Reviewed June 8, 2013.
A Roc Book (Penguin), 2009. 402 pages. Starred Review
2013 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 Fiction
I love Juliet Marillier's writing. She knows how to make characters from fairy tales seem like real people with their own complex emotions, set in a real historical time.
Heart's Blood is a modified version of "Beauty and the Beast" set in Ireland at the time Normans were invading and taking land for themselves. But Heart's Blood removes all the abusive elements from the fairy tale. In fact, Caitrin is fleeing from abuse. Her father never goes to the "Beast's" castle. In fact, Caitrin's beloved father died not long before the story begins. A distant cousin and his mother took over the family home, claiming that it belonged to the cousin as the only male relative. But he is harsh and abusive and his mother convinces everyone that Caitrin has gone mad with grief.
She flees to a castle on a Tor that none of the people from the village will go near. The chieftain needs a scribe who can read Latin, and her father trained her as one. Besides, she needs a place to stay where her cousin can't find her.
The chieftain is no Beast, just someone who's features aren't symmetrical because of an illness in his youth. But his family is indeed under a curse. His great-grandfather raised a host from dead souls to fight his enemies, only something went horribly wrong, and all generations after that chieftain must stay at the castle to keep the host in check. And his retainers are souls from the host.
Meanwhile, Caitrin works in the library, copying documents and looking for a counterspell. A magic mirror, enchanted by the great-grandfather, shows her the dark spells he used, but not a way to counteract them. She gets to know the souls from the host who live there with Anluan. There's even a small child who turns to her for comfort. Meanwhile, the Normans threaten attack, but how can Anluan go down from the Tor to even meet with them?
Once again we've got ancient magic, a romance based on two characters knowing each other well, and a young woman with a good heart who wants to do good in the world. Another lovely story by Juliet Marillier.