Hearts Blood by Juliet Marillier
Juliet Marillier is my favourite author. She has the ability to bring characters to life in such a way that you feel as if you are part of their world.
Hearts Blood is based very loosely on the fairy tale Beauty And the Beast, it has a rather gothic feel to it, which is why I decided to review it here. It is also filled with characters of such strength and capable of such love, despite their weaknesses. I had to share it with you all.
Caitrin is a wandering scribe who has run away from an abusive home life. She finds herself looking for work with Anluan, the Chieftain of Whistling Tor – a settlement plagued by whispers of ghosts and spirits known only as the host. She is tasked with sorting through and translating the family’s multitude of documents and grimoires. As she becomes engrossed in this task she discovers a curse that has been put upon Anluan’s family, and possibly a way to break it.
This is the second book Marillier has based on a fairy tale – the first being her first book Daughter of the Forest which was based on the brothers grim tale The Six Swans. She has the ability to take a simple story or idea and create amazing characters and fantastic worlds which draw you in and make them a part of you forever.
In Hearts Blood, the parallels to Beauty and the Beast are obvious, but in no way overshadow the rest of the story. Caitrin has so much to overcome, from her own personal weaknesses to the weakness of Anluan, and the fear and distrust of the settlement folk. Anluan himself has to deal with his feelings of inadequacy and his physical deformity, and learn to accept what the curse entails and to eventually embrace it.
It is certainly a tale of self-awareness and personal growth, set in a creepy castle on top of a hill surrounded by ethereal and possible hostile beings. It has just the right balance of real and fantastical situations, and the right blend of action and character development and reflection.
I highly recommend this book and all others by Juliet Marillier, she is truly a fantastic writer. I hope you all enjoy the below excerpt from the first chapter of Hearts Blood.
‘My vow to be brave made me straighten up and face the fortification. Four or five men stood on the other side, their faces uniformly ash-white, their weapons at the ready: a pitchfork, a scythe, an iron bar, a club with spikes. ‘Away with you, scum!’ yelled one, and another added, ‘Go back where you belong, into the pit of hell!’
Had the mist transformed me into a monster? I cleared my throat nervously. ‘I’m just a …’ I faltered. A wandering scribe might be the truth, but nobody was going to believe it. ‘A traveller. On my way to visit kinsfolk. My name is Caitrin, daughter of Berach.’ Curses, I’d done it again, used my real name. Pull yourself together, Caitrin. ‘I need shelter for the night. I mean no harm here.’ I glanced over my shoulder, wondering why Rioghan and Brother Eichri had not spoken up on my behalf, but nobody was there. While the inhabitants of Whistling Tor village were hurling stones and insults, my two companions had made a silent departure.
I considered whether a quick sprint back to the cover of the forest might be my best course of action. No; I had promised myself that I would be brave. This was some kind of mistake, that was all. ‘It’s the truth!’ I added. ‘Please let me in.’ I remembered something. ‘Fetch Tomas; let me speak to him.’
The men of the settlement stood close together, eyeing me. They looked both combative and terrified. This didn’t make sense. What did they think I was, a one-woman raiding party? I shivered, hugging my shawl around me, as they held a muttering consultation.
‘Where did you say you were headed?’ The man with the club asked the question without quite looking me in the eye.
‘I didn’t,’ I said. ‘But my mother’s kin live in these parts.’ That was not quite a lie; my mother’s family had indeed lived in the far west of Connacht, but there were none of them left now, at least none I knew of.
‘Fetch Tomas,’ someone said. A lull, then; no more missiles thrown, but plenty of talk in low, agitated voices on that side of the barrier, while on this side, I stood waiting as the last light faded. I wondered how much longer my legs would hold me up.
‘What are you?’ A new voice. Another man had joined the first group, an older man with a more capable manner. ‘Ordinary folk don’t come to Whistling Tor. Especially not after dark.’
‘Are you Tomas?’ I asked. ‘My name is Caitrin. I’ve been on the road all day. I just need somewhere to sleep. I can pay.’
‘If you mean no harm, prove it,’ someone called out.
‘How?’ I wondered if I would be subjected to a search or other indignities when I got through the defensive barrier. Well-born young women did not usually travel alone. It would be plain to everyone that I was in some kind of trouble. After today it was all too easy to believe men would interpret that as an invitation.
‘Say a Christian prayer.’ That was the man with the club, his voice still thick with unease.
I stared at him. Whatever these villagers were afraid of, it seemed it was not the Normans, for the most part a Christian people. ‘God in Heaven,’ I said, ‘guide and support me on my journey and bring me safely to shelter. Blessed Saint Patrick shield me. Mother Mary intercede for me. Amen.’
There was a pause, then the man with the club lowered his weapon, and the older one said, ‘Let her through, boys. Duald, make sure the barrier’s properly sealed afterwards. You can’t be too careful in this mist. Go on, let her in.’