Review of KINDLE Ebook Dreamer’s Pool – Book 1 of Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier #Brainfluffbrainreview #Dreamer’sPoolbookreview


I love Juliet Marillier’s writing – the Sevenwaters series is outstanding and I also very much enjoyed The Dark Mirror – see my review here. So when I realised Himself had treated himself to this offering, I tucked in.

In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

I enjoyed this book, particularly that fantastic opening section. This classic fantasy romance has one major difference – the main protagonist isn’t a princess, or any other member of the royal family. She is an older woman with a terrible past, who now has been freed – on condition that she turns her back on her dreams for vengeance and always provides help if someone asks. In this medieval era fantasy, where clearly women have very limited options – she also has agency as a skilled healer, so she can rebuild her life. It’s made a lot easier by the presence of her companion, the hulking man who had occupied the cell next to hers, called Grim. He also has a dark past and is possessed of great strength and a strong work ethic – and has latched onto Blackthorn, after witnessing her temperament under the most dehumanising conditions. A word of warning – this book starts in a prison where the inmates are treated with brutality and while there is nothing graphic, there are two incidents of rape in this book.

The other protagonist is an unworldly prince, determined to marry for love in an age when dynastic and territorial concerns decide who you walk up the aisle with. He starts writing to a young woman who, it turns out, loves books and poetry as much as he does – and it’s all going swimmingly… until she takes a swim.

The romance bubbles alongside Blackthorn’s far more dramatic storyline, until it gathers momentum and near the end of the book, takes precedence as the conclusion of this story wraps up the whole narrative. Though this isn’t a ‘happily ever after’ tale – there are winners, but there are also significant losers and my sympathy does go out to the major loser. I would also add that I was a bit disturbed that a woman being sexually active was depicted as a negative attribute. It’s not a dealbreaker, and I’m conscious that faithful, chaste womanhood is part of the genre convention in classical fantasy – but this is the 21st century and I am a bit disappointed that this was used as a device to point up the female character’s unsuitability.

However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a well-written, entertaining story and if it didn’t quite deliver the promise of that fabulous opening, it is still an engrossing, page-turning adventure.

16 responses »

  1. Oh this is one I really want to read. I bought it last year. Everyone says the writing is great and that’s what’s drawing me to it in addition to the fantasy.

  2. Aww, shame this didn’t work out better for you. I loved it. Of course the writing! But there was something dark and fairytale(ish) that just won me over.
    I still haven’t read the second though – I’m an absolute washout!
    Lynn 😀

    • I did like the dark undertow – but I did get a bit fed up at the fact that the flirtatious, sexually experienced woman was the one who was depicted as the ‘bad’ one, while the sweet, bookish girl who was shy and retiring was the heroine… *sigh*. I grew up with that dynamic and I used to be sick to the back teeth of it then:).

  3. This one didn’t quite have the same spark as the Sevenwaters books for me, but I did enjoy how world-weary and bitter the protagonist was! It thought it was a nice change of pace from her previous characters. And you make an excellent point about female characters being sexually active. I get that authors like to base their fantasy on medieval culture…but, as you said, it IS the 21st century, and we can still have all the medieval goodness *without* the prejudice and misogyny. 😀

    • Oh yes – it was a great change of pace and I LOVED the characters of Blackthorn and Grim – to the extent that I was a bit dismayed when the other main storyline seemed to overshadow them. And yes… I am aware that misogyny was prevalent, but these days I do feel the opppressive nature of patriarchy can be portrayed without importing those flawed values into the narrative.

      But I do hope no one goes away with the sense that I didn’t enjoy this read – I did. Just not quite as much as the awesome Sevenwaters series and The Dark Mirror.

  4. I became a Marillier fan after reading this book, my first by her, and I’ve enormously enjoyed the other two in the series: she has a way with words that is nothing short of enchanting – in the strictest sense of the word… I’m intrigued by your comment about the depiction of the two women, because I did not dwell on it – so probably the way the dichotomy was presented did not unleash any trigger for me – but still it’s an interesting observation: if one one side it’s true that the two are portrayed according to the mores of the described time period, it’s also true that the author could have employed more modern sensibilities in her writing. But sometimes we need to shunt those sensibilities aside – hard as it might be – and let the currents carry us…
    I hope the next two books prove just as enjoyable for you 🙂

    • Yes – I take your point. But I have come to this book in a slightly different way. The Sevenwaters series blew me away and I also loved The Dark Mirror to the extent I dreamt of the world and it got a 10.

      So I think my reaction appears to be so negative because my expectations were so high. I know she’s a stunningly talented writer – and while I take your point about the historical context, Marillier didn’t have to portray the antagonist’s strong sexual appetite as an undesirable trait. And you’re right – I’m looking forward to reading the second book:).

    • Oh yes – it’s certainly different! No one writes quite like Marillier and yes, I did enjoy it and look forward to tucking into the next in the series sometime later this year:))

  5. Oooh, I’ll definitely keep this one on my radar. Every now and then I search for a fantasy romance, but mostly come across contemporary paranormal romances instead of secondary world settings. Thank you for this lovely review!

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