Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
Read: 1/7/10-1/27/10 (but only in about three sittings -- around 50 pages one day, the rest of it a few weeks later)
LibraryThing tags, if I had put this on LibraryThing: Fantasy, Romance, Fairy Tale, Historical Fiction, Ireland, Medieval, Family, Fear... and a couple other tags I won't include this time just in case it'd spoil things for a couple of you.
Perhaps the best way to introduce this book is with the author's own words (I will link to it only with the warning that the page includes spoilers, but I don't think the part I've copied here really spoils anything, unless you just don't want to know what a book is about at all before you read it, in which case, why are you here?):
"Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favourite fairy tales, and readers will recognise the bones of it in Heart’s Blood: a mysterious house with an alienated, disfigured master, a priceless plant growing in a forbidden garden, magic mirrors and unusual household retainers. The story of my novel has the same general shape as that of Beauty and the Beast.
However, this is far from a fairy tale retelling. It’s not even a close reinterpretation of the traditional tale. Heart’s Blood is a love story, a... [Marcy just now realized one of the descriptions she uses could be a big spoiler to the right kind of brain and cut it] ...a family saga, a story about people overcoming their difficulties, and a little slice of Irish history, as well as a homage to a favourite fairy tale."
Aside from the magic mirrors and one other spoiler aspect, there isn't a great deal of the fantastic in this book, especially when one has "Beauty and the Beast" in mind while reading it. It had a gothic feel to me (although I'm not widely read in gothic literature), even more so than some of the traditional retellings, which seems a little odd now that I think of it. I suppose when there's already a beast in an isolated castle you don't want to make the tale too dark, or the happy ending begins to feel implausible. And I suppose it made particular sense for Heart's Blood, because one of the main themes concerns facing your fears, so a dark, frightening mood lends itself to the theme.
And now you're going to think it's horror or something. Not so much. It's fantasy, romance, and historical fiction; in that order, I think. Maybe more romance than fantasy, but not enough that you would ever want to shelve it there. Heavens, no. For starters, fantasy readers don't like going into the romance section, whereas the reverse is not true. Romance is one of those things... any genre can have a pretty huge dose of it without necessarily offending its readership or moving it in the bookstore. Anywho.
As for the historical fiction, it's set in western Ireland, Connacht, in the twelfth century. Dang it, I started a new paragraph, but that's really all I have to say about that. Huh. I mean, I could say more about the period, but I don't really need to for my purposes, and I'd risk spoilers. So meh. You can read more about it (on the author's page, or elsewhere) after you finish the book.
I didn't like it quite as much as some of her other books, but that isn't saying much, as Daughter of the Forest and Wildwood Dancing are among my favorites. I'm not quite sure why I didn't like it as much. It was certainly well written and enjoyable. It just didn't have that extra something those two did, to flabbergast and amaze me. Maybe the themes and characters didn't speak to me as much? And yet, I did like and relate to them; the hero not as much as other characters, perhaps, maybe that's it. Maybe I stayed too busy thinking about the book instead of living it. I'm really not sure. It was very good. I wouldn't be particularly surprised if other readers fell in love with it.