Review: Blade of Fortriu by Juliet Marillier

January 26, 2011 Books, Reviews 3 ★★★★

Review: Blade of Fortriu by Juliet MarillierBlade of Fortriu by Juliet Marillier
Five Winters have passed since young king Bridei ascended the throne of Fortriu. Five years, in which the people have felt a contentment unknown for generations. But the security of a people can vanish in a heartbeat, for wolves are often drawn to fields filled with fattened sheep. Bridei is determined to drive the Gaelic invaders from his lands once and for all. And so, with his land secure and his house in order, he prepares for war. And one of Bridei's plans to win the war to come involves the beautiful young Ana. A princess of the Light Isles, she has dwelt as a hostage at the court of Fortriu for most of her young life. Despite being a pawn of fortune, she has bewitched all at court and is dearly loved by Bridei and his queen. But Ana understands her duty. And so she will travel north, to make a strategic marriage with a chieftain she has never seen, in the hopes of gaining an ally on whom Bridei's victory relies. For secrecy's sake, Ana must travel at a soldier's pace, with a small band led by the enigmatic spymaster Faolan. Bridei implores Ana to trust see the good in Faolan...but Ana cannot see beyond his cold competence and killer's eyes. Then, when she arrives at the chieftain Alpin's stronghold in the mysterious Briar Woods, her discomfort and unease increase tenfold, for this is a place of full of secrets and her betrothed is an enigma himself. The more Ana tries to uncover the truth of her new life, the more she discovers a maze of polite diversions that mask deadly lies. She fears Faolan, but he may prove to be the truest thing in her world.Or her doom.
Series: The Bridei Chronicles #2
Published by Macmillan on 2006-10-31
Genres: Fantasy, Speculative Fiction
Pages: 496
Format: Paperback
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In her return to Pictish Scotland, in the second book of the “Bridei Chronicles” Marillier picks up five years after the end of The Dark Mirror, five years into the reign of King Bridei of Fortriu. This time the story does not rest entirely on Bridei and Tuala, but shares space with one of Tuala’s friends from Banmerren (where young girls are trained to be priestesses of the Shining One), Ana, the longtime hostage from the Light Isles.

To ensure the success of Bridei’s plan to rout the Gaels (that would be the Irish, not to be confused with the Gauls, the French in centuries to come), he must arrange a swift marriage for his wife’s good friend, court hostage Ana, to a king of the Caitt – whose lands are placed between that of Fortriu and Gaelic Dalrida. A letter is sent of the offer of a royal wife (Ana’s bloodline ensures that should she bear sons, they are candidates for the throne of Fortriu after Bridei’s death), and Ana is sent close behind, to sweeten the offer and hopefully ensure a quick handfasting. She is escorted by Faolan, Bridei’s right-hand man and friend of many years, though Faolan would always say he only goes where the money is. Faolan resents being made a babysitter for a “spoiled princess” but after tragedy strikes their escort, Ana’s convenient lie turns him from emissary to bard, and it is up to him to determine if Alpin, the king to whom Ana will be wed, will be true to his word and not offer aid to the Gaels. Alpin is quickly shown to be someone neither Ana nor Faolan can trust, and while Bridei sits on war councils, Faolan and Ana must pretend as though their lives depend on it – and they very likely do.

During their travels, an attack forces Ana and Faolan to lie to Alpin, and Faolan goes from bodyguard to favored minstrel who just happened to survive the attack. Ana is forced to be the strong one, whereas before she has always been in the wings when Tuala is center stage. I really enjoyed Ana – she attempted to gamble with her virtue and her potential (any sons she bore would be in line for the throne after Bridei dies) against Alpin’s insistence that they marry immediately because she is unsure of Alpin’s committment to Bridei’s cause. She is alone for a great portion of the book, unable to meet with Faolon overmuch lest Alpin suspect Faolan is more than she has insisted he is: a mere minstrel. During this time, she discovers a secret Alpin has been keeping, a prisoner under the castle who could threaten all his plans.

I paid more attention to Faolan and Ana in this installment, even though Bridei and Tuala are not left out. Troop movements are all well and good, but it was Ana’s coming into her own and the discovery that Faolan is the true star of Bridei’s Chronicles (further enforced by the final installment, Well of Shades) and that his past is just as interesting as we would suspect of a man who keeps to himself and has secret lute skills. I was fond of Donal, Bridei’s first bodyguard in The Dark Mirror, so it took me awhile to warm to Faolan, as his “replacement”. In fact, I didn’t do so reading The Dark Mirror. But by the end of Blade of Fortriu, I was definitely a fan. Faolan’s past in the famous prison finds him discovering friends in unlikely places, and I was extremely fond of Deord, the guard of Alpin’s secret. The situation that Faolan finds himself in at the end of Blade leads perfectly into Well of Shades, and I was a bit sad that we didn’t get more of Ana than we did (though she does appear briefly in Well of Shades).