Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn’s bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking out Blackthorn and Grim.
Lady Geiléis, a noblewoman from the northern border, has asked for the prince of Dalriada’s help in expelling a howling creature from an old tower on her land—one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. Casting a blight over the entire district, and impossible to drive out by ordinary means, it threatens both the safety and the sanity of all who live nearby. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim.
As Blackthorn and Grim begin to put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest is about to become a life and death struggle—a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.
Published: October 1 2015
Source: ARC via Netgalley & Pan Macmillan Australia
*I very briefly fangirled over Dreamer’s Pool (Blackthorn & Grim, #1) here.*
I am a fan of fairytale retellings (especially ones told by Juliet Marillier.) My favourite retellings by Marillier include: Heart’s Blood, Wildwood Dancing and (now) Tower of Thorns. These tales are fraught with old magic and tangled with vulnerable human desires, loss and growth. Marillier twists fairytales with original mysteries and grounds them in reality through fully fleshed out characters.
Blackthorn takes on a different role in an inverted take on Sleeping Beauty, as she reluctantly attempts to the solve the mystery of the Tower of Thorns. The chapters of the book switch between the perspectives of Lady Geiléis, Blackthorn and Grim. Each of their speculations contribute to this gradual build up towards the truth around the monster in the tower. In particular, Lady Geiléis’ tale of Lily and Ash is one of the crucial threads needed to solve the mystery:
But then, Lily was not entirely what she seemed. Beneath the good manners and the lady-like presence was a person of strength, a person who knew her own mind and was prepared to fight for what she believed in. She did not understand, then, how monstrous a fight it would be.
Speaking of the supernatural, I loved how the fey is touched upon in this tale. The cunning little folk around the tower are a nice contrast to the chilling yet ethereal fey we’ve previously encountered in this world. To my delight, Blackthorn and her fey mentor’s past connection briefly surfaces in her memories. (I need to know more. In short, I need the sequel.)
Speaking of recollections, Blackthorn and Grim consider their past and present lives, as the monster’s call evokes memories of loss. Grim is hesitant to share his past trauma with Blackthorn but following the revelation of his past experiences, I wanted to give him the biggest hug in the world.
Both Blackthorn and Grim grapple with post-traumatic stress disorder and their disillusionment around hope and the future, while taking the time to understand, comfort and give each other space when it’s needed. Hope is nurtured through Blackthorn and Grim’s burgeoning friendship. Joy and satisfaction comes from following their personal journeys in this book.
We also glimpse Blackthorn’s life before the trauma she experienced. It’s fascinating to see how her sense of justice and her forthright attitude are still present in the person she is today. Blackthorn is a prickly and blunt character but I also love her wit and directness.
The idea of living alone pleased me. But living alone with nothing to do was quite a different matter.
Grim recognises and loves those qualities about her too.
One of my favourite parts of the novel is Blackthorn and Grim’s slow blossoming awareness of how they are forging a new life. Marillier’s protagonists develop through questioning assumptions, confronting past experiences and growing from new ones. It seems like both Blackthorn and Grim are slowly healing. I love this because I champion these characters. Bring on the next book of their adventures!