Reviewed by Mandi
Dreamer’s Pool is the start of a new fantasy series and it captivated me. With an amazing and complex heroine, and rich supporting characters, it’s a little dark, a little twisted, and a lot of fun.
Blurb: In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.
Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.
With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.
The book starts with our heroine, Blackthorn wrongfully imprisoned for a year. Mathuin, the man who imprisoned her, is an evil man but a man with much power – using and raping women and doing something unthinkable to Blackthorn’s loved ones. Blackthorn has vowed to get revenge but then she gets word she is to die before she even makes it to court to hear her case. But Blackthorn’s life isn’t over. Mysteriously one night, a fey named Conmael appears. He tells Blackthorn that the Prince of Dalriada is about to get married, and she is needed as a healer in Dalriada. If she works for seven years, never denying someone who needs care, she will then be free. If she breaks this promise, Conmael can send Blackthorn right back to prison (with his tricky fey magic). Side note: Conmael doesn’t have a ton of page time in this book, but boy does he make an impact.
Blackthorn’s only goal in life is to get revenge, but she needs to be alive to do that, and if she stays in prison, she is going to die. So she very grudgingly accepts this fey’s offer, and along with a prison mate of hers named Grim, she sets off to Dalriada to be a healer. Grim is a huge, brute of a man who speaks more with his actions, than words. He never sleeps, muttering to himself over and over in prison. He must have very dark secrets in his past – we have yet to discover that. For whatever reason, he becomes extremely loyal and protective of Blackthorn (much to her dismay – she prefers solitude) and stays with her in her journey. We get his point of view in this book and I think we have a lot left to learn about him. I adored him. Prone to violent outbursts, great with working with his hands, on the outside he appears almost a bit stupid, but he is very complex and becomes a great ally and friend to Blackthorn.
Blackthorn and Grim (as the series is called) are the main characters, but Prince Oran has a huge part in this book. Oran is set to be married to a woman he has never met, but he has exchanged letters with Flidais and is in love with her. A gentle soul, Oran is very nervous to get married, and would rather read poetry and walk in the woods – but is happy that his future bride seems to share this desire. Or so he thinks. When Flidias arrives, just after losing her maid in a drowning accident while bathing in Dreamer’s Pool close to Oran’s estate, Flidais is all out of sorts. Mean spirited, snappish and just not what Oran was expecting. He must figure out who the real Flidias is, and as Blackthorn and Grim take up residence in Dalriada, Oran starts to rely on them to help him in the strange case.
I fell in love with Blackthorn and all her prickly ways. She is not necessarily a likable person, but she is likable to the reader. She has a good reason for wanting revenge, and that motivates her entire life. She does not care one fig about anything but revenge. unfortunately, she has to devote her life to healing others for the next seven years. This gets more than one sigh and eye roll out of her. She takes healing people seriously and is very intelligent in that field, but she has other stuff to do! The people of Dalriada come to rely on her heavily and she does much good, even if she stomps her feet and gets a little pissy sometimes. Grim takes the brunt of it, but this very special bond slowly develops between them too. If found their friendship very well done. It has a rocky start and even a rocky middle, but these two suffered together so much in prison, they formed a bond that is hard to ignore.
Prince Oran is well written as well. Wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a good king one day, he is a tightly wound, worrisome prince. Hesitant to get married, and then thinking he found the perfect woman, in person she is not what he expected at all. At first fumbling around and basically hiding his head in the sand, he grows into himself in this book. He finds strength and power of being a prince and starts to stand up for himself and make firm decisions, all while keeping the respect of his people. I enjoyed his character and everything that happens with his future wife quite a bit.
This is not a fast-paced fantasy book. This author takes her time to tell her tale. Some will probably say it has slow parts, but I never once felt that. This isn’t heavily fantasy, but there are a lot of details and conversations that slow the book down. There is a very light romance, but I’d say go into this one for the amazing characters and twisty plot, than romance. The main mystery is solved in this book, but Blackthorn and Grim have a lot more story to tell. I’m very much looking forward to book two.