Published: October 2015 by PanMacmillan Australia
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Blackthorn and Grim #2
Genres: Historical fantasy
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015
Available: PanMacmillan Australia (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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.
As Blackthorn and Grim begin to put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest is about to become a life and death struggle—a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.
When PanMacmillan approved my request for this book on NetGalley, my shriek of joy was probably audible in the Northern Hemisphere. I adore Juliet Marillier’s work and she didn’t let me down with Tower of Thorns.
The Blackthorn and Grim series bucks against current trend of big fat fantasy trilogies; even though Dreamer’s Pool and Tower of Thorns are part of a series, they are also discrete books. Tower of Thorns uses some of the same characters as Dreamer’s Pool and advances their relationships. However, it stands on its own quite well and you don’t need to have read Dreamer’s Pool to enjoy Tower of Thorns (though I highly recommend that you do).
Part of the reason the books stand so well on their own is because they are almost as much mystery novels as fantasy. Once Blackthorn is convinced to help Lady Geiléis, she then begins to investigate the curse by exploring the scene of the crime (so to speak), interviewing the neighbours and following clues. This is not a high adventure. Instead, the story relies on the relationships between characters and the gap between their thoughts and their actions.
Speaking of which, we do get a good look at the characters’ thoughts because the book alternates between perspectives. Blackthorn and Grim share their perspectives in first person, while we get to see more of Geiléis’ side of things in third person. The third person perspective is a bit different to Dreamer’s Pool. Prince Oran was the character asking for help in that book and we got to see his side of things in first person, just as with Blackthorn and Grim. However, Geiléis and Oran are very different characters; the third person approach suits Geiléis, as someone rather aloof and prone to keeping secrets.
It is worth noting that the protagonists in this series are older than those in many of Marillier’s other series. While she has never shied away from including dark material in her YA series (Shadowfell springs to mind), the characters in Blackthorn and Grim are adults bearing scars of many kinds. They have had and lost children, suffer from PTSD and battle against domestic violence. Their relationships are more complex. One of the things I have adored most about the series is the portrayal of a strong, yet platonic relationship between Blackthorn and Grim. This is something that is entirely too rare, and even within the novel it often gets misinterpreted by outsiders. Throughout the story, it provides a fantastic counterpoint to several less healthy relationships.
Overall, I found Tower of Thorns a nuanced and engaging read. Highly recommended for those bored with standard fantasy and for lovers of fairytales.