Thursday, July 31, 2014

Heart's Blood, by Juliet Marillier

"Beauty and the Beast" meets Jane Eyre, with a bit of undead in the mix. What's not to like?

This novel isn't news, I guess, since it was published in 2009 (Roc; released as a mass paperback in 2010). But I just found it, read it, and thought it was worth a few remarks.

I would class Heart's Blood as "mythic fantasy," because it taps into the fairy tale tradition, though not in a heavy-handed way. It's not simply a retelling of a fairy tale (like "Beauty and the Beast"). The main character, Caitrin, is a bit like Jane Eyre, as I hinted above: she enters a situation that's … well, a lot more complicated than it seems at first. There's not exactly a mad wife stowed up in the attic, but it has that feel at times, and some other details call Jane Eyre to mind. Caitrin's a little like Belle, too: she all but plucks forbidden roses early in the tale. Plus, there's a kind of enchantment over the castle, its grounds (Whistling Tor), and its inhabitants--both the servants and their deformed master, Anluan.

(I suppose it's fair to wonder whether Jane Eyre is modeled on "Beauty and the Beast" at some remove or other. Or maybe some other fairy tale. Maybe one you (normally quiet) readers has a theory about that?)

Like Jane, Caitrin is also fleeing an abusive home life, thanks to the sudden death of her father and the misbehavior of distant relatives. Like Belle, she's a looker. And, well, … of course she's got to fall for the crippled master. Right? And vice versa?

So where this novel succeeded for me wasn't in setting up some new permutation of an old fairy tale (or British novel, or both), though it does that, and it does it well. What made it work was how Marillier judiciously loosened the reins on the old storyline, allowing it to take new directions, satisfying because she's drawing on older traditions, but not stale or predictable.

I liked that the Norman (military, i.e. "epic") threat wasn't the point of this story, though it makes a meaningful impact.

And I enjoyed Caitrin's strength. She overcomes real challenges within herself and outside of herself in a credible, heart-warming way. As in countless old folktales, Caitrin finds herself caught in a web of forces beyond her power to control. But with a mixture of hope and small steps of incredible courage, she manages to find her way through--with a bit of fey guidance, to be sure.

Magic. Romantic tension. Mystery. And a strong heroine. Like I said, what's not to like?

Read it? Thoughts?

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