Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Juliet Marillier is a veteran fantasy story-teller. I’ve not come across her books before now, but she boasts an impressive line-up under the Pan Macmillan label, and while I know nothing about her other books, I can say that A Dance with Fate, second volume of the Warrior Bards series, is a carefully crafted and interesting book. I enjoyed it immensely. Book One, The Harp of Kings, is equally well-written.
One aspect of Marillier’s writing appeals to me more than some other attributes that she handles well. I’m referring to the clear-cut freshness of the text. She has a gift of finding the right word and the right phrase, and the correct construction to sweep the reader along. Her gift is such that she knows when an abrupt, snappy sentence is the best option and, correspondingly, when a sentence is best fitted to roll along like a slow flowing river current. Her fairy queen is regal or loving depending on the circumstance, and we know this through the power of language. That she is cranky with her husband on a particular occasion is never in doubt, that she loves him is equally clear, and that he is totally clueless about an explanation for her crotchetiness is open for all to see. Important for our purpose in reviewing this book is the author’s skillful projection of the fear, dismay and excitement experienced by the queen and the innocence of husband, and warrior, Brocc.
Be that as it may, this book is the story of Liobhan and Dau. In Book One Liobhan, her brother Brocc and their friend Dau, having been trained as warriors on Swan Island, succeed in a dangerous mission. Brocc chooses to remain with the fairies. In Book Two Dau is rendered blind in a terrible accident and Liobhan accepts the position of bond servant to Dau’s evil family. The constant interaction between a strong woman, a blind man who feels sorry for himself, an evil, nasty older brother who rules in place of an aged chieftain, sets a challenge for any writer. It is like having a number of balls in the air, each ball moving according to its own quixotic dynamic. Juliet Marillier never falters, her deft pen presenting Liobhan as a determined young woman with a developed sense of right and wrong with the courage to meet villainy head-on.
Marillier presents Dau as a disappointment for much of the first part of the book. The reader understands that his loss of vision must have been devastating. His resultant depression is understandable. However, I felt that Marillier left the gloom hang about for too long. Dau grows a backbone in due course and his altered outlook, combined with the warrior-like support of Liobhan, supplies the reason why the writing becomes dynamic. As different characters take the stage, the playwright alters their delivery to suit their mood and circumstance.
Where the changing aspects of the story being told are set often influences the reader’s perceptions. Action in a village is likely to be perceived differently than the same action in a large city. Marillier’s settings weigh in on the side of non-intrusiveness. As her readers absorb the events happening before them, they pay no mind to changes in scenery. They are comfortable with where their minds happen to be and no particular setting intrudes on the consciousness. This is not a fault but rather, an example of the author’s skill in maintaining sharp focus on the action.
Villainy resides in Seanan, Dau’s eldest brother. This sociopathic individual has no redeeming features. He is a cruel and heartless liar – and I am convinced that Juliet Marillier loved every minute of the time she took to create him. When the story reaches its climax, Marillier re-introduces Brocc, Liobhan’s brother, the resident of Fairyland. Thus, Book One and Book Two are integrated into a seamless tale.
One could continue to write about this book. It is interesting and grasping. Once held, it is difficult to pull away. The expected ending is satisfying, yet there is also regret that a Book Three has not been promised. We need more of this author.
By Juliet Marillier
$32.99; 420 pp