Dreamer’s Pool

Blackthorn is a healer. A bitter and grim one. Grim is also grim. He’s a big, burly, quiet guy who tags along Blackthorn like a masterless dog. Blackthorn doesn’t like people, and Grim doesn’t think he’s good enough for her, but over time they get attached to each other, in their own somewhat clumsy and cranky ways.

The story begins with both of them in a hellhole of a prison, possibly without cause. Blackthorn especially has pretty much given up thought of anything but revenge. A faery helps her escape, in return for which she has to promise to help others and give up revenge. Gradually she’s dragged back to society and towards a possibly slightly brighter future, though she’s fighting it all the way.

Both characters are very easy to feel for. Blackthorn is asocial, opinionated, and cranky, but also strong and smart and (though she wouldn’t agree) helpful and kind. I found myself both pitying and admiring her. Likewise with Grim, who never stops believing in her and supporting her,

The book is told from the points of view of three characters – Blackthorn, Grim, and prince Oran. Each has their own voice, and I loved hearing their voices.

In fact I loved the whole book. I loved the characters, the tone, the subtle mystery, the world. I loved the lack of cliches and worn ideas: there is no romance between the main couple, no quest, no prophesy, no magic artefacts, and in fact almost no magic.

The book is more of a medieval mystery than a fantasy story. The faery rescuer does a tiny bit of magic. And like a certain faery in Sarah J Maas’s A Crown of Thorn and Roses, the faery and the human make a deal, but the deal in this book is both more mysterious and more sensible. The faery’s motivations are unclear, the way they often are in fairy tales, but the terms of the deal are coherent and make sense.

Tower of Thorns

Same people, new mystery to solve. Grim and his backstory get more space this time compared to Blackthorn, and he goes from sidekick to equal partner.

I loved parts of this book and was deeply disappointed in others. The characters and their complicated, intense relationship are as strong as in book one, and I loved getting to know them better. But the mystery itself is really weakly plotted, and the plot seemed to just drag on forever.

There is a curse for B & G to figure out and lift. Problem one: the curse has no internal logic, and this kind of sloppiness just infuriates me. The curse is just random pieces put together only to make it harder to bear and harder to lift.

Problem two: the curse is only a mystery because a certain character keeps handing out information one tidbit at a time. The mystery doesn’t get solved by cleverness but by drip-feeding us information. Blackthorn doesn’t actually do anything but hang around and wait for clues to be handed to her. For a supposedly clever person she is acting surprisingly dull here.

There is a lot of waiting in this book, and mostly for no particular reason. Giving one character a super important piece of information, but then (i) not sharing that info with the reader and (ii) dragging out for page after page the race of “will he get it to her on time?” is just pathetic plotting. All it does is make the book feel slow. Likewise Blackthorn struggles with a difficult decision throughout the entire book without making any real progress, and just keeps harping on about it forever.

Also, boo and double boo for turning the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim into a romantic one.

Den of Wolves

Same people, yet another tangle to solve. This third book is closer in feeling and quality to the first one, and while it doesn’t quite compare, it’s a decent ending for this trilogy.

Both characters have grown and keep growing, and so does their relationship. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s turning into a romance, and mostly it’s well handled.

Other parts of the plot get such sloppy treatment that I wonder what the author and the editor were doing. To take one example, at the core of this story is the concept of a “heartwood house”. This is a house built using all the different kinds of trees in a wood, and in a very particular way – and when it is done, it will bring good fortune to whoever lives in the house. A powerful man here makes another one build a heartwood house for him, and uses and abuses the builder in a whole mess of ways. When the house is finished, the builder reveals that the house won’t actually bring the lord the good fortune he was hoping for, because of reasons. There is a perfect opportunity to reveal this in the heartwood house itself, and a perfect opportunity to actually make the builder get the house (because he would be able to finish it properly) – and instead the house is pretty much just dropped out of the story. What was the point of building it, then?