Review: Tower of Thorns

Posted: March 29, 2016 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Juliet Marillier, Fantasy

You got to know Blackthorn and Grim in the first novel, DREAMER’S POOL (EBR review), and now their story continues in TOWER OF THORNS, starting not much later than where it left off in the first book. From the cover:

“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.”

Despite her faults, Blackthorn is an easy character to like. She’s smart and persistent, so we can see why people go to her for help, even if she’s always grouchy. Grim is the gentle giant, his brutish exterior disguising an observant and friendly nature. These two make a good team, I like their easy comradery, authentic in their good and bad moods. To Grim’s dismay, an old friend of Blackthorn’s appears one day and reminds her of a responsibility to testify against Mathuain and give justice to the people he’s wronged–even at the risk of going against Conmael’s requirement that she stay away. In DREAMER’S we learned that Mathuain had killed Blackthorn’s husband and son and threw her into prison; Conmael–a fey–helped her escape, but she had to agree to his terms, which involved a seven-year penance to aid anyone who asks for her help. Now, in TOWER, we learn about Grim’s dark back story, the one that haunts his dreams as the monster in the tower dredges up old memories.

Like in DREAMER, Marillier telegraphs early on what’s going to happen in the story, her plots are pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, here she takes too long to get the story going. Certainly we’re introduced early to Geiléis’s troubles and soon Blackthorn and Grim follow her home to try to help. But it takes so long to reveal the mystery, which isn’t all that complicated, that I nearly put the book down in frustration. Probably about a quarter of it could have been cut out for blather, almost as though the author padded her basic story in order to make it long enough. There is a lot of navel-gazing for our heroes, as well as a third PoV in Geiléis. I don’t really care for navel-gazing, I like more action myself, but that’s more a personal preference so I tipped the rating to a “Like” instead of a “Mediocre” as a result.

You got to know Blackthorn and Grim in the first novel, DREAMER'S POOL, and now their story continues in TOWER OF THORNS.

The details of magic aren’t revealed much more than in DREAMER’S, although this time we see how powerful the fey really can be. A fun addition are the little people who live in the woods around Geiléis’s property and are part of the curse, but do what they can to help Grim and Blackthorn. In contrast is the monastery where the monks see the monster in the tower as more a “demon” and believe that their prayers protect them from the general malaise that disturbs the rest of the country. Grim, Blackthorn, and Geiléis’s haunted pasts prevent them from believing that a just and merciful god would allow bad things to happen to good and innocent people; themes of magic, faith, and responsibility are prevalent. And the fairytale-like writing continues here, much like a Patricia McKillip novel would (although I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s on the same par with the storytelling).

Fortunately the last quarter of the book takes off as Blackthorn learns what she needs to do (finally), Grim adding his own insight on events, clear up until the expected–yet also slightly twisty–climax and resulting fallout.

  • Recommended Age: 13+
  • Language: Less than a handful
  • Violence: Some, but not gory
  • Sex: Vague references

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