(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/13707.html)
I've heard of Juliet Marillier before, but only really in passing. I've heard more of less good things about her, but not much about this book in particular, so I was mildly looking forward to reading this, but my expectations weren't astronomically high or anything.
Sadly, this book ended up being more disappointing than anything.
I guess I'll begin with my hugest peeve with the novel, which is... the two main characters. Bridei and Tuala are probably the biggest reason that this novel didn't work for me. We, the readers, get to watch Bridei grow up, from the moment he arrives at Pitnochie when he's five years old, to his eventual coronation at the end of the novel, by which time he's about twenty or so. While Bridei is a child, he's unsurprisingly precocious and extremely mature for his age, and becomes very skilled at pretty much... everything. Precocious children in literature tend to bother me in general (though not ALWAYS of course), because they tend to be perfect and/or Mary Sue-ish. Bridei definitely felt like a male version of the Mary-Sue, being super smart, super friendly, amazing at swordfighting, horse riding, shooting an arrow and pretty much goddamn anything he puts his mind to. It bored me to no frikken end reading about how GREAT Bridei was at everything.
Tuala's character was equally boring, but not because she's perfect, though she is Mary Sue-ish in her own ways. Rather, Tuala was boring because of her constant (and I meant *constant*) pining for Bridei. I'm not against romance, but I am against a girl being too dependent on their crush/partner/whatever (whether it be someone of the opposite sexe or otherwise). It seemed like Tuala was never able to stand on her own, from her banishment at Pitnochie as soon as Bridei left, to more pining and lamenting when she goes to that covenant place.
So, needless to say, the romance angle of this whole novel did not work for me either. Too much angst and too much whining on both ends.
Something else that really bothered me about this novel was the way it used a lack of information, or misinformation to move the plot forward. When Bridei gets all broody and angsty over Tuala going to be a nun or whatever instead of waiting at Pitnochie, I wanted to smack him over the head. I mean, he knew Broichan had *something* to do with Tuala leaving, and he knows that Broichan more or less hates Tuala. He also knows that Tuala loves Pitnochie more than anything, and that she would need A LOT of incentive before leaving the place. So when he believed Broichan that she left just to be a nun, I was super annoyed. The kid is supposed to be frikken smart.
The plot of the novel is a slow-burning fantasy, which is fine (I liked The Curse of Chalion after all, and that's a really slow-moving and character driven fantasy) but its focus on politics reminded me a little bit of Game of Thrones. However, that only made me think of how I like GoT so much more. The problem with it was that there was never the same sense of tension as GoT; in the latter, characters, including main ones, get killed left and right, or get screwed over. Everything is fair game. In this novel, it's obvious from the get-go that Bridei was going to get some kind of happy ending. Only one supporting character gets killed off (and I will admit that I was kind of bummed out about it -- he was a cool character), but it didn't raise the tension.
Last thing: the narration/dialogue from the two Fey people didn't do a whole lot for me. What was the point of it? Personally, it bordered on being a little cheesy for my tastes.
Now, I didn't dislike everything about this novel. While I never really warmed up to the main characters, I did like quite a few of the supporting characters, most notably Faolan and Ferada. Also, Marillier's writing is pretty solid, so I'm not adverse to checking out other titles by her, just not in this series.
Final Verdict: This novel didn't work for me. It's a slow-burning fantasy that's very character-driven, which is fine, except that I wasn't fond of either of the main characters. Bridei was too perfect, which resulted in him being boring, and Tuala was way too dependent and needy for Bridei. Their romance had too much angst for my liking. Also, a chunk of the plot was very influenced on a lack of information given to Bridei, which caused him to be so much more angsty than was necessary, and is just a pet-peeve of mine in general. Finally, the lack of tension in the plot made it feel slower than it should've. The supporting characters were quite a bit more interesting than the main ones, and Marillier's writing is pretty solid, but it isn't enough to make me want to finish this trilogy. I am however in checking out more Marillier; maybe her Sevenwaters series, which I hear is quite good.