My chamber door was ajar. Inside, a child in a white smock was sitting cross-legged on the floor, in the dark, with my little doll Roise on lap. The girl's hair was white too, drifting in a pale cloud around her head and shoulders. She was crooning a wordless lullaby. The hairs on my neck rose.
A glance around the chamber told me she'd been investigating all my things. Clothing spilled out of the storage chest, my comb lay on the floor and the bedding had been disordered with more violence than such a fragile being seemed capable of. I took two steps into the room. The child raised her head, fixing shadowy eyes on me.
"Hurt," she whispered. "Baby's hurt." Her skinny hand moved tenderly to stroke the silken threads that formed Roise's hair. Even by the fitful light of my candle I could see that the doll was the worse for wear. Some of her hair had been pulled right out and her skirt was in shreds. My stomach tight with unease, I cast my eyes around for knives, bodkins or other dangerous implements. "Oo-roo, baby all better soon," the child sang, rocking the doll in her arms.
A rustling sound behind me in the open doorway. I whirled around. The young warrior in the bloody shirt stood there, the one from out in the woods. His arms were wrapped across his chest. A febrile trembling coursed through his body. Whatever it was that shook him so, rage, fear, a malady, it possessed him utterly.
Brighid save me, what had I begun?
"Tell me the truth." His voice was dry and scratchy, as if he'd been long out of the habit of using it. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Can you give us what we need?" Or did you speak lies and false hope? We have waited so long."
I almost yelled for Magnus. The young man had a sword and dagger at his belt. He sounded desperate. He looked poised on the brink of violent action. But I did not have to call out. I was the one who had set this in motion and I must be brave enough to deal with the consequences.
"I wasn't lying," I said, doing y best to hold his nervous, darting gaze. "I'll do my best to help you. Tell me, what do you need most?"
For a moment his eyes were full of whirling visions, images of pain and struggle.
"Sleep." He spoke the word on a sigh. "Rest. That is what we long for. It is what we crave. Tell the lord of Whistling Tor to let us go."
~Excerpt from Heart's Blood
On the run from her abusive family, Caitrin ends up at Whistling Tor hoping to work for the strange, disfigured man who rules there. Trained as a scribe by her deceased father, Caitrin is hired to transcribe the old Latin books in the library. Thinking at first that it is a simple translating job, Caitrin soon realizes that the Tor is haunted by an unusual, ghostly host. And the old books may hold the key to freeing the unquiet spirits that keep the inhabitants of the Tor isolated from the rest of the world and, Anluan, their leader, from ever leaving his land.
Despite Anluan's temperamental nature and the eerie nature of the host, Caitrin soon finds a home in Whistling Tor. Bringing a much needed heart to the lonely keep, Caitrin reminds the inhabitants that hope is never fully lost. But just as she begins to draw Anluan out of his exile, war with the Normans threatens and Anluan is forced to send Caitrin away to keep her safe-- and finally deal with her past.
"Heart's Blood" is the first novel in a new series by well known author Juliet Marillier. Like her Sevenwaters series the book is set in historic Ireland and captures the feel of a different time very well. "Heart's Blood" suffers, ever so slightly, in comparison to the Sevenwaters books because Marillier set the bar so high. It isn't as historically detailed as the world in Sevenwaters, but it's easy to visualize the mist surrounding the Tor and uncanny host that inhabits the forest because Marillier excels at creating a mood.
Like all of Marillier's books, "Heart's Blood" is primarily the story of a female protagonist. Caitrin is an interesting mix of stubborn insecurity. Her past has left her scarred, though it's something we're primarily told about and not shown. We learn the mysteries of the Tor through her eyes and get to know Anluan the same way.
Anluan is harder to get to know, and like, than Caitrin. It's almost as if Caitrin is seeing something that we're not quite able to grasp, so a connection to the relationship between Anluan and Caitrin doesn't come as easily as it could. However, by the end of the book, there is comfort and satisfaction in seeing the two of them together.
The best aspect of "Heart's Blood" really has to do with the host that inhabits the Tor. The mystery of how it came into being and their sometimes frightening behavior brings depth to what would otherwise just be a nicely romantic story. There aren't a lot of unexpected twists in "Heart's Blood" and I expect most readers will unravel most of its secrets well before they're officially revealed. That said, Marillier writes in a way that's easy to connect to and her books are always hard to put down. "Heart's Blood," still has Marillier's stamp of excellence all over it.