My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Two flightless birds learning to flap their wings, a forest of weeping specters and a handful of Heart’s Blood. This book, in a nutshell.
Heart’s Blood is not only a retelling of Beauty and Beast but of…umm… history, I guess you could say. The history of ancient Ireland. There are two aspects to this story; two situations plaguing the people of Whistling Tor. There’s the accursed chieftain of the village and the threat of Norman invasion.
Caitrin is a young woman, afflicted by her past, who happens upon Whistling Tor, a strange and remote village. Looking for a work, she ventures out to the crumbling fortress of its Chieftain, who is burdened by his own curse. Then, there are the things, people moving around at night. Unseen, unknown, unheard, these things move around and about the fortress.
Juliet Marillier employs various of the requisite facets of a traditional fairy tale. We have:
~A magic mirror(or several)
~an extremely rare plant
~a beloved animal
~enchanted castle surrounded by woods
~Key to open hidden doors
~100 years’ curse
But it’s the things unspoken here, the threads that connect them all that counts.
The romance of this book never takes over the whole plot, nor is it too weak. It’s powerful and touching all the same. The development of trust and friendship between Caitrin and Anluan(the chieftain) was gradual, but not a neva-love. Those two could literally form a complete puzzle of their own. And I must warn you: It wouldn’t be an easy one to solve. Because these two people have been broken down in so many pieces and only they both could ever pick ’em up and fix each other because they don’t demand changes in each other. Too cliche, I know, but it’s the only analogy that seems fair. The connection between those two felt real, something which hasn’t really been accomplished in any Beauty and The Beast I have come across. A pretty young damsel falling for a beast. Ah, well he’s not a real beast, so I guess that helps.
And Caitrin in one inquisitive characters. Damn, she asks too many questions. I felt sorry for the people of the castle- this girl doesn’t understand the bliss of ignorance. I mean, I was reading form her POV, relating with her, but even I wanted to shake her. She literally fucked the shit out of me. In a good way. If there is one. Because I kept expecting someone to pounce on her for meddling where she wasn’t supposed to and it build a nice anticipation in me.
The atmosphere and setting of the novel took my breath away. It’s so rich and alive. The quintessential creepiness of the forest and mirrors… it felt so damned real. The dialogues between the characters were pleasing, if a bit too formal for my tastes- there was no cursing. I don’t know why but there were moments when I felt that she would exclaim ‘Darn’ or ‘Arse’ or some Irish variation for fuck.
As a retelling, the book stays very close to the traditional story but the spin on it is as much similar to Beauty and the Beast as Sun is to headlights.[In case you were wondering, B&B is the headlight.]
But… because there is one… The ending left me wanting for more. And I guess, I wasn’t expecting so fulfilling and happy an ending after the all those pages of grief and sadness. Another thing I was meh about- the usual defeat evil, marry, get a job, have kids, ever ever after. Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with it. But I’m just that kind of reader who wants her characters tried and tried and tried. I suppose this is why I love Alanna so. She defeats evil, again she does, marries, defeats kings, has kid, defeats people, another kid comes along, defeats non-people, then a third kid!, defeats stupid assholes.
And another problem, which I have with many historical fiction novels centered around a fact in history which is very well-known and evidential and from the POV of the losing side, is that even when they save their kingdoms or regions or ghosts, we already that another problem is going to befall them or the very same one will be back and this time it will conquer. I think to myself, yes, you win all very well, but you are going to die. Or well invaded by Normans, anywho. Because Connacht was. But don’t let my morbid thoughts disturb you.
However, every one of those 405 pages was worth it. And I’d love to revisit the story if there will ever be another one. It will surely be from a later generation and there was some hint that some new evil could befall this family. And I’m really looking forward to reading Daughter of the Forest; I hear it doesn’t have a happy ending?