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on November 7, 2009
I'm a big fan of Juliet Marillier; counting this one I've now read eight of her books. Quality-wise, I'd say Heart's Blood is nearly on par with the Sevenwaters books (generally regarded as her best), although it's certainly different.

The story is part fairy-tale-retelling, with some obvious "Beauty and the Beast" parallels--although it has little in common with the Disney movie; on the most basic level, the male lead isn't giant and furry, and there are no talking candelabra--and I've seen the author call it part ghost story as well. I hesitate to agree: I don't do horror at all, and still loved this book. There are a lot of undead characters wandering around, but it's still squarely in the realm of fantasy rather than horror. This book also has a stronger mystery component than I've seen from this author before; most of the "secrets" revealed early on are quite obvious, but some actual surprises are held back until the end. And of course there's the romance element--to my mind, Marillier can't go wrong writing romance, so that was good as always.

Heart's Blood is set in 12th century Ireland, and I got more of a feel for the actual, historical place than I have in previous books from this author; while a good portion of the action of the book takes place in the uncanny fortress of Whistling Tor, we also get to see some of the regular, outside world through the eyes of a middle-class girl. The characters are in the same mold as Marillier's characters usually are: strong, independent (perhaps anachronistically so, but I'm not complaining) heroine; hero who's her dream man but needs her help working through personal issues.... but there are plot-related reasons for all of this, so it didn't feel to me like a mere recycling of a formula. There's a crowd of interesting secondary characters and a couple of strong subplots.

Speaking of the plot, it felt more intense than many of the other books I've read from this author. (Helps to have a mysterious, malevolent force lurking about I suppose...) Still, readers should know that while the beginning is interesting and the last 150 pages kept me up far later than I'd planned, it does sag in the middle, where the characters don't do much, the heroine gives a lot of speeches on the importance of hope and people exchange many wordy declarations of devotion, loyalty, etc. So my advice is... don't give up hope! The plot regains its pace and more than makes up for the lag. And the last 50-100 pages are pretty spectacular, with several climactic moments.

Overall, let's just say I'm no longer miffed about Marillier putting off the next Sevenwaters book to write this one. I'm glad to have added it to my collection and would recommend to anyone who likes a good, dark historical-fantasy-romance.
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on April 23, 2010
As soon as I heard that Juliet Marillier had written her own version of Beauty and the Beast I knew I had to read it. I admit I've had this one checked out from the library for quite awhile waiting for the right mood before I began. I think Marillier has a very unique way of writing; she is able to create a lot of atmosphere in her novels. She does go into a lot of detail and spends a lot of time on world building and character development. I think that is why I have to be in the right mood before reading one of her books.

While the book certainly reminded me of Beauty and the Beast, it also reminded me a lot of Jane Eyre. There are a lot of similarities to both stories, yet Marillier truly created a unique story that I think stood on its own. While the plot was somewhat similar to Jane Eyre, Marillier really creates her own magic and unusual characters. Caitrin was a unique heroine. I liked her, for the most part. I was of course sad by the physical abuse she suffered by her aunt and cousin, but she found the courage within herself to leave and find a better life. At times though, she seemed almost too hopeful, when something went wrong she would feel bad, but then quickly be hopeful and positive again. Which I guess isn't a bad thing; at times I would have liked a little more anger or something. Anyway, as for Anluan. I did like him, I understand why he was negative and hard on himself. I liked to see the growth that he went through and the changes he made. To be honest though, I didn't feel that much chemistry between the two. At times it felt more like good friends then romance. It seemed like the two were falling in love, but neither really showed it to the other. But, in the end I was happy with how everything turned out and felt they were right for each other. I admit I did a little self editing where his description was involved (I mean bright red hair and snow white skin...yikes!).

Overall, I enjoyed the story. I wouldn't say it was my favorite Marillier book, but I still enjoyed it.

Content Warning: Caitrin has suffered emotional and physical abuse from her aunt and cousin and there is sexual content.

[...]
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on November 8, 2009
I love Juliet Marillier and when I read the the excerpt for 'Heart's Blood', I couldn't wait to read it! It is rare for me to write a review, but I feel a need to write one and will try to do the book justice.

If you've read the excerpt (or if you haven't - you should!), the reader gets a sense of the atmosphere of the book. Even though it is based in Ireland (like the Sevenwaters books) there is an air of mystery while reading. Right from the start the heroine, Caitrin, encounters two men while walking to the nearest village. But before she enters the village, the greeting is not welcoming and notices the men are no longer with her. She is hesitantly allowed in and while staying at the inn, they tell her tales of Whistling Tor: the whispering voices, the massive dog, and the chieftain who is under a curse and no one from the village stays at his keep for long because of fear. But Caitrin cares not for these tales, for she is running away from something more realistic and frightening that ghost stories. She has ran away from home and is need to find a safe place to stay and employment - Caitrin is a craftswoman, a scribe, taught by her father. She overhears the next morning that the chieftain is looking for a scribe and she grabs her chance. They are surprised she would want to work they and warn against it. Through her eyes we see her introduction to Whistling Tor, its inhabitants and its mystery.

Juliet Marillier is a master of creating (or recreating) world's that one can practically smell the dusty library, damp walls, and homey kitchen. I was constantly wondering about the mystery behind the curse and how it would be broken. If you are used to the extensive lore and history from the Sevenwaters books, you will find 'Heart's Blood' lighter. Though that does not mean that one is not swept in. And also, lighter does not mean light on subject matter for it does talk of dark moments. She also has a talent for creating characters that you grow to love and don't want to see go. I loved the characters and didn't want the book to finish (yet also wanted it to know how it would all be resolved!).

That is not to say the book is without fault. It did take some getting used to the strangeness in the beginning. I was actually annoyed with the mirrors at times, but got used to the strangeness. Also, just as one reviewer stated, there are a few wordy speeches of hope and love, and a few scenes lagged. I do wish there had been more interaction and dialogue between the two protagonists, as well as more scenes between all those of Whistling Tor. Some of the mysteries were not surprising, but it was still enjoyable reading the revelations. The ending seemed kind of rushed,though I will admit I was surprised by one aspect of the ending.

'Heart's Blood' was number one on my "Upcoming Books" list and I was definitely Not disappointed! It reminded me of 'Daughter of the Forest' in being innovativeness, without depressing me in the heroines trails. I can read it over and over again and feel what I love to read in a book. It is a story of overcoming fears, discovering oneself, devotion, loyalty, and above all - love.
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on December 5, 2009
First of all, I'm a huge fan of Juliet Marillier, but I must confess that I was a bit underwhelmed by "Heart's Blood." All of the elements that caused me to fall in love with her work are there: lots of period detail, interesting settings, a romance that has to overcome the obstacles; still, somehow it fell flat. Maybe it's because it had more of a feel of a gothic romance than her traditional Irish fairy tales, or maybe it's because I had the cause of all the malevolent eerieness and unexplained deaths figured out within 10 pages of the introduction of the character responsible. Somehow, I didn't connect with Caitrin and Anluan like I have her other characters. I expect to have to read with a box of Kleenex next to me, but I was left feeling a bit like I didn't care whether the hero and heroine got together or not. What I enjoyed most was the most unusual cast of supporting (ghostly) characters who seemed far more lively and real than Caitrin and Anluan. Whereas I wanted to read more about some of her other heros/heroines (Faolan from "The Well of Shades" is my favorite character of hers hands down, and I mourned that book when it was over), these two made no real impact on me.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. Actually, I read it in 2 sittings, and stayed up late both nights to finish it! After all, if you're a fan, Juliet Marillier at less than her best is better than none at all. But if you're new to JM's fiction, I suggest reading in the order they were published: starting with the Sevenwaters books. Once you're in love with her particular brand of storytelling, you'd probably read her grocery list and be glad for the opportunity, but "Heart's Blood" is not the ideal introduction to this very talented author.
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on March 6, 2012
I bought this book after reading the first few pages in B&N. Picked it up mainly because Marillier's Sevenwaters Trilogy was so good. I was immediately drawn in by the strangeness of the setting and the ghost stories in this book and was sure there was something big behind all of this. But after sitting down with the book and reading a quarter of it, I was hit by the cliche lines, shallow protagonist characters, and things that just didn't fit.

For instance, the main character, Caitrin, is running from a traumatic past of abuse. Yet, in her conversations with the other characters, she lets this information slip just a bit too easily and far too early on in the story for someone who is supposedly traumatized by it. Not to mention her reactions to each situation she's placed in (save for when she's being yelled at or threatened by a male character) just doesn't spell "trauma victim" at ALL. One minute she's a REALLY normal spunky girl and the next a shivering weak damsel in distress. SERIOUSLY bipolar (giving me whiplash). Also, she's just like the nosy you're-just-asking-for-trouble female protagonist in cheap generic romance novels.

Another issue I have with the book is the cliche amateur writing style. Albeit, it's still salvageable in the way that you can tell it's Marillier's writing style coming through at some points - especially when Caitrin is reading from the scrolls and parchment, very poetic and mystical. But the plot is mostly explained through the character dialogue, which gives off the air of "my readers are stupid so I have to spell everything out for them." What ever happened to creating suspense, giving hints, gradually building, letting the story speak for itself, and letting the readers figure it out for themselves?

I give this book two stars mainly because the idea has promise and the good writing style is still there (although for some reason replaced by amateur writing style in most places). But other than that, it was too obvious and definitely not up to par with her Sevenwaters Trilogy.
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on May 8, 2013
This book only confirms Juliet Marillieron my all-time favorite author list.

There is just something about her writing, something about her characters, something about her love... Her writing is so beautiful and wondrous, I don't even really mind how utterly predictable and at times a little bit corny it can be. With anyone else I'm rolling my eyes or tossing the book into the "maybe... not" pile but with Marillier I'm bawling at the corniest lines.

This book was definitely more of a romance than the others of hers I've read, (Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, Wildwood Dancing) but still has that old fairy (fey) tale feel.

It's a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, and as always Marillier fearlessly faces complicated relationships (not to mention abuse and neglect) along other icky situations with a refreshingly not overly-dramatized view. At the same time, when I compare Marillier to another author I really enjoy: Tamora Pierce an author who takes a rather bleak view on humanity in her fantasy realms, there's a certain optimism in Marillier's view of the human spirit. All of her villains are scarily relatable, which perhaps is part of the secret to her genius.

So, yeah, it's fantastic. I think Daughter of the Forest still takes the proverbial cake (so far) this year as the best book I've read, but this one was just as addicting.
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on January 2, 2010
When I first started reading Heart's Blood I adored it. I wasn't able to tear myself away from the book until somewhere around halfway through, where the writing style started to seem more rushed and just not as interesting to me. Even from the beginning, the book was pretty predictable but after the middle I started to feel more like "just get on with it" rather than remaining really into the story. I still kept reading, hoping that it was just a little dry spell and would pick back up. It never did. Around 3/4 through the book I was ready to put it down for something else and had to push myself a little to finish it (I hate leaving a book unfinished and it started out so well!). After I finished it I couldn't help but feel disappointed. The author had such amazing potential but didn't carry it through the whole book. Part of me wants to say it was an alright read and another part feels like I wasted a couple afternoons and some money. The book could have been easily 5 stars if it kept going as strong as it started out.

(SPOILER!: One of my biggest disappointments with the book was how Caitrin claimed that she loved Anluan so much, despite everything, yet all of a sudden it seemed like all the love she had and all the sacrifices she was willing to make meant nothing if she couldn't produce a child with him (which was pretty surprising after all the horrors she was willing to deal with). It was never a thought that even seemed to cross her mind until all of a sudden it meant EVERYTHING to her. It felt very much like this piece of the plot line was being jammed into the book where it didn't belong (almost as if it were a late thought), yet the author decided to try and run with it up until the very end. I'm still not sure if this book was a "love conquers all" theme or "babies fix everything".)
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VINE VOICEon December 8, 2009
Heart's Blood is a gripping tale which captivated my attention from page 1. There is so much about this novel that will please any reader. This enchanting tale is full of magic, romance, and mystery. Based on the legends of Beauty and the Beast, the tale follows Caitrin, a female scribe, as she attempts to find her place in the world away from all the sorrow and demons from her past. And what she stumbles into is something purely out of a fairy tale.

To say that I loved this novel is probably an understatement. It had everything that I was looking for, and more. Marillier has this way about her writing that just absorbs the reader into the tale. The world that she has created is magnificently described. I felt like I knew every rock and trail that Caitrin had followed. In addition, the characters are so 3 dimensional and complex that you cannot help but to care about these people and what happens to them. I really felt like these people were my friends too. But what I think I loved the most was the pacing of the novel. Marillier took her time to piece every bit of this enchanting novel together. The reader is not rushed, nor bored, due to the way the novel unfolds. The reader gets time to really absorb and reflex on all the complexities that Marillier has provided.

All in all, Heart's Blood is a heartwarming tale that highlights the enduring and healing powers of love. While this is my first Marillier read, but I can guarantee you that it will not be my last. I am anxiously awaiting more of this series, and cannot wait to see what Marillier has in store for her readers next.
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on March 19, 2015
HEARTS BLOOD by Juliet Marillier is her retelling of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but she makes this story so much her own, I actually didn’t recognize the original tale, only learning that it was based on the well-known fairy story after I’d finished reading it and was perusing the Amazon reviews.

Deftly downplaying Beauty’s beauty and the Beast’s ugliness, Marillier turns this tale into one about the power of hope to overcome sorrow. Although there are some fantasy elements, this story is firmly grounded in history, in the Norman conquest of Ireland either under Henry I (1100-1135) or his grandson Henry II (1154-1189).

IMHO HEARTS BLOOD is a wonderfully told tale, on a par with the SEVENWATERS sagas. Five stars.
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on April 18, 2011
Plot/Story: The fairy tale retelling was unique--it's definitely not something that you'll go into thinking "oh yeah, obviously this is a b&b retelling!" It's a great take on a classic tale, and the addition of the celtic history really kept me interested all the way through, wondering how everything will be resolved. I will say that the mystery aspect wasn't much of a mystery to me, as I put most of it together pretty early on. But I'm one of those people who reads books for the journey and not necessarily for the ending.

The world of Heart's Blood is inspired by history, fantasy, and fairy tale, and Whistling Tor is beautiful in its detail. The ghosts are creepy and tragic figures, as is their lord. The writing is, as always with Marillier, superb, and the simple truths you can derive from this piece of fiction are sweet and profound. Here's one of my favorite quotes--

"it came to me that this had not, in fact, been like the vision in the mirror...That had been a fantasy, an embodiment of what could not be. This had been real: real in its flaws and uncertainties, real in its small triumphs, real in its compromises and understanding" (kindle edition, location 5877).

What an interesting metafictional take...in essence, things are not perfect like you read in fairy tales. But, seen in a certain light, they can be better. This is a great message for a world obsessed with perfection.

Characters/Romance: The initial attraction could have been more defined, but the romance was very sweet. I would have liked a little more conversation between Anulin and Caitrin, but I enjoyed what was there. I loved the way Marillier chose to depict deformity of the "beast"...more of an inner deformity than an outer one, and the fact that he had a physical disability---genius! The treatment of the disabled in a historical/medieval setting was quite interesting.

One criticism: A few years ago I became obsessed with Juliet Marillier's books and read every single one that I could get my hands on. So while I really like her books, and I've read a fair few of them, I've noticed a prominent writing pattern. Among other things, her protagonists suffer significant loss, often abuse as well, and battle with depression. I think these subjects are very deserving of our time and Marillier's thematic attention; however, it does make her books a little (excuse the term) depressing.

It would help if the denouement were drawn out a little more and I was able to read a little more about the protagonists' happy endings, but as it stands, Mariller's denouements tend to be summarical and brief, so although the ending may be "happy," I'm still left thinking of all the sadness.

So I would love to see Ms Marillier write a story in which neither the male nor the female hero suffer from depression or loss. I'd love to see her write about a couple who reconcile their differences in the middle of the book and then show a sucessful, happy relationship. Maybe that's just not the kind of book that Ms Marillier wants to write, but I think she's one of the best fantasy romance authors out there today, and I know she is quite capable of it.

That being said, I'd still give this book five stars. It was absolutely beautiful.

Be advised: While I loved the book, I would not recommend it to everyone. It contained many adult themes, discussions, and scenes, including: bloody torture of an old woman and a puppy, a significant amount sex/sexual content, depression, suicide, discussion of a man's impotence, physical and emotional abuse, and several gruesome murders. These aren't particularly pornographic, gory, or gratutious, but the extent of it makes Heart's Blood not something I'd want read by my teenage daughter (if I had one).

Recommendations: There are a few comparable dark fairy tale retellings that might be a little more appropriate for teens. I especially loved A Curse Dark As Gold and Cinders. For a completely different (though no less beautiful and unique) take on "Beauty and the Beast," I would recommend Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast (a classic that's appropriate for all ages).
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