Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

A review by Nalini Haynes

I’ve never read a Juliet Marillier novel before; heaps of people, even other students (who hardly seem to read), have told me that Marillier is a must-read author. Instructed thus, I embarked on the journey that is Dreamer’s Pool and I was not disappointed.

My review copy of Dreamer’s Pool is a fair-sized paperback novel. The cover image depicts a woman dressed in medieval garb with flowers in her hair. She stands amidst flowers, before a pool in a gloomy wood. If a picture paints a thousand words, this picture says ‘fantasy with romantic elements’. Many thousands of words later, I am pleased to say that this book may be judged by its cover.

The cover also says this is “A Blackthorn & Grim Novel”, so hopefully I will meet these characters again someday.

A dank jail holds criminals and one woman who considers herself innocent. She has been holding out for the midsummer council when her case may be heard, she may be vindicated and freed. It can be assumed from the chapter headings when the story is told from her perspective that she is Blackthorn.

Blackthorn has an odd relationship with the man in the cell opposite, sometimes called Grim. Imprisonment is causing mental health issues for Grim, who sees Blackthorn as the light in his darkness. Grim tries to help Blackthorn as much as he can.

Blackthorn is summoned to speak to a fey visitor, Conmael, who offers her freedom of sorts in exchange for a contract. Blackthorn accepts.

The jail roof collapses, killing a man on his way to murder Blackthorn. Grim helps Blackthorn escape then follows her. They become allies of a kind as they journey to Dalriada where Blackthorn must live in a cottage and serve the people.

Oran, Prince of Dalriada, has been incited to marry at last. Sight unseen in the flesh, his bride-to-be, Flidais, wins his heart with letters that convince Oran she is like-minded. Trouble ensues. Oran asks Blackthorn’s help. Under the terms of her contract with Conmael, Blackthorn cannot refuse a request for help. Blackthorn and Grim investigate.

Oran and Flidais’s romance is a small but key part of this fantasy story, lending more mystery and some suspense to the story that evolves around the sullen introvert Blackthorn. I wasn’t surprised by the mystery surrounding Flidais but I enjoyed this as part of the story around Blackthorn and Grim. Oran’s story develops Blackthorn and Grim as characters, affecting their relationships with the local inhabitants of the area into which they moved. To me, Oran and Flidais’s story is like the romances in many of Ellis Peters’s Cadfael mysteries: adding flavour while avoiding the ‘romance of the week’ feel.

If Dreamer’s Pool was a movie, it’d pass the Bechdel Test even though Blackthorn would prefer to talk to no-one. Women have relationships of varying sorts with one another. Men do, too. I love some of the interactions Grim has, like the relational consequences of getting into a fight with the guards at Oran’s house. As the story is told by 2 men (Oran and Grim) and 1 woman (Blackthorn), Dreamer’s Pool will appeal to men as well as women readers.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dreamer’s Pool and I look forward to more Blackthorn & Grim novels, hoping to unravel the mystery that is Conmael.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5 stars
ISBN: 9781743517024
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Pages: 432 pages
Dreamer's Pool cover