by Juliet Marillier
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress of a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the region in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan’s family and his people. The woods hold a perilous forces whose every whisper threatens doom. And Anluan himself has been crippled by a childhood illness.
Then the young scribe Caitrin appears in Anluan’s garden, admiring the rare plant known as heart’s blood. Retained to sort through entangled family documents, Caitrin brings about unexpected changes in the household, casting a hopeful light against the despairing shadows.
But even as Caitrin brings solace to Anluan, and the promise of something more between them, he remains in thrall to the darkness surrounding Whistling Tor. To free Anluan’s burdened soul, Caitrin must unravel the web of sorcery woven by his ancestors before it claims his life – and their love.
Most of us grew up watching Disney animated movies. I remember going to see Pocahontas, Lion King and Toy Story in theatres. I remember Beauty and the Beast and how much magic the story seemed to hold. I had yet to come across a telling of Beauty and the Beast that left me with such a sense of wonder as Disney’s version – until now, and heart’s Blood.
It’s not even the closest retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but it’s presence is the same. Once I was older and able to understand more than just “singing, talking furniture and a huge, pretty dress”, I could see the romance between Beauty and her beast, and more than the story of a curse and magic, the romance is the real tale. That notion that love can conquer and cure all. But I’m jumping into the middle. Let’s start at the beginning, where all good stories start.
Caitrin is a scribe’s daughter, and practices the craft herself. We first meet her as she is traveling away from her home town after the death of her father. She arrives at Whistling Tor, using the last of her money. As luck would have it, the chieftain of the area is in need of a scribe, but the tales of specters and hauntings on the Tor have kept everyone – including the villagers – away. Braving the journey, Caitrin makes her way to the chieftain’s home (which is pretty much like a castle). There, she meets Anluan, the “beast” chieftain, with crooked arm and leg. Caitrin gains employment and soon finds herself amidst the Host, ghostly figures who inhabit the hill of the Tor, otherworldly people, and Anluan. Whistling Tor is facing invasion from Normans, and Anluan is desperate to control the Host. Caitrin wants nothing more than to ease Anluan’s burdens, and helping to send the Host back to death is the easiest way to do that. But she has more obstacles in her way than she knows, and magic always has a deadline.
Caitrin is wonderful. So strong, level-headed, intelligent and loving; but she has her weaknesses. It’s only as the story progresses that she comes into her incredible strength of character. She learns that she can’t run from what she fears, but rather face it head on and conquer that fear. Caitrin doesn’t shy away from practicing her craft, though it’s considered a man’s work. She’s confident in her abilities and willing to use them. Her voice came through the writing loud and clear, and I feel as if I have known her forever. And then there is Anluan, Beast to her Beauty. Anluan is the young, crippled chieftain of Whistling Tor, and has been through so much heartache in his life. Caitrin is like a breath of fresh air to him. Anluan is gruff, abrupt, prone to mood swings and very anti-social. But he’s constantly aware of his useless arm, and his limp. He’s had to struggle to control the Host for years, and has had little contact with people outside of the few in his household. He has a hard time handling the changes that Caitrin is bringing to Whistling Tor, but his heart is so pure and he wishes for hope. I have such a soft spot for Anluan – he’s the type of character that just makes you want to care for him.
For a story that seems only loosely based on Beauty and the Beast in the beginning, there are many similarities. Caitrin, when she leaves Whistling Tor for a while, takes a mirror with her that allows her to see Anluan at any time. She rushes back to his side when it seems he may die. Anluan – and his family – are under a curse that needs to be broken before Anluan dies without an heir, and instead of the rose playing a significant part in the story we have the herb Heart’s Blood. Rather than the household being changed into animated furniture, there is the Host of spirits. But it’s so much more than the plot points that make this story good. It’s the romance and the interaction between Caitrin and Anluan, it’s the characters themselves and the mystery of the curse. The romance is so soft, so sweet. It grows from friendship, mutual respect and appreciation for each others company. It’s a comfortable love, but burns brightly. The result is such a comfortable, happy feeling by the time you finish the book. It’s beautiful. And the mystery of the curse! The build up and solution, the why and how, was all handled perfectly. The writing style helps; it really reminds you of an old fashioned fairy tale or fantasy. I loved it.
Heart’s Blood is a must read for any fairy tale and fantasy lover. It will stay in your hearts long after you’ve turned the last page.