Published: October 1st 2014 by Pan Macmillan AU
Format: Paperback, 432 pages
Genres: Fantasy, Historical
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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. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she'll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.
Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.
With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.
Dreamer’s Pool is a grim but atmospheric novel that weaves magic and mystery into a vivid tale in a medieval setting. Blackthorn and Grim are an unlikely pair, making a new start at the edge of a forest after escaping prison.
Although I usually enjoy Marillier’s novels, the narration in this one kept me at arms-length from the action. I felt detached from the story for at least two-thirds of the novel. In part, this is because the three POV characters — each flawed in some way — were difficult for me to connect with. They lacked depth and failed to transcend the tropes they’d been constructed from.
A clever blend of fairy tale and history underpinned the main mystery in this novel, but its predictability lessened my enjoyment. It’s often difficult to balance magical elements with realism in historical fantasy, but given there was no real twist to the mythology here, it all felt too subtle. The plot meandered, took too long to build up, and was at times boring. Not surprising given this is definitely a character-driven book, but I didn’t like the characters.
Dreamer’s Pool wasn’t what I’d expected. This is definitely a book for those who enjoy fairy tales and mythology and love gritty, unconventional characters.