Juliet Marillier – "The Dark Mirror"

5 Mar

GENRE: Fantasy / History
PUBLISHED: Tor, 2006

WHY THIS NOVEL? I liked her Sevenwaters trilogy very much so…

The back blurb:
“When Bridei is sent by his parents to live with the druid Broichan, he knows only that he has left his home and family to learn to be a warrior and scholar, strategist and sage. He is not aware that in the divided and war-torn kingdom of Fortriu a secret council of elders, including Broichan, have long been making plans for the future of their homeland, with Bridei himself central to their strategy.
As the only child in Broichan’s remote household, Bridei learns early to deal with fear and loneliness. When he awakes one freezing midwinter’s night to find a baby girl on the doorstep, he thanks the gods for their precious gift of a companion and takes her in, not knowing that the girl’s arrival will have unforeseeable consequences.
As the foundling Tuala grows from fey child to beguiling young woman, and Bridei moves ever closer to his grand destiny, Broichan anticipates a perilous complication to his long-laid plans. And powerful forces both close to home and in other lands are ranged against the secret council – enemies who will employ whatever means they can to stop the druid from bringing his plan to fruition, even if they must endanger Bridei’s life.”

Juliet Marillier’s The Dark Mirror is loosely based on Pictish history. It tells the in Fantasy often seen “kid-turned-king” story, so there are no real surprises along the way. The reader follows Bridei as he grows up and pursues his education. There are interesting and imaginative parts, but since Bridei goes along with whatever he’s told to do, there’s not much conflict. He’s your ordinary nice guy, trying to do good and be good. And as such, rather pale or uninteresting.

After the rather slow start, the story gained some speed. For me, this was mostly connected with Tuala, her taking shape as a character, and the possibility of a romance between her and Bridei. It followed what I thought the best part of this novel: you get a feel for the novel’s story; questions about scrying and destiny are raised; what does it means to grow up in a society that has many legends about the feys as a child of the fey; where do you find a place if everybody regards you with wariness?

So, whereas Bidei’s conflicts are mostly external in nature, Tuala’s are more internal, centering around her as a person. She has to face the question who she is. Tuala has no place in society because of her origin, Bridei has a place in society because of his origin; Tuala has to deal with the wariness of other people and her own doubt about where she does belong, Bridei he has to deal with what happens because he complies with the plan others have for his future: internal – external, destiny – planing. An interesting juxtaposition, but in the novel this potential of the characters, and the plot, is not fully developed.

Near the end (last 100-200 pages maybe?), the story got more unfocused. There are instances I was tempted to roll my eyes because some actions by characters seemed a bit unmotivated or plain stupid, although the character didn’t act the way before. The romance is a bit abrupt: Tuala and Bridei are in the childhood-friends stage; Bridei goes away for a year; after he sees Tuala again his Sergeant Pepper stands to attention for the first time. And that’s it (there are some complications, but the emotional side can be described like that). It’s destiny and it’s real love. Or, after staying hidden for so long, one enemy makes suddenly an appearance. To let the reader know about this, an established character gets to be a POV character, I think for just two scenes, to get this part of the plot covered.

What else?

There are two meddling creatures. They’re supposed to be of the same race as Tuala although that’s not really certain. They observe and test Tuala and Bridei because Tuala and Bridei have to prove themselves up to the task set for them before they get their wish. At the end, it’s clear that these two are not done with meddling.

There are also some hints of a possible conflict for the other novels in this series: the dark elements of the old faith in contrast to the new christian faith. Some characters express problems with these dark elements. But it’s the title of the third novel in this series that made me think more about it. It could get interesting.

Despite what it seems, I don’t think this novel is “bad”. It’s more like because of what could has been the what has been and what not is more prominent.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? Probably yes.

Grade: 4 / 5


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