopement. At the hands of her cruel kinsmen, Caitrin becomes a husk of who she used to be, constantly terrified and powerless under their abusive blows – both verbal and physical. So, she gathers her father’s old writing tools and flees, in hopes of finding a distant relative, or work to support herself as a fully trained scribe. After hard traveling, she ends up on a wagon that takes her as far as Whistling Tor, a secluded, mist-shrouded village that holds many secrets. Taking rest in the village inn for a night, Caitrin overhears that the local Lord has need of a scribe – someone who can read and translate Latin, and organize old documents.
Though Caitrin hears the rumors of ghosts that plague Whistling Tor and tales about the creatures that lurk in the castle’s mists, she gathers her resolve and presents herself for the job. It is then that she discovers the extent of the curse that lays upon the chieftans of the Tor, and the heavy burden that rests on the current lord’s, Anluan’s, shoulders. As the weeks pass, Caitrin comes to understand and love the Tor and its inhabitants and will lend all of her hope, determination and strength to break the enchantment.
Heart’s Blood is easily one of my most highly anticipated books of 2009 – and with such high anticipation comes a directly proportional increase in the possibility for disappointment. But, as always seems to be the case with the esteemed Ms. Marillier, I was not disappointed – Heart’s Blood is a truly gorgeous, winsome book from beginning to end, and another book on the shortlist for favorite reads this year.
One of the things I love the most about Ms. Marillier is her ability to weave magic, mythology and folklore into every sentence on the page, and this latest novel is no exception. Heart’s Blood takes place in twelfth century Ireland, on the precipice of the Norman Invasion. Though I don’t know much at all about Irish history, Ms. Marillier manages to bring this medieval setting to life with the customs, language, and even the laws of the time, painting a vibrant, luscious and wholly convincing portrait of the period. There is magic too in Heart’s Blood, as Whistling Tor falls on a century of hardship. This is a different type of magic than the meddlesome Fair Folk of Sevenwaters or the gods of Piscul Draculi, though; in Heart’s Blood, the enchantment is rooted in human sorcery, in unrest and suffering. The atmosphere is distinct, different from the previous books in Ms. Marillier’s repertoire, and I genuinely loved the variation. There is a palpable danger in Heart’s Blood, a threat of nearly overwhelming hopelessness and darkness – but balanced with the endearing characters and beauty of the overarching story, it’s a bearable darkness.
Similar to Daughter of the Forest and Wildwood Dancing, Heart’s Blood is also a retelling of a classic tale; in this case, it’s a re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast, with the disfigured and misunderstood chieftan Anluan, and the brave, fair Caitrin, determined to rescue her prince. As with her previous books based on fables (The Seven Swans, The Twelve Dancing Princesses), Ms. Marillier not only takes a familiar tale and retells it, but she reconstructs the fable in its entirety. In the exquisitely plotted Heart’s Blood, the curse that lies upon Whistling Tor has its roots in human treachery, with a power-hungry, cold-hearted chieftan who would stop at nothing to amass an army to seize power – defying even the boundaries of death. But something went wrong with the enchantment, and has since plagued his descendants. Ms. Marillier’s plotting is as deft as ever, intricately weaving old curses with new doubts, mingling Anluan’s insecurities and fears with Caitrin’s troubled past, but keeping the promise of unrelenting hope for the future of these characters.
For, what is a Juliet Marillier novel without a devastating romance?
Heart’s Blood is one of the best, with all its angst and sweetness. Caitrin is another strong addition to the ranks of Awesomest Heroines Ever (many of which are from Ms. Marillier’s books). Caitrin is hopeful, even in the darkest of hours, but she is never saccharine sweet or unrealistic. Caitrin, for all her belief in her friends at the Tor and for all her faith in Anluan as a leader stumbles when it comes to facing her own demons, but gradually is able to discover that she has strength enough for herself too. Her wit, her tenacity, her admirable bravery – these are all qualities that Caitrin has in abundance, making her a heroine worth fighting for. And then, of course, there’s Anluan, the “beast” himself. Suffering from a palsy at a young age, Anluan’s body is not strong and hale – though he can walk and speak, his right side suffers from a severely limited range of motion and partial paralysis – and his uneven features have caused the villagers in Whistling Tor and outsiders to rumor him as a monster or freak. And Anluan, having lost his mother and father at a very young age, believes that he is not a whole man, much less a deserving leader. But beneath Anluan’s fears and insecurities, he is a strong willed man with an ability to lead his people and love deeply – as he gradually comes to understand. The romance that unfolds between Caitrin and Anluan is delicious, building slowly over the course of the novel and dramatically coming to fruition just when it needs to. This is a bittersweet romance, and a powerful one. It tugs at the heart-strings, it sweeps you up into its splendor, it gives you the warm fuzzies inside and leaves you smiling like a goon by the end of the book.
In short, I loved it. I fell in love with both Caitrin and Anluan just as they stumbled into love with each other.
I haven’t even mentioned all the other wonderful, detailed characters that fill this book’s pages – the ghostly little girl with her pleas for “baby,” the camaraderie that Rioghan and Eichri give both Caitrin and Anluan, the clever and dependable Magnus…and of course, the mysterious, antagonistic Muirne. Even Whistling Tor with its castle and surrounding woods is a character in its own right – as much as the moors of Wuthering Heights or the gothic landscape of Jane Eyre played in their respective books – with its twisting corridors, mist shrouded hill, and magic mirrors.
Heart’s Blood is a true gem, another beautiful novel from Juliet Marillier. Absolutely recommended, for old and new readers alike.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
At a place where two tracks met, the carter brought his horse to a sudden halt.
‘This is where you get down,’ he said.
Dusk was falling, and mist was closing in over a landscape curiously devoid of features. Apart from low clumps of grass, all I could see nearby was an ancient marker stone whose inscription was obscured by a coat of creeping mosses. Every part of me ached with weariness. ‘This is not even a settlement!’ I protested. ‘It’s – it’s nowhere!’
‘This is as far west as your money takes you,’ the man said flatly. ‘Wasn’t that the agreement? It’s late. I won’t linger in these parts after nightfall.’
I sat frozen. He couldn’t really be going to leave me in this godforsaken spot, could he?
‘You could come on with me.’ The man’s tone had changed. ‘I’ve got a roof, supper, a comfortable bed. For a pretty little thing like you, there’s other ways of paying.’ He set a heavy hand on my shoulder, making me shrink away, my heart hammering. I scrambled down from the cart and seized my bag and writing box from the back before the fellow could drive off and leave me with nothing.
‘Sure you won’t change your mind?’ he asked, eyeing me up and down as if I were a prime cut of beef.
‘Quite sure,’ I said shakily, shocked that I had been too full of my woes to notice that look in his eye earlier, when there were other passengers on the cart. ‘What is this place? Is there a settlement close by?’
‘If you can call it that.’ He jerked his head in the general direction of the marker. ‘Don’t know if you’ll find shelter. They’ve a habit of huddling behind locked doors at night around here, and with good reason. I’m not talking about troops of armed Normans on the road, you understand, but … something else. You’d far better come home with me. I’d look after you.’
I slung my bundle over my shoulder. On the tip of my tongue was the retort he deserved: I’m not so desperate, but I was not quite brave enough to say it. Besides, with only four coppers left and the very real possibility that pursuit was close behind me, I might soon be reduced to accepting offers of this kind or starving. It had taken all my courage to run away. After three days I was finding life on the road more difficult than I’d anticipated.
I turned my back on the carter and stooped to examine the weathered stone. The inscription read Whistling Tor. An odd name. If there was a hill nearby, there was no telling where. The vapour was thickening so fast that I could hardly see an arm’s length in front of me. As I traced the moss-crusted letters, the man drove away without another word. The drum of hoof-beats and the creak of wheels diminished to nothing. I took a deep breath and ordered myself to be strong. If there was a sign, there must be a settlement and shelter.
You can read the full excerpt HERE.
Additional Thoughts: I love the international covers for this book – they’re gorgeous and atmospheric. Check out the Australian cover image below:
The US cover is also relevant to the story and pretty in its own way, but I think international wins this round.
Also, author Juliet Marillier has an essay on her website about Heart’s Blood, her inspirations and the Beauty and the Beast tale. WARNING: The post contains plot spoilers for the book, but it a wonderful read for those who have already read the book or do not mind being spoiled. You can read the essay HERE.
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfection
Reading Next: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
We are giving away ONE copy of Heart’s Blood (with the US cover pictured above)! The contest is open to residents of the US and Canada, and will run until October 24 at 11:59 pm (PST). To enter, simply leave a comment here. Good luck!