Top critical review
Disappointing end to a great series.
Reviewed in the United States on June 8, 2017
I was disappointed in this installment of the Blackthorn and Grim series. While the writing was beautiful and the overarching story was intriguing, I felt like the endings of the smaller stories told within this book were very rushed and too neatly tied up.
1) One example is the story of Cara in Wolf Glen. Over the course of the book, we gradually discover that Cara is not actually the daughter of Tola, the landholder of Wolf Glen. She was stolen from Bardan, her real father, by Tola and his wife. The scene where Cara confronts Tola over this revelation was disappointing. Tola is basically interrogated in front of his entire household and a few people from the neighboring village. As a wealthy landholder with many years of experience, it seemed really odd that he didn't have more control over the situation. Where were his men-at-arms? Why did he only have farmhands to aid him in matters of security? Maybe I've just misunderstood exactly what resources a man of his stature would have, but the setting and manner of his interrogation felt off and not as dramatic as it should have been. Throughout the book, we were constantly fed hints as to how "dangerous" he seemed and how the other characters felt like he could easily resort to violence if provoked too much. However, none of that foreshadowing bears any real fruit, despite the fact that we learn he resorts to poisoning people he doesn't like.
Aside from Tola, the ending for Cara and Bardan also felt off. Bardan was labeled as an outsider for YEARS by the local community. And yet, the neighboring village takes him and Cara in just like that, with the issue of Tola being wrapped up in a pretty little bow until Prince Oran's next council arrives. Sure, it was a nice ending, but it was too neat, and didn't have the messiness of reality to it (which has always been a breath of fresh air in most of Marillier's other novels).
Ultimately, this particular story should have ended in the heartwood house. The mystery of this house is played upon quite a bit throughout the book, but at the end it's completely forgotten and cast aside. Grim and Bardan should have been able to finish building it, and the confrontation with Tola should have happened within the house. It would have been satisfying and even a little ironic for Tola to have his lies revealed and his world torn apart in the house he'd been trying to build for years in the hopes that it would give him good fortune.
2) However, the most disappointing part of this book was the way Blackthorn and Grim's story ended. I LOVED the buildup to Blackthorn and Grim finally becoming a couple. It felt realistic, and it would have made a fine ending to this book. However, while Blackthorn and Grim do finally end up together, the other parts of their tale were completely gutted and rushed. Essentially, Conmael releases Blackthorn from her 7 year agreement and magically gets her to a council that's confronting Mathuin (which she was originally supposed to have missed out on because she decided to rescue Grim in Wolf Glen instead). Seriously?
Firstly, I thought this was supposed to be a "series", not a trilogy. Maybe Marillier has some tricks up her sleeve and things have not really ended as neatly as we think, and there will (hopefully) be more books. Secondly, Blackthorn gets a 7 year agreement laid on her, and gets off that easy? If only Sorcha in the Sevenwaters trilogy was so lucky. (If you haven't read those books, read them. They are fantastic). This felt uncharacteristic of the way Marillier usually tells her stories, especially since she delves so heavily into the myths and lore. In the old tales, if the fey or other forces bound you to something for 7 years, then you were bound for 7 years. There were no shortcuts, and if you didn't meet the conditions fully, there were consequences. (Again, Sorcha would know). It just feels like Blackthorn was let off too easily.
Perhaps Marillier just felt like the story needed to end or she wanted to move on to another project. Which is unfortunate since this story had so much more potential. There are so many other adventures that Blackthorn and Grim could have had, so many other ways the conflict with Mathuin could have unfurled, and so many other characters/plots to explore more fully (like the Swan Island men). I hope she will surprise us with another book, but this one feels like it may very well be the end of the series.