Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier is a Celtic take on the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast.
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; those woods hold a perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.
For young scribe Caitrin it is a safe haven. This place where nobody else is prepared to go seems exactly what she needs, for Caitrin is fleeing her own demons. As Caitrin comes to know Anluan and his home in more depth she realizes that it is only through her love and determination that the curse can be broken and Anluan and his people set free.
The main thing that drew me toward this story is that it’ a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast which is one of my favorite fairy tales. What I really loved about Heart’s Blood is that you can see the bones of the tale there (a mysterious keep with a curse, the unusual servants, the ‘beastly’ inhabitant) but everything that I find problematic about the original hasn’t carried over. Caitrin’s not a captive and goes to the keep of her own free will and, in fact, everyone thinks she will leave but she is the one that wants to stay. No one is forcing her, everything is her choice. I also liked that Anluan isn’t really cursed himself. He has never done anything wrong, he has nothing to atone for. His beastliness is mostly his temperament, unused to dealing with people from the outside and afraid of being hurt. The way he looks is not something to wish away, but rather to love about him. I’ve always disliked that at the end of BatB the beast becomes a handsome prince again, especially when part of the point is to love someone for who they are on the inside. So I really appreciate with how Marillier handled this aspect of the story.
One of the things that I love so much about Marillier’s writing is how she creates characters and gives them a sense of hope despite the hardships they’ve endured. The themes explored in this book, of never giving up on yourself and working together with others toward a common goal, finding the ability to believe in yourself, love yourself, and learn to love others–these are all things that I can get behind. All too often in fiction the world is painted with with a grim brush, and it’s true that there are terrible things that happen all of the time, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up. I think these kinds of stories of hope are important, especially in today’s society.
I thought the curse was interesting and enjoyed how it played out in the end. Of course, for me, the highlight was the relationship between Caitrin and Anluan. It’s not a love at first slight but a bit of a slower burn. I also enjoyed all of the supporting characters and their backstories. I think Marillier’s strength is her characters and their relationships with each other. This does sometimes mean the plot almost takes a back seat, but that wasn’t the case with Heart’s Blood. The plot, the effort to break the curse, is very much in the driver’s seat.
Heart’s Blood is a great story about love and hope. If you enjoy historical fantasy, Celtic based fantasy, and/or romantic fantasy, this might be a book for you.