I listened to these books on audio late last year and fell in love with the characters so much that I marathoned all three of these pretty much back to back. I’d read one of Juliet Marillier’s books before, but that was a long time ago. I’m regretting not reading more of her work and I think I’ll have to rectify that in the near future.
Our story starts off with our protagonists locked inside a prison under some rather brutal conditions. It’s clear they’ve both been in there for some long amount of time and one of them is due to be executed soon. Overall, things seem hopeless. But then a fey shows up and changes everything, setting them on a course that will forever change their lives. He makes Blackthorn (this is what she insists on calling herself after her time in the prison) a deal–her freedom if she’ll go north to Dalriada to live, help anyone that requests it of her, and put off her revenge on the clan chief that ignored her for seven years. Once those years have passed she is free to do as she wishes. Having little choice, she takes his offer and sets off, with Grim, another escaped prisoner from a nearby cell, determinedly following behind.
Once in Dalriada, Blackthorn starts to settle in as a local healer, reluctantly allowing Grim to stay with her. The Prince of Dalriada’s bride crosses her path, having fallen into a pond nearby and almost drowned. Oran, the prince, meets his bride only to find that something seems amiss with her–she isn’t acting the same as the woman he’d corresponded with and come to love through those letters. Through the conditions of her bargain with the fey, Blackthorn becomes entangled with the mystery of dreamer’s pool.
Thoughts: This is a great introduction to our characters if a bit harsh to read at times just because of all the terrible things the characters have gone through, but it’s also such a great set up. It’s clear from the beginning that this is going to be a story about these characters dealing with and, eventually, confronting their past trauma. I also really enjoyed the side characters in this book as well, Prince Oran especially. While not perfect, he’s a good leader and an overall decent guy–you really find yourself rooting for him in this at certain points.
Tower of Thorns
The story picks up maybe several months or a year after Dreamer’s Pool. Blackthorn is starting to grow more comfortable in her role as the local wise woman, and also growing more comfortable with her companion Grim. She still primarily has vengeance on her mind, but she has begun to build herself a life in Dalriada. Again, the bargain with the fey gets her tangled up in solving a mystery when a noblewoman from nearby requests help from the Prince of Dalriada claiming her land has been cursed. Blackthorn is reluctant to leave her home to help the woman, but bound by her vow she has little choice, so she and Grim set off for her holding.
No stranger to the fey and unusual happenings, and also ever so practical, Blackthorn and Grim set about solving the mystery of the tower surrounded by hedges and the strange howling creature within its walls.
Thoughts: You begin to see how Blackthorn is starting to thaw a bit and form relationships with others in the community. It even appears she is becoming a bit to attached to Grim. She still does not like to rely on others, and is mostly distrustful, but she is changing, slowly. But we also get to learn about Grim’s past in this story and honestly, that’s probably one of my favorite things in the series overall.
The thing that turned me off a bit about this one is that I didn’t really enjoy the secondary characters in this one as much as the first. I didn’t care at all for Lady Geiléis or find her sympathetic because she always felt a bit off to me somehow. Even when I was supposed to feel something for her situation, I didn’t really care all that much.
Den of Wolves
The final book picks up not too long after the conclusion of the previous book. Blackthorn and Grim have established themselves in the community and Grim’s services as a sort of general contractor, helping thatch roofs, building, or doing general heavy work, have earned him some recognition and he’s become much sought after. Someone from a nearby holding, Wolf Glen, asks for Grim to do a thatching and building job, he agrees because he can use the funds, even though the request is a bit odd in nature and it means he’ll be away from Blackthorn for a while, something he isn’t looking forward to. Meanwhile, Blackthorn is busy taking care of a young girl, the daughter of the holder of Wolf Glen, as she seems to be troubled in some way and the Princess of Dalriada requested her help in the matter. Why is this girl acting so strange, and what is with this very specific and very odd building project? It’s a mystery only Blackthorn and Grim will be able to solve.
Thoughts: I think this might be my favorite of the three only because the characters have grown so much from the first book and there probably isn’t much I like more than a great character arc. The mystery in this one, similar to the mystery in Dreamer’s Pool, wasn’t too difficult to figure out, but it wasn’t frustratingly drawn out either. By now both our protagonists are used to dealing with mysteries of a magical nature, clearly having learned a lot from their previous experiences. You also have Blackthorn finally able to confront her past, but having to make a tough decision about what’s most important to her. The other thing I loved so much about this one was seeing Grim really take more of a lead role here, being willing to be on his own a bit and more confident in himself. This was such a satisfying conclusion and ended on the perfect note.
Thoughts on the Series as a Whole
Taken as a whole, this series was beautifully written. The story of the characters, their past histories, and their relationship to each other, was so well-crafted and at times heart-breaking to read. I was at work listening to these most of the time and I definitely teared up at my desk a few times. The thing that makes these books great are the characters of Blackthorn and Grim.
The Celtic setting is interesting and a bit familiar, and the fey mysteries are enjoyable–but really this is all about the characters from beginning to end. You’re on a journey of healing right along side them and you feel their pain as well as their triumphs. This is the story of two people, having been so broken down, slowly rebuilding their lives from scratch, not giving up, and learning to trust and to love again. There are some very horrific things in these books, the stuff that the characters went through is the stuff of nightmares and it’s not always easy to read, but it’s so worth it in the end.