Thursday, 7 August 2014

'Heart's Blood' by Juliet Marillier (2009)

Synopsis: Heart's Blood is based on the Beauty and the Beast fairytale and is set in medieval Ireland. A beautiful 18 year old girl called Caitrin finds herself in a isolated, mist-shrouded village called Whistling Tor after fleeing from her abusive relatives. Caitrin quickly discovers that Whistling Tor is a very unusual place. The village innkeeper and his wife inform her that there are evil "presences" in the surrounding woods and that there is a terrible curse on their chieftain. Their chieftain Anluan is a crippled recluse who lives in an imposing, mysterious fortress on the top of a hill. All of the villagers hold Anluan in contempt because they don't feel he's doing enough to protect them from the threat of the invading Normans. Caitrin needs money and a place where she can be sure that her relatives won't find her so when she hears that Anluan is in need of a scribe she quickly offers herself for the position. Caitrin's eccentric father saw no reason not to educate his daughter so he taught her to read and write in both Latin and Irish. As Caitrin gets to know Anluan she realises that there's much more to this man than there first seems. As the weeks pass, she begins to fall in love with him and becomes determined to break the curse and set him free.

Heart's Blood is the third Beauty and the Beast retelling that I've read and is the loosest take on the story that I've yet come across. Whereas the two Robin McKinley books that I've read followed the original fairytale fairly closely, this particular book only keeps in the story's key token elements. I found out about Heart's Blood on an online list of recommended fairytale retellings and I thought it sounded really interesting. Beauty and the Beast is my favourite fairytale and, as I'm going on a short break to Ireland at the end of this month, I was very much in the mood for a story with an Irish setting. The reviews for this book were really positive too. But mine won't be. Heart's Blood does start off extremely promisingly, the overall premise of the story is really good, and there are some spooky and atmospheric descriptions - but I still found it rather boring and predictable. The pacing often drags and I skim-read it towards the end. Caitrin is clearly supposed to be an intelligent and observant heroine but it's screamingly obvious who the villain behind the curse is from the moment the character shows up! Caitrin just seemed incredibly dense for not being able to work it out and it robbed the book of any suspense. I couldn't bring myself to care about Caitrin and Anluan's characters and their romance because they didn't even talk to each other all that much and I felt no chemistry between them. And finally the big themes of this book are HOPE and BELIEVING IN YOURSELF. Obviously these are good messages but they were laid on very thick and it got tiresome. I feel that this book could have been brilliant in the hands of a different author but ultimately I found it very disappointing.

Rating: 2/5

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