Book Review: Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 3 of Blackthorn & Grim
Publisher: Roc (November 1, 2016)
Length: 448 pages
Author Information: Website
Books that get the five star treatment from me often have an emotional component to them, which would probably explain why I have consistently given the novels in the Blackthorn & Grim series full marks. That’s because every single one of them has been a boatload of feels, and this third installment is no exception. In fact, Den of Wolves might be the most poignant and moving of them all. I’ve laughed and cried with these characters through their triumphs and tribulations, and now I finally understand that everything we’d been through had been gradually building up to this crucial novel.
If you have not had the pleasure of meeting Blackthorn and Grim yet, the two of them make up one of the most extraordinary partnerships I’ve ever read, and their shared experiences in the previous books have only deepened that bond of trust and friendship. Blackthorn is a wise woman, her job to mend and heal and cure, but deep down inside she is still broken and raging with her desire for revenge on Mathuin of Laois, the man who destroyed everything she ever loved. The only thing keeping her from acting upon that anger is an oath she made to the fey who saved her life in exchange for a promise that she will not seek out her enemy for seven years and only do good deeds for the duration of that time. That and Grim, Blackthorn’s steadfast companion who has given her strength through the most difficult of times and kept her dark thoughts at bay when they threatened to take over.
The two of them have settled comfortably in Winterfalls, home of the Prince of Dalriada. This spring brings several changes, however. A troubled young woman named Cara has been sent to the court from Wolf Glen at the request of her wealthy father, and the princess of Dalriada has asked Blackthorn to spend some time with the awkward and tongue-tied girl. Meanwhile, Grim has been hired by the master of Wolf Glen for an elaborate new project—to build something called a Heartwood House, said to bring good luck to the owner because it would confer the blessings of every tree in the forest. The timing though, as Blackthorn and Grim suspect, cannot be a coincidence. Something feels wrong with the whole building project, and there must be a reason why Cara’s father does not want the girl around while construction is taking place. Wolf Glen is a web of secrets, and to unravel it, our protagonists will have to uncover the real legend behind the Heartwood House.
Once again, Den of Wolves follows the structure established by the first two books, following several POV characters. Blackthorn and Grim’s chapters are the most prominent of course, but Cara also adds her gentle, sensitive voice to this book along with the mysterious Bardán, the “wild man” whose real purpose will become known as the story unfolds. And like the previous books, this one also features a mystery, though the details surrounding our characters trying to solve it are perhaps less important than the final resolution itself, or even the fallout from the entire conflict. In fact, I think most readers will puzzle out the answers well before the end of the book, but ultimately it’s the all-pervasive tension that will whet your appetite for more.
To give you an idea of effectively this book managed to build and maintain momentum, it probably took me two or three sittings to read the first hundred pages or so, but only a single day to devour the remainder. While Den of Wolves is not what I would call a heart-pounding page-turner in the traditional sense, there’s just something so riveting about Marillier’s writing; her stories have a way of drawing you in, making you forget yourself and lose all sense of time and reality…like stepping into a fairy tale.
I’m also not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears. This series overall has done a number on my emotions, and this novel once again destroyed me. While these books do contain their fair share of heartbreaking moments, I don’t think they are meant to be tearjerkers or sad stories per se, but if you have been following these characters since the beginning, it’s hard not to be affected. Blackthorn and Grim are such fantastic protagonists because Marillier is a true master at developing genuine, sympathetic, and well-rounded heroes and heroines you care about. They are both broken and flawed people but they still somehow manage to complete and bring out the best in each other, which makes the fact that they spent so much time apart in this novel very difficult to bear. After watching them go through so much, you want these characters to be happy.
Still, the idea that deliverance from the past can come in many forms and from the most unexpected of places is a theme that receives a lot of attention in this series. And it really came through here in Den of Wolves. If I talk any more about the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim I will be treading dangerously into spoiler territory, not to mention I will probably start tearing up again, but suffice to say I think fans of this series will be very satisfied with how things play out.
And speaking of which, whether I like it or not, this book does have the feel of an ending of sorts. Blackthorn’s “seven years” agreement with the fey regarding Mathuin had led me to anticipate there will be more than three books to this series, but Den of Wolves does leave things off with a definite sense of closure, and a satisfying one at that. However, the author has said in an interview that she has more ideas for future Blackthorn & Grim books, but in the end it will depend on what her publishers decide, so I am crossing my fingers.
No matter what happens though, these three books represent a complete arc, and Blackthorn & Grim is now one of my favorite series of all time. It is a truly stunning achievement, and mere words cannot express how much I love these books, or how much I will cherish these stories and characters. Juliet Marillier has drawn together the threads of passion, imagination and beauty to bring to life an enchanting vision of magic and awe. Absolutely not to be missed.