Dreamer's Pool, by Juliet Marillier

2016-02-08-dreamers-pool-by-juliet-marillier
When it comes to fantasy novels, I usually judge books on three categories: world-building, characterization, and adventure. Juliet Marillier's Dreamer's Pool features complex, sympathetic characters and an intriguing plot, although the world she has built is an odd blend of brutality and utopia.

The main character of Dreamer's Pool is a woman who calls herself Blackthorn, an imprisoned healer hell-bent on ruining the man who destroyed her life. When Blackthorn is told that she is going to be executed, she accepts a double-edged offer from the fey: they will help her escape, but she must put off her vengeance and spend the next seven years helping anyone who asks her for assistance. With no other choice, Blackthorn sets out for a new life in Dalriada, accompanied by her cellmate, Grim, a hulk of a man with a mysterious past.

Dreamer's Pool can be tough going. Sexual assault and the abuse of women—most of which occurs off-screen, thankfully—are major themes in the novel. Marillier tries to offset the bleakness of her world by introducing Blackthorn and Grim to the prince of Dalriada, a fair-minded young man determined to find the nicest possible solution to any problem. Unfortunately, the prince's generosity is carried a little too far: when he does his best to find a non-life-ruining punishment for a man who has kidnapped, beaten, and raped a teenage girl, it mostly just feels like a bizarre anachronism. Still, the story's many dangling plot threads—Grim's past, the motivations of the fey, Blackthorn's seven years of sworn service—were more than tantalizing enough to keep me reading, and left me eager to pick up the next volume.
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Posted by: Julianka

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