Dreamer's PoolDreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier (Blackthorn & Grim #1)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Roc on November 2, 2014

Audiobook: Brilliance Audio narrated by Scott Aiello, Natalie Gold, & Nick Sullivan

Source: Purchased

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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. View Spoiler »

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Blackthorn and Grim are prisoners in the jails of Mathuin of Laois when an entire wall of the stone prison unceremoniously collapses and they are busted out of jail. In the final hour before her unlawful execution, Blackthorn is approached by a mysterious fey named Conmael who offers her a deal that she can’t refuse: he will save her from certain death if she vows to answer all cries for help and avoid seeking vengeance against Mathuin for seven years.

As a wise woman, Blackthorn has the experience and skill necessary to fulfill her end of the bargain and help those who are in need; unfortunately she’s not very big on helping others since her experiences have led her to believe that all men are evil and all everyone acts according only to their own selfish interests. You can’t really blame her though – Blackthorn has suffered horrible losses and been subjected to basically every evil that humanity has on offer. So when Blackthorn teams up with Grim post prison break, she’s not exactly warm towards him, but she doesn’t turn him away either. The two misfits slowly build upon their tentative friendship that began in prison, borne out of their refusal to refer to one another as their prison monikers, “Slut” and “Bonehead.”

At first glance Grim seems like he could be a bonehead, the typical hulking brute character so common in fairytales, but he quickly proves himself to be a fiercely loyal friend possessed of a subtle reasoning and deep empathy. He’s clearly been effected by the mistreatment he suffered in Mathuin’s prison and his self-esteem is in tatters; the poor guy  This also manifests in what Grim calls the “red rage,” an uncontrollable anger that descends on him when people speak ill of Blackthorn or call him stupid; unfortunately this usually results in someone getting their skull smashed in. But much like Blackthorn, Grim undergoes a lot of personal growth in Dreamer’s Pool, and takes his first steps on the road to recovery from his implied violent past. As much as I love Blackthorn, Grim was a complete scene-stealer and I can’t wait for his backstory to be more fleshed out in the next instalment.

The odd couple (sadly not an actual couple…yet! I remain hopeful) are just settling into their new home outside Mathuin’s territory when they are caught up in several local mysteries, including the disappearance of a young village girl and the marital issues of their new liege,  Prince Oran of Dalriada. Oran has been corresponding with his betrothed for months when she finally arrives for their hand-fasting, but despite being her exact likeness she is not the woman that Oran fell in love with. Who is she, really? And who wrote the letters that made the prince fall in love with her?

There were a few times I wanted to grab Blackthorn’s shoulders and give her a good shake. Her past hurts have made her incredibly prejudiced against men, and as much as I sympathize it was frustrating to see how easily she could be convinced that even the best of men were pigs. Thankfully Grim was there to talk some sense into her. Those two understand each other so well it’s uncanny. Grim is also the first to realize that – despite her adamant claims to  he contrary – Blackthorn cares deeply for those she calls friend, especially those who speak out against injustice.

Injustice and social wrongs, particularly against women, are a major focus of Dreamer’s Pool; sexual violence plays a large role in several plot lines, so while there is nothing graphic or explicitly discussed, those who find discussions of rape triggering should read with caution. I knew this book was special when Blackthorn gave an impassioned speech against the victim blaming that occurs when someone is sexually assaulted, stating that it’s not the victim’s character that is on trial but the alleged rapist. You go, Blackthorn!

If there was one thing I didn’t love about Dreamer’s Pool, it was Oran. I switched back and forth between listening to this on audio and reading a print copy, and I have to say that as excellent as the narration was for Blackthorn and Grim it was pretty unfortunate for Oran’s chapters. The nasally and whiney voice the narrator used for his chapters made it difficult to handle his poetic speeches. Admittedly Oran was a lot easier to deal with when I was reading the book versus listening to an audio copy, but the guy really grated on my nerves at times. He was just too noble and good sometimes – the poor guy agonized over finding his future wife desirable, for crying out loud! As frustrating as I found it, ultimately I think his characterization as the naive dreamer and believer in true love was a necessary counterpart to the grimness (HA) of Blackthorn and Grim’s outlook. Oran proves himself to be more than just a dreamer with his wise rulership over his people, so he’s not all bad.

With only one book, Juliet Marillier has been catapulted to the top of my must-read list. Dreamer’s Pool is a tale of personal redemption and vengeance, but it is only the first chapter. Blackthorn and Grim still have a lot of growing to do before they will be ready to defeat Mathuin (not to mention seven years!), but I have no doubt that their skills and allies will aid them in seeing justice carried out. Favourite book of 2014.