Short Story Review: THE FIXED STARS (An October Daye Story), by Seanan McGuire


Finding a complementary short story to Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series is always a pleasant discovery, and it’s an even better one when, as is the case of this short work I found in the Baen Free Library, it deals with events and people other than Toby and her circle of friends and family, widening the background of this complex and many-faceted Urban Fantasy series.

(click on the link to read the story online)

It took me a little while to find my bearings in The Fixed Stars, until I understood that it tells of an old battle between Faerie’s firstborns and their changeling descendants, here called merlins – the reason for which I understood once their leader came on-stage, a powerful, revered warrior named Emrys.  The story is told from the point of view of a firstborn, watching the besieging merlin army camped under the walls of Broceliande castle before what will be the decisive battle.  The narrating firstborn goes here under the name of Nimue but says this is only one of many, and when at the end of the story her brother calls her “Annie”, my theory about her real identity was confirmed (and my pleasure at being right and meeting her here): compelled to always tell the truth, Nimue plays a dangerous gamble in the bloody game between the fae and their mixed-blood descendants, one that will end badly no matter what, since she’s aware that “the nobility […] was eager to wet their swords on merlin blood. The fact that the men outside our walls were our distant descendants didn’t matter to them. My brothers and sisters had raised their children to believe that nothing outside of Faerie had value”.

The leanings of Nimue’s heart are quite clear here, and they go a long way toward explaining her attitude in later times, when she will often lend her gruff but precious help to a certain changeling…

A sad and lovely story, and one I’m very happy to have found.


My Rating: 


Review: LOST BOY: The True Story of Captain Hook, by Christina Henry

Once we grow up we are able to acknowledge the basic cruelty that lies at the root of many (if not all) fairy tales: think about Cinderella’s stepsisters chopping off their toes to make the crystal shoe fit; or Snow White’s stepmother asking the hunter to bring her the girl’s heart – the examples are endless.  I believe that such brutal details might serve as a subliminal reminder that the world is not fair and that children should not trust blindly.  Still, there are some tales that seem to point only to lightness and fun, especially in the more widely known, and edulcorated, Disney movie version, as is the case of the story of Peter Pan: I remember watching some scenes with my nephew when he was little, and even potentially frightening situations – like being chased by a crocodile – were turned into amusing and non-threatening vignettes.

Now imagine my dismay once I encountered Ms. Henry’s version of Peter Pan, a character I’ve always been lukewarm about but never actually disliked, even though his name is connected to the syndrome shown by men who refuse to grow up and take responsibility for their lives, so that it shines a less-than-bright light on the character.  Lost Boy, on the other hand, gives us an interpretation of Peter that is as chilling as it is engrossing, and I was surprised at the intensity of the hatred I felt for him reading this novel. This is indeed the kind of story that can’t leave you unmoved…

The story is told from the point of view of Jamie, Peter’s very first companion on the island and for quite some time the only one: he, like the other boys who will later follow, was lured to Neverland with the promise of a life of endless fun and games, free from hunger or pain. In theory, the boys Peter brings over are escaping from an existence of Dickensian drudgery, but in reality it’s not always so: there is a recurring fragment of memory that haunts Jamie and that will later on showcase Peter’s duplicity with dramatic starkness.  The real reason the boys are brought to the island is the fulfillment of Peter’s narcissistic tendencies, his need to always be at the center of attention, admired, adored, idolized: it would not really be such a terrible life if he didn’t drive his companions to reckless escapades and bloody battles with the neighboring pirates…

It’s trough Jamie’s eyes that we see behind the façade of never-ending play and fun: the island is a dangerous place, inhabited by ravenous crocodiles that have nothing in common with their playful counterparts in Disney’s movie, then there are the Many-Eyed, a kind of huge arachnids whose blood is poisonous and burns like acid; or the pirates might resent the boys’ more daring escapades and retaliate with violence.  As if that were not enough, there are always injuries and illness to contend with, or the violent Battles pitching boys against each other as Peter enjoys the spectacle like a Roman emperor of old, and which has caused the death of many young people over the years: it has fallen to Jamie to bury them, as it falls to him to care for the newcomers and to see that everyone is clothed, fed, and in good health.  Yes, because Peter is extremely careless of his playmates, just like a child who unthinkingly tosses aside a toy that does not interest him any more, or is broken: as long as they provide the willing and cheering audience he craves, he’s the genial host, the enthusiastic companion, the charismatic leader; but as soon as someone stops being entertaining, Peter is quick to adopt the “out of sight, out of mind” policy, when not leaving the various island’s dangers work for him in removing the nuisance from the equation.

As the story opens, Peter has quickly tired of his new acquisition, five-year old Charlie, a child far too young to be taken away from the Other Place or to participate in the boys’ increasingly dangerous escapades, and therefore boring and useless according to Peter’s rules.  Jamie has become his guardian and protector and Charlie has developed a sort of hero worship for him that does not agree with Peter’s worldview, and what’s worse, the time and energies Jamie devotes to the newest arrival are time and energies he does not give Peter – a truly unforgivable sin.  The picture that emerges from Jamie’s point of view is indeed disturbing, with Peter appearing at best as a self-centered narcissist and at worst as a dangerous sociopath, a jealous self-declared god: as the story progresses the information we gather becomes more and more unnerving, destroying every notion we might have held until that moment about Neverland and Peter’s entourage.

On the other hand, Jamie comes across as a very sympathetic character and one that’s quite easy to love: in a group of people who have run away from dire situations and unloving families, Jamie takes on the role of a parent and, in some measure, of a leader who possesses all the qualities that Peter lacks. What’s fascinating is that as Jamie’s disaffection mounts, estranging him from his former friend, still he harbors a measure of guilt about those feelings, as if his growing consciousness of Peter’s shortcomings were a betrayal – that is, until he realizes that his loyalty was one-sided and the other boy did nothing but take and take, without giving anything back.  What happens at that point is extraordinary, because Jamie realizes his body is growing, that he’s leaving the eternal childhood in which he was frozen by the island’s magic: each growing spurt is accompanied by pain – and that’s another fascinating metaphor, indeed – brought on by the increasing awareness of Peter’s dual cruelty and carelessness, not unlike those of an escalating serial killer.

This loss of innocence, of that childish vision that prevents us from seeing the nastier side of life, is the most poignant element in Lost Boy, and even the realization that Jamie is fated to become Peter’s arch-enemy, Captain Hook, isn’t as heartbreaking as the chain of losses he must endure.  To say that he left a deep mark on my imagination would be a huge understatement indeed.


My Rating: 


Short Story Review: LOST, by Seanan Mcguire


Read the story online


Reading this shortly after my encounter with Christina Henry’s “Lost Boy”, this story resonated with me in a deeper way that it would have otherwise: it’s a tale about eternal childhood and adventures and it speaks of the need for both, and also the price that it entails.

The story is told from the point of view of Daniel, now well into adulthood and probably old age, and he recalls what happened when he was just past his fifteenth birthday and the children of the world, those younger than him – including his sister Torrey – started looking fixedly at the night sky and humming a strange, compelling song.  Shortly afterwards, in one fateful night, all those children disappeared, never to be seen again.

This is a bittersweet story – more bitter than sweet since poor Daniel is marked by the awareness that he had whatever touched his sister and all the others within his grasp, but just because of an accident of birth he could not take part in what happened. And he’s one of the few who is unable to put a different face on this kind of rapture and call it an epidemic, like the rest of the world does to cover its shared incomprehension of the event.

The theme of innocence needing to go on beyond the time when adulthood sets in and takes away our dreams, our capacity for them, seems to be one that’s very dear to the author, and here she managed to convey it in a way that I found deeply moving, even in the unavoidable cruelty toward those who remained behind.



My Rating: 


Review: THE LAST SEA GOD (The Bone War #1), by Ashley Capes

I received this ARC from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

In truth, I did not know whether the story spanning the books in the Bone Mask trilogy would move toward a sequel: at the end of the final volume, many threads had been carried to conclusion – some of them with a tragic epilogue – and the world seemed destined to find its way toward a sort of new balance after the widespread turmoil that had shaken it.  Still, other narrative paths had been left hanging, and from there this new Bone War trilogy takes its start: even though it’s a brand new narrative trail, I would not recommend starting from here, because its roots dig quite deep into what went before, and you will need that knowledge to move easily in this new territory.

Unlike the previous installments of the story, The Last Sea God follows a good number of points of view, some well-known, some new. Notch, the former soldier-turned-adventurer who played one of the central roles in the Bone Mask trilogy, does not find himself in a very good place: at the beginning, we meet him as he’s plagued by guilt for Sofia’s ultimate sacrifice, and tries to drown his sorrow in alcohol – quite a departure from the determined character we learned to know in the past.  The only way he can get out of his despondency is by launching himself into what looks like an impossible task: traveling to the Ecsoli’s land and find a way to reverse the Sacrifice required by powerful masks, so that he can assuage his remorse over having failed his duty to Sofia.  What he and his companion Alosus (a character I’ve come to care for quite a bit) will find there will be much more than he bargained for, both in the matter of acquired knowledge and in the way of what we might call foreign politics…

Flir, Notch’s long-time comrade, takes a journey back to her home of Renovar, to convey King Seto’s peace overtures after the failed invasion from a group of her own compatriots, and also to acquire some more powerful bones to replenish Anaskar’s stores, that have been almost completely depleted by the war with the Ecsoli – with the exception of old Argeon.  This path down memory lane is quite difficult for Flir, especially where her peculiar abilities are concerned, but this relatively minor discomfort is overshadowed by the discoveries she makes about her old home.  Her ambassadorial duties must soon be placed on a back burner when she finds out that there is something quite sinister going on, something that more than hints at sorcery, or worse.

Pathfinder Ain, of the desert-dwelling Medah, makes a welcome return here: after the first book, where he enjoyed one of the three main points of view, he was later afforded far less space than I would have liked, so finding him again here, and seeing him face a deadly threat to his people, more than made up for the past.   Having brokered an alliance between the Medah and Anaskari, he’s leading the extraction of more precious bones from the desert, when his village is attacked by a veritable horde of weird people, bent on stealing the bones he and his compatriots have excavated: it will fall to him, true to his Pathfinder duties, to forge a new road toward salvation and the solution of a new, terrifying mystery.

King Seto, for his part, looks like the living proof for the famous Shakespearian quote about the uneasiness of the head wearing a crown: Anaskar is still suffering from the Ecsoli invasion’s aftermath, and something nasty is brewing in the background, something that seems well beyond Seto’s ability to fully comprehend or stop.

The newcomers on the scene are Nia, of the grove dwellers, who we encountered before but too briefly to get to know her well, and Fiore, a Storm Singer in training, who despite her your age might prove pivotal toward solving the riddles that the new conspiracy based in Anaskar is laying on King Seto’s path.  Both of them provide further insights into what is happening, either in the grove or in Anaskar, where dark forces are clearly bent on subverting the attempts to return to a normal life.

There is indeed much to take in while reading The Last Sea God, and I needed all of my powers of recollection and concentration to juggle the myriad details that compose this story like a very convoluted puzzle.  The increased number of points of view did not help, either, and I must admit it felt as if the narrative focus became somewhat diluted if compared with the more contained solutions previously adopted.  The characters are literally scattered all over the world, where strange, often weird events involve them and create separate and apparently unconnected story-lines, and this time more than ever I had to “battle” with the difficulties presented by author’s narrative style, that is more discursive than descriptive, and therefore required me to pay increased attention to avoid being distracted and missing vital clues.

Of course this does not mean I did not enjoy the story, because I certainly did, but at the end of the volume I felt as if I had been presented with only a glimpse of things to come – a great number of things, to be precise – but no hint about how they all individually fit into the grand scheme of events, or where they were headed, and I confess that this left me a little frustrated, despite the certainty that in the end all will become clear. Sadly, patience is not one my virtues…  🙂

So, to end on a more upbeat note and remove that hint of frustration I mentioned, I want to spend a few words about the book’s cover, which is a departure from the previously adopted style, and shows a simple background – like fractured marble – on which the title draws all of the attention. From my point of view it’s quite eye-catching and it somehow sums up the core of the story, that of a world on the verge of breaking down because of a series of treacherous events. As they say, an image can be as powerful as words, if not more.


My Rating: 


Review: A TIME OF DREAD (Of Blood and Bone #1), by John Gwynne

I received this book from Orbit through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

I’ve spoken often of what I call “book vibes”, the strong pull that an unknown-to-me story exerts on my imagination from the first time I see its cover: I have no idea what it is that calls out to me so strongly – after all a cover is nothing but an image – but still, nine times out of ten, that siren song leads me toward a story I end up loving.  This was the case with A Time of Dread, and it’s an even more extraordinary event because this novel’s core theme is about the conflict between angelic and demonic figures, a subject I’ve always been somewhat wary about, and what’s more this story comes as a sequel to a previous series, so I feared finding myself lost in a strange land.  Well, I should not have worried on either count, because this book literally swept me off my feet and left me wanting for more – and deeply curious about the previous series, that I mean to read as soon as possible.

First things first, if you are a John Gwynne newbie like me, you should not worry about getting your bearings in this story: the beginning of the book and its leisurely pace seem tailor-made for readers who have no prior knowledge of previous events, so that characters’ recollections and dialogues can ease you into the history of this world, and what came before.  What’s even more important, from my point of view, is that the “good vs. evil” battle is not so clean cut as its main players might make you believe: if the Kadoshim, the devil-like creatures threatening to overcome the land through evil, are a clear enemy, the Ben-Elim, the “angels”, are not quite perfect, leaving plenty of room for some grey areas in their characterization and objectives.

The Land of the Faithful is enjoying a relative peace after the brutal conflicts of several decades before, when the Ben-Elim and their human and giant allies defeated the Kadoshim and their leader Asroth, now frozen in a metal-like substance in Drassil, the Ben-Elim’s main fortress. Still, an enemy who was not completely vanquished is fated to return, and the titular dread is indeed a pervasive feeling as many apparently unrelated occurrences stir trouble and lead the guardians of the land toward preparations for a new war.  Through the four main point-of-view characters, the situation unfolds under the readers’ eyes, steering them toward the momentous climax that brought as many revelations as clues for the story’s future developments.   All four points of view were equally engaging, and the skillful management of their individual threads made for an accelerating pace that often made it difficult to close the book, but even though they were all on an equal footing, I could not avoid picking favorites…

Riv is a young warrior-in-training with the White Wings, the Ben-Elim’s elite fighting force. Strong and determined to emulate her mother and older sister in military prowess, she tries too hard and ends up failing the final test that would have marked her official enlistment in the army. Prone to bouts of blinding anger, she struggles between the need to belong to the forces of good and the powerful drive to explore some strange occurrences, a curiosity that, together with her anger-management issues, might cost her the goal she’s been pursuing all her life.  Much as I was interested in Riv’s journey, given that her inquisitive nature allowed me to discover more of this world, I struggled to warm up to her because of some personality traits that felt too much YA-oriented for my comfort, especially in her attraction to Bleda and the pointed rivalry with Jin, Bleda’s future wife.  Nevertheless, the last chapter of the novel opens a new road for her, one I can’t wait to explore and see where it leads and that might help me overcome my (albeit slight) misgivings.

Bleda is another character with some YA overtones, but I found it less difficult to like him than I did with Riv: he’s the only surviving son of a war chieftain, taken to Drassil by the Ben-Elim as a hostage to insure the continuing truce between his people and their neighbors. He is an interesting character, because he starts as a virtual prisoner of the Ben-Elim, at first resenting them for taking him away from a life of freedom in the wilderness, then learning to see their merits and finally risking his life in their defense during a surprise attack by the Kadoshim and their followers, and this causes him to doubt his loyalty to his people and to question himself and his motives.  Not unlike Riv, Bleda is driven by the need to fit in, to find his place in the world, and his being in a state of flux might bring unexpected developments I am eager to learn.

As for Sig, the giantess allied to the Ben-Elim, who rides to battle atop a huge bear, I liked her immediately, always looking forward to her p.o.v. chapters: long-lived like all her people, she has accumulated a store of wisdom that she blends with subdued humor, two traits that make her character an instantly likable one, especially in the dealings with some of her more enthusiastic human comrades in arms. Sig is like a window on the past, and through her I was able to glimpse what came before and to understand how the present alliance for good is not exactly one based on blind faith, but rather on necessity borne of the need to battle a greater evil.

The other character I most cared about is Drem, little more than a boy who grew up in the wilderness with his father, trapping animals for their skins. Drem is an interesting mix of guileless innocence and strength, of deep sense of integrity and fierceness that it’s impossible not to like him, to suffer for his losses, share in his desire for justice or more simply to feel a deep kinship with him.

While these main characters, and the secondary ones that move alongside them, are the backbone of the story, what truly drew me in was the constant, relentless buildup leading toward the breathless final part of the novel: it was like listening to a crescendo of suspenseful string music, the kind we know heralds great portents, or great tragedies.  A Time of Dread offers both, thanks to a story that is epic in scope and at the same time quite focused on individuals and their journey. If you have not yet read anything by John Gwynne, be prepared to be (happily) ambushed by this story and to be taken captive – not that I feel any need to escape, because I’m firmly on-board for the duration and can’t wait to know what will happen next.


My Rating:   


Review: BLOOD OF ASSASSINS (The Wounded Kingdom #2), by R.J. Barker

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

In 2017 I placed the first volume of this trilogy, Age of Assassins, among the best debuts of the year and also my favorite reads, so I had great expectations for this follow-up novel: let me say up front that those expectations were more than exceeded by Blood of Assassins, that is not only a worthy sequel but also an amazing story on its own.

Five years have elapsed since the end of the first book, and they have not been easy years either for the world or for assassin-in-training Girton Clubfoot: the political situation has degenerated into all-out war between the three pretenders to the throne of the Tired Lands – Aydor, the former queen’s son, ousted by young Rufra, Girton’s friend, and finally pretender Tomas.  War is never good news, but in a land still suffering from the sorcerer-enhanced conflicts of the past, that brought great devastations with them, this new war is adding a further layer of misery to an already grim situation.  Girton and his master, Merela Karn, have fared no better: to escape from the bounty hunters set on their tracks, they have been forced to abandon their trade and attach themselves to mercenary bands, where Girton’s exquisite skills as an assassins have been replaced by a more brutal approach to killing, namely the use of a war hammer.

Ambushed by a band of savages, the two barely effect an escape toward Castle Maniyadoc – theater of Girton’s previous adventures – but Merela has been poisoned and hovers on the brink of death, leaving her apprentice bereft of her balancing advice and cooler thinking.  What’s worse, Girton’s ability to wield magic – a dangerous skill in the Tired Lands, one that could sentence him to death – is growing stronger, and the scars that Merela tattooed on his skin to keep them at bay are not working as expected, so that the young man must battle daily against the impulse of unleashing such deadly power.

Reunited with his friend Rufra, now King, Girton has little time to enjoy the meeting, because he learns of a plot to kill his friend, orchestrated by a spy that must have worked its way among Rufra’s closest advisers: tasked with this apparently impossible job (Rufra does not seem to worry too much about the possibility of treason), and in constant worry about Merela’s chances for recovery, Girton faces the most difficult time of his young life, one where conflicting emotions and needs threaten to overwhelm him and make him lose everything he holds dear.

Blood of Assassins is a deeply compelling story, one where the details we previously learned about this world fall into a wider and more fascinating context: we come to understand that the central power, the one held by the remote figure of the High King, could not care less about what happens in the outskirts of the realm, where wars are fought, won and lost while the supreme ruler prefers to wallow in his court’s more or less dubious pleasures.

There is a definite sense of lawlessness in the Tired Lands, of the rule of the strongest, that makes the suffering of the peoples dwelling there all the more poignant: the Landsmen, that could be compared to a sort of official army, are more interested in rooting out sorcerers – be they real or simply imagined – and their allegiance often hangs on the whim of their current leader.  The recent turmoil has given rise to a peculiar band of outlaws, calling themselves the Nonmen, who delight in berserker attacks and in the vicious torture of their victims – and sometimes of their own members, with a sort of reckless, bloody abandon that speaks of madness, and worse.  And last but not least the priesthood, that already did not come out with shining colors in the previous book, here looks like an added complication – both moral and political – to a very dire situation.

All this comes together in a story that kept me on my toes for the whole length of the book, among unexpected twists and turns, discoveries and betrayals, and a final battle that left me literally breathless with suspense. Add to that a powerful writing that manages to remain almost lyrical even while describing bloody skirmishes or to-the-death duels, and you will understand why I found this book so enthralling.

As fascinating as all of the above is, the focal point of Blood of Assassins remains Girton: he is a very different person from the one we left at the end of Book 1, and to say that here he’s in a bad place would be a massive understatement.   The five years spent as a mercenary (and with Landsmen, no less, with all the added dangers that his potential for sorcery entails) have both hardened and unraveled him, taking him away from his training as an assassin and teaching him far too much about brute force.  His relationship with Merela has changed as well: there is a thread of resentment toward her, that remains however mostly unexplored due to the fact she’s out of the picture for most of the book, and that comes from the necessity of the scars she must carve on his body to keep the magic at bay. This necessity seems to have placed some cracks in their mutual trust and generated a deep conflict in Girton, who still feels the strong pull of his loyalty – his love – for Merela, while battling with the impulse to rebel against all she taught him.

Losing Merela’s support so early in the story proves almost catastrophic for Girton: she is not only his teacher, his surrogate mother and the only person he used to trust implicitly, even before himself, she is also the one who guides his logical process, and his moral compass, so that her absence makes itself dramatically clear in the sequence of bad decisions Girton takes while pursuing his task for Rufra.  Seeing him so unhinged is a painful experience, because if sometimes I felt like shaking some sense into him, my prevailing emotion was compassion because I could not forget the heavy amount of damage he had to go through in a relatively short life.  And what further damage might be visited on him in the course of the story: as with the previous book, we are given to understand here that we are reading an older Girton’s memoirs, and given as well a few hints of more tragedies to come.  As harrowing as that might be, I know I would not give up this opportunity, because I’m deeply invested in this character and his journey: at the end of this book I saw that the third and final volume already has a title – King of Assassins – and that GoodReads shows its cover, so I imagine my curiosity will be satisfied before long.  Still it will feel like a too-long wait….



My Rating:   


Review: DEN OF WOLVES (Blackthorn and Grim #3), by Juliet Marillier

It’s never easy to say farewell to a beloved series and its characters, and the final book in Juliet Marillier’s Blackthorn and Grim saga makes that even more difficult, because – in my opinion – it’s the best and most poignant of the three.   Granted, I’ve read some news about the possibility of continuing the series, should the author’s publisher be interested, but for now the stark reality is that there will be no more stories about these two wonderful characters, and I find that quite saddening…

Some time has elapsed after the events of Tower of Thorns, and Blackthorn and Grim have settled a little more comfortably into their new home, even though the ghosts of the past still come to haunt them both, and in this instance they are hard-pressed to keep them at bay since circumstances place the two of them apart for long stretches of time, putting their inner balance to a serious test: Grim has been hired by a neighboring landowner, Master Tóla, to build a special kind of house, and Blackthorn is entrusted with the care of Tóla’s daughter, Cara, a problematic girl which her father wants away from home while the building is in progress, so he foists her with little ceremony on Oran and Flidais’ household.

It’s clear from the beginning that there is more here than meets the eye: Cara exhibits some uncanny abilities – like communing with birds and trees – and suffers greatly the forcible removal from her home, where she is treated like someone precious, indeed, but at the same time as a dim-witted child in need of constant supervision; her inability to express herself properly with some people speaks loudly about a deeper trouble, and it does not take long for the reader to suspect that the heart of it resides in Cara’s own home, since Blackthorn’s gruff ministrations manage to easily bring the girl out of her speech impediment in no time at all.

Just as quickly it becomes evident that Master Tóla is not simply a brusque, unpleasant person, but that he harbors a few secrets: the magical house he wants built on his land, one that requires the use of every kind of available wood to exert its beneficial properties, is not the first Tóla requested.  Fifteen years prior he commissioned the work to Bardàn, a talented builder with a little fey blood in his veins, but before completing the assignment the man disappeared from the face of the earth and has returned, as if from the dead, only recently – with maimed hands and an addled mind, but still in possession of the know-how for Tóla’s project.  Enters Grim, in his capacity as skilled builder, under Bardàn’s instructions, and also as the wild man’s keeper, since Tóla makes it quite clear he does not trust the poor man, and suffers his presence only out of necessity.

As the past is revealed bit by painstaking bit, we start perceiving the complicated web of lies surrounding Tóla’s domain of Wolf Glen, while both Blackthorn and Grim work to unravel the complex tangle of deception and silence that surrounds the events of fifteen years before. As an added complication, unexpected developments concerning Mathuin of Laois, the cruel chieftain that was their jailer and tormentor, come to light re-awakening Blackthorn’s never-tamed need for vengeance and the pain from the scars on her soul.

Much as this narrative thread stands at the basis of the series, and sees its fruition in this book, Den of Wolves is very much Grim’s story in my opinion: if I loved his character before, I totally fell for him here, where the depths of his soul and the fundamental goodness of his heart come to the fore, belying once and for all the outward appearance of the lumbering simpleton that the shallow-minded use to define him.  Once Grim gets to know Bardàn, he sees a man tormented by old ghosts and deep guilt, a man who could be a mirror of his older self and one who needs a helping hand to come out of such darkness.  I was deeply touched to see how Grim goes out of his way – and against Tóla’s express orders – to connect to the remaining sane part of Bardàn’s mind and help him find himself again: in a way, Grim is also trying to compensate for the lack of Blackthorn’s presence – the two of them have been helping each other face their nightmares, and having someone else to comfort is vital to the big man’s still-delicate hold on balance.  His use of fairy stories as a means of reaching Bardàn is both a poignant choice and the way to show how Grim’s thought processes work, how he can perceive the bigger picture and its implications:

Tales from prisoners and down-trodden women and ordinary working folk. Like a lot of threads, frayed and weak, they might be woven into something big and strong and beautiful. And powerful.

Blackthorn, on the other hand, appears as her crusty old self – not that I want to complain about that, I love her exactly for that reason, because she breaks out of the usual mold for the genre’s heroines – but at the same time she has become more thoughtful, more settled: where at the beginning she was so consumed with the need for vengeance that she did not care about consequences, both for herself or others, she is now able, and willing, to consider those consequences and to adjust her needs accordingly. Where the pain of her loss made her self-centered and blind to the needs of other people, she has learned to look beyond herself and to accept self-sacrifice for the good of those she cares about.   That’s the main reason the resolution of the past injustices feels fully earned and right, even more so thanks to Grim’s encouragement and blessing given with a short sentence that summed up their past history and moved me beyond words even more than any other emotional circumstance:

“Go on, Lady. Do it for all of us.”

These three books have managed to turn me into a huge fan of Juliet Marillier, and I look forward to reading more of her works: I don’t know if they will be as engaging as Blackthorn and Grim’s volumes have been, but I know that her writing will ensnare me once more into her wonderful worlds, and I believe that will be enough.


My Rating: