I recently finished one of the most captivating novels I’ve read in a long time. Have you ever had that experience where, upon picking up a novel, you find yourself reading it during every spare moment? Before work, on your lunch break, afterwards; on and on until you’ve turned the last page and your eyes are weeping while your head is throbbing, but the story was just so entrancing you just didn’t care? It’s a feeling that doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s magic. For me, the enchantment came in the form of Juliet Mariller’s latest novel, Heart’s Blood, which, interestingly enough, is at its core the essence of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast.
Readers, I loved this book so much, I married it. No, no, just kidding. But in all seriousness, the book is now my favorite interpretation of B&B, which is saying a lot. I grew up enraptured with Robin McKinley’s Beauty. In fact, McKinley helped launch me on the path leading to the fairytale genre or, as I like to call such works, “fractured fairytales.” McKinley is somewhat of a B&B expert, having written not one, but two interpretations of the classic tale. In addition to those, her latest novel, Chalice, has traces of the B&B story in it (and, imo, it’s a fabulous book that I’m hoping to re-read again soonish). I’ve never had something I’ve held close to my heart for a long time usurped so completely by a new, shinier toy. My favorites list usually remains pretty stagnant. I mean, in my Top Five for both books and movies, nothing new has hit the list for either since 2006 (and it’s weird to have a new item on both lists in one year, but that’s another story). Everything else has been cherished above all else for quite a long time, some of it even dating back to junior high. I’m not trying to imply that Heart’s Blood made it to my Top Five list because it didn’t (neither did McKinley, though another fractured fairytale author, Gail Carson Levine, has the honor of having written the only children’s book to make it onto my Top Five list for Ella Enchanted, which was the aforementioned jhs favorite that never let go), but it did leapfrog over McKinley and is one of my favorite books in the “fractured fairytale” genre right now.
I’m still reeling from this read. I didn’t pick up another book for about a week after reading this one because Marillier’s characters were still so vivid in my mind’s eye and it took me even longer to be able to articulate a semi-coherent review (though I’m still gushing, aren’t I?). Believe it or not, this was my first time reading one of Marillier’s novels. I first heard about both her and Shannon Hale last year on a forum discussing fairytale authors worth reading. I bought a couple of books written by each author, but started Hale’s catalogue of titles first (which was good at the time because I got to meet her twice last year thanks to the National Book Festival in DC and a local stop on her tour). I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to start reading her novels! What have I been waiting for? Now my only qualm is the fact that I probably won’t have time to read another one before April or May due to obligations, new eagerly-awaited releases coming this month, and ARCs I’d actually like to read ahead of time for once. I mean, this week alone I’m supposed to finish the rest of Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars before the new Alice in Wonderland movie comes out, not to mention starting The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron for the Barnes & Noble Forums First Look Club because I’m already behind. I even have to put off reading my favorite author, Jodi Picoult’s, latest book that hit stands today (House Rules), but that’s neither here nor there, so those books will come in other posts.
Anyway, enough blather about nothing. What you really want to know is what made this book so good that it turned me into a drooling idiot, right?
As much as I love the world of fairytales, I appreciate it even more when an author does something new and innovative within the story’s framework. It’s one reason I prefer using the term “fratured” and love such versions of a tale above more straight-forward retellings of a classic story. What I like about Heart’s Blood is that while the story’s core is B&B, it’s also so much more. The main character, Caitrin (a name I love, btw), is running away from a dark secret after the death of her beloved father and finds herself seeking sanctuary at Whistling Tor, the estate of Irish chieftain Anluan. She is able to work as a scribe and is there voluntarily, not a prisoner or part of a deal. Even Anluan, our “beast” character, is significantly different from the traditional portrayal of a monstrous, spoiled brat. He wasn’t transformed by a magical spell/curse. Instead, he victim to a childhood illness that caused his face to be sort of lopsided and the right side of his body to malfunction. The problems Caitrin and Anluan face are unique as well as Marillier intertwines Irish history and the coming of the Normans into the story. Even the “curse” is something realistic that doesn’t seem too far removed from reality. In fact, it has nothing to do with bringing the “beauty” and the “beast” together, but is part of a different, larger plot that encompasses the bulk of the story in a refreshing way.
I really love what Juliet Marillier did with Heart’s Blood and hope you will as well. It was one of the most thrilling books I’ve read in the past year and truly kept me engaged as a reader.
[EDIT: On a design note, I loved the way the “t” looked in the cover title, though the font itself was a little too rough around the edges for me. I much prefered the font used at the beginning of each chapter (and the “t” was, again, especially unique). I’d really love to find out more about the chapter font.]