Dreamer’s Pool (Blackthorn and Grim No.1) – Juliet Marillier
Pan Macmillan, 2014
In the filthy dungeons of the corrupt chieftain Mathuin, two prisoners lean on each other to keep hold of their humanity. When uncanny chance allows an escape, they travel north together. Blackthorn is a healer, bound to a new life by an unwilling promise, while her heart yearns for vengeance. Grim has only one purpose: to guard her from harm. But even in the sleepy settlement meant to be their refuge, terrible secrets hide beneath the loveliest pretence.
Dreamer’s Pool fits an interesting mix of genres, a historical fantasy mystery novel with a strong streak of romance. Some elements work much better than others. Marillier has written many historical novels and is comfortable with this world. The unlikely detectives are strong protagonists – not particularly young, attractive or charming, and each slowly recovering from the brutalities of the past, but determined to seek justice in their own ways. The third lead character, Oran, was frustrating by contrast, coming across to me as too shallow and self-involved to be sympathetic. I would have been much more interested in seeing these sections from the perspective of another character, Flidais or maybe Donagan. Readers coming to this book should be aware that sexual violence, while not gratuitous on the page, is referred to many times and there are some really problematic, if historically common, ways of viewing women’s behaviour. Dreamer’s Pool is a recent winner in this year’s Aurealis awards; the second book in the series will be released in November.